The Community Club

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Carter Gibson
Carter Gibson

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Stop Explaining Community Management

I write this post with the full understanding that I have a long history writing about and explaining community management. I've recreated the slide deck a hundred times. My definitions have been repeated over and over again. I've gotten in Twitter arguments over the difference between a SMM and a CM. Basically, I've spent a lot of time explaining what I do. And that's important. Creating these resources help us professional folk align - or to teach the newer generation of CMs who want to be successful.

About seven years ago, after I had been in the community space for a while, I thought, "You know... in a few years leaders in every company are going to understand what community management is." Yeah, nope. We're still trying to explain ourselves.

I'm not saying we need to stop creating that content. I'm saying that we need to present community management more simply to the decision makers in our organization.

What we do is complex. It deals with emotions and soft metrics. Our work isn't always 'up and to the right' and sometimes we have our biggest impact or learn the most when our communities are in an ebb. We have to explain how unscalable our work is - and then make it clear why we need to give away authority to create ownership.

All of these complexities sometimes make me envy product managers. Why can't people in our line of work get "easy" metrics like more engagement or higher click through rates? But, you see, the thing is that we can have commonsense, understandable metrics. And we can have all the impact we need to have without starting with a complex definition of what we do.

While our getting hired (or choosing the right job... #NotTheSame) is predicated on a company valuing the idea of community, it doesn't mean they understand our space. In fact, a lot of our jobs revolve around teaching it - and probably always will. But let's simplify. And teach through example instead of theoretically.

Don't get in your own way trying to assert the entire field of community management. Instead, try to tackle big areas with simple suggestions. For example...

Start With Commonsense Guidelines

People don't need to know the history or theory of Community Management to grock that setting basic expectations for users is a good idea. Guidelines are probably the most basic form of moderation and, certainly, the most widely used. Asking your leadership questions like, "What kind of behaviors do you want or not want?" aren't predicated on any institutional knowledge. And, trust me, leads are thrilled to talk about this.

This will be the foundation of your work at the company. Guidelines are easy to prove the effectiveness of (there are tons of studies), there are enough examples that show they're a best practice, and they apply to almost any size of community. They're also easy to implement in at least some form - text boxes, emails, popups, etc.

The metric? # of communities with guidelines, CSAT

Explain Enforcement

You don't need to tell the history or explain moderation philosophy to make a clear case for why you need to be able to react to toxic content that violates your guidelines. "So, we have guidelines... but how do we give them teeth?" It's a pragmatic question. It can be answered in many, many different ways. It's, dare I say, fun to brainstorm?

The reason I always advocate for moderation being the foundation of community management is because, frankly, social companies tend to care about it the most. It mitigates risk and prevents future negative headlines. It allows CMs to build credibility in their community as well. If you can show leadership that you've created a safe space, they'll be much more okay with bringing attention to it. And then you can do the actually fun stuff.

The metric? # of moderated spaces, CSAT

Build Personas

Not everyone understands how to build trust, but almost everyone understands persona mapping. In my career, I've had very long, very tiresome conversations about how CMs build trust and how unscalable it is. Telling someone, "Listen, I need to go talk to X people and you won't really see any output until later," may be accurate, but it's going to get you into a situation where you have to explain trust building. And that's messy.

So, instead, do it - but make it part of persona mapping.

Giving these mushy-but-vital tactics a structure lets you go be that CM and assures your leads that there will be an output as well. Use persona mapping as your opportunity to go meet and build trust with your community members.

The metric? Validated personas, approved strategy

Now, I'm not saying don't write a strategy or make slide decks that define community management. You'll need those too. But in moments when we're trying to get things done, why not try to simplify? Listen, I know that we're all really passionate people with chips on our shoulders that people don't understand our work, but what if our corporate overlords don't need to understand everything to create better communities?

IDK, just sayin'. ;)

Discussion (6)

andymci profile image
Andrew Claremont (andymci) • Edited on

I’m on a similar wavelength. I gave up on explaining the value of community in a vacuum. Instead I’ve been looking at where we plug in, and what needs we can solve through our work.

Brand? Marketing? Product? Support? Retention? Community fits in all those departments, but they don’t all have the same level of executive buy-in or investment.

To Brian’s point about community KPIs — figure out what $ you can latch on to.

alex profile image
Alex Angel

This is awesome. So important to keep simplicity in mind. I'll admit that I am definitely guilty of trying to give ALL OF THE CONTEXT sometimes, which is rarely, if ever, gripping and necessary.

cartergee profile image
Carter Gibson Author

Oh, dude, same. It's usually how I enter new roles - but recently I've been thinking, "Carter... are you an idiot?" And the answer is no, but I've definitely made my life harder trying to prove our entire profession before even making small changes that could have major impact.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Great post

cartergee profile image
Carter Gibson Author

Thank you!

yinkam profile image

Great post Carter. Although I am new to the thread and community, so much of what was shared within the post resonated. One of my gaps referenced, that I agree with and have also noted is the aspect related to translation. Being able to translate the 'what and how' of convening and bringing together people in shared purpose means and looks like and how it is distinct or complimentary to existing or other practices. In one of my previous roles, we described these distinctions and nuances as seismic shifts and used 'from this to that' concepts (ie. From egocentric to eco-centric, from independent to interdependent etc) as a way to describe what it means in practice. As these shifts often challenge the status quo or traditional ways in how things are done, it definitely takes to be able to reach a shared awareness, understanding and practice. I'm really glad to have joined this community and look forward to learning and engaging with all of you