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We’ve seen it happen more and more over the last few years: community is becoming an ever-larger driver of business value and revenue. As we see more examples of groups creating real value out of their communities, more startups and established companies are seeking to add community professionals to their teams. Some are making a splash by hiring Directors or Heads of Community and others are dipping their toes in the water with more entry-level roles.

We’ve talked on CMX about what questions to ask when you’re looking to hire a great community builder or how to build up your skill set.

But how do you know if you even need a community manager? Is it possible that you do not need one at all?

If you’re a job seeker looking for a community role, how do you evaluate if your skill set will be a real asset to the team you’re joining? How do you know if they really need what you bring to the table — and you’re bringing a lot, so don’t doubt that.

Having spoken with or worked with dozens of companies from early-stage startups to established public companies looking to fill community roles, I’ve identified several common indicators that a company should invest in community in a real way. I’ve also seen quite the opposite.

Here are the 6 signs that you need to hire someone to own community on your team (and examples of companies for each) and the 5 common signs that you’re doing this for the wrong reasons.

6 Signs You Need to Hire a Community Professional

1. You’re building community as a product and you’re trying to scale that product.

When you’re building a community-centric product (one in which the community really is the product, like Stack Exchange or Reddit), the founding team should be the one owning conversations to begin and throughout the early iteration process. But when your community becomes too much for the team to handle and you need to leverage your members to grow the product, you’ll likely need to hire a community pro. Product Hunt’s Erik Torenberg, Director of Community under Founder and CEO Ryan Hoover, is a great example of someone who owns a community as a product and helps scale itself.

2. You’re ready to invest – in a real, substantial way – in organizing, listening, and leveraging your existing user base.

It’s often the case that creating a game-changing and structured product produces a fervent community around it. You’ve built something so addicting or something that serves the needs of your users so well, that you’ve built a fan base. That doesn’t mean you’re leveraging their true potential, but you’ve got the key ingredients to take this to the next level.

DietBetter is a great example of this, as are many gaming companies. The company has been around for over 2 years without any explicit community builder in place. The product itself and the founding team (there are only 5 people building the product) have been so involved in growing the product and improving it (with no marketing budget, mind you) that they never needed a CM — until now. They’re ready to organize what they’ve got.

3. If you’re looking to build an advocacy program, brand ambassador initiative, or superuser community.

Why organize a superuser community? Look at Yelp. Look at Lululemon. Look at developer products like SendGrid, Twilio, and New Relic. They all have tight-knit communities and leaders at their helm. They’re building long-haul products and brands and they need to create real role models to lead the charge. This is where community and marketing departments often get confused and where community can really drive marketing value.

But if you’re an early stage startup, you likely don’t have the budget, time, or bandwidth to build marketing and community departments. If you want to do marketing without following the traditional marketing channels (and you want to save a bunch of money as you try new things), this is your ticket. If you want deep and scalable customer relationships, this is your route.

4. You’re B2B, and you want to understand your customers on a deeper level. 

This is usually the role of an “account manager,” but calling your customers a community in this case opens up new use cases for your product and makes you seem much less stuffy. This is often a subject of debate, and there is no hard and fast answer for what title is best here. If you want to create a community feel, give back to your customers, and begin to connect them to you and to others in ways other than just offering excellent support and selling them things, hire a community pro. They’ll take you to new heights.

Buffer has a Community Champion who specializes in exactly this type of outreach and relationship-building.

5. You want to build a “network” of practice or purpose, such as a community of content producers, product testers, or practitioners.

This is similar to reason number 1, though it also includes communities centered around work that people can do together — like a network of academic professionals or marketers who aren’t necessarily a product themselves, but may build one together at some point. The most effective way to transform a ho-hum job into a bustling community is to gather likeminded people who can share best practices and the ins and outs of their work.

There are many examples of this in the wild, CMX included (we’re a community of community practitioners). Oftentimes, someone already in your company is best positioned to be promoted into this role, so they can truly focus their time on nurturing this network into a full-blown community and work to operationalize it as it grows.

You may also want to give your passionate users a way to give back with user-generated content for the long-term. You may need to hire a community manager or promote internally to help strategize how this might work for the long haul.

6. You’re building a two-sided marketplace, and you have some users to prove that this idea is viable.

You need help growing and retaining your community. You know how to attract both sides of the marketplace, but now you need to hire someone to keep conversations growing, thinking about incentives as you grow, and work with the product people to make community interaction and conversation more a part of your product (or more seamless within it). You want someone to focus on finding more members, building more value, continuing the relationships you’ve built, and creating more.

Think Etsy, where they had both buyers and sellers and then hired awesome people like Morgan Evans to create standards and procedures, build local “teams” and continue the company culture from the inside out.

Now, 5 Bad Reasons to Hire a Community Manager:

I won’t spend too much time explaining these, except to say that if you’re guilty of wanting to hire a community manager for any of these reasons, just be honest with yourself. Think about if it’s the best decision for you, your business, and your new hire.

  1. Your competitor is doing it. Sure, it’s a sign that you’re missing something. But if you’re doing it just because they are, you’re doing it wrong.
  1. You want someone to make people “love you” or “love your brand.” This doesn’t start with a community manager. It starts inside of the company.
  1. You want someone to fix your communication problems. Community managers are great communicators, but they’re not going to fix your cross-functional communication problems (they can do a lot to help them, but this should be the easy part not the main function of their role). That has to come from the leaders of the company and they have to have the power to work cross-functionally.
  1. You want someone to launch a short-term community initiative, like a series of time-sensitive meet ups or events. Hire a consultant for this. It’s not worth on-boarding a full-time employee if this is a test. If the consultant works out well, it’s possible they’ll join your team down the line.
  1. You want to test the waters of content marketing. Instead of pretending that this is an all-out community investment, test the waters with a remote CloudPeep.

Image Credit: Plewicki

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.