guide to community management

Note: This post was updated August 2021. 

I remember my first day as a community manager. It was the summer of 2009, and I had just graduated from SUNY Geneseo. About four weeks earlier the founders at a new startup called Scribnia had offered me a job for the summer. I packed my bags, moved to Philly and there I was on my first day.

The team was four strong: three developers and me. They’d build the product, I’d build the community. The team didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing or how I’d do it, but they were confident I’d figure it out because, you know, I blogged about building community.

I was pumped. All the freedom in the world to start trying all the things I had been writing about. I’d get to build a real community for a real business.

I eagerly jumped in with two feet. First, I started sending emails to members, setting up interviews, organizing events, setting up support channels and social media accounts, writing newsletters. Then I launched a blog, attended conferences, recruited influencers, set up partners, launched groups. On and on I went, deeper and deeper into the community jungle.

It didn’t take long, maybe a month, before I was completely lost.

My days were filled with more work than I could handle. I went on spinning my wheels without having any idea if it was actually adding up to anything worthwhile to the business. I was just building community for the sake of community.

Maybe if you’re reading this, you’re finding yourself in a similar position now. Or maybe you’re going to start your first community job soon, and you want to avoid this. Either way, I’m glad you’re here.

The CMX Guide to Community Management

Back then, “community management” wasn’t looked at as a growing professional discipline. It was something that some marketers did or it was limited to support forums. There were very few guides, case studies, no accessible groups to ask questions, no articles, no conferences, no CMX. You just had to figure it out.

Well, my struggle is your gain. Today, there are more resources available to community professionals than ever before. We gathered together the best of our resources in this guide to set you on a path of success for your future in community management.

Let’s dig in. Here is a five-step guide to help you get started working in community management.

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with community strategy

Now that you know generally what the community management world looks like and how your team thinks about community, you can start seeking out more specifics.

The good news for you is there are a lot of models you can start learning now that will serve as guides for you as you start doing your work. You may still be eager to jump in, but I promise you’ll be grateful for these frameworks once you start. You will build an organized structured strategy rather than creating disparate programming with no focus.

Here are a few frameworks that CMX offers to get you started:

The SPACES Model. This is our most popular model that our CMX Academy students say gives them the biggest “aha!” moment. SPACES helps you define the type of community you’re building and the value that it will bring your business. This is where you align community with your organization’s goals and start defining your metrics. Bring this model to your manager to discuss where you fit.

The 7P’s of CommunityOnce you understand your goals, you can use the 7P’s to map out the different elements of your community strategy. This will help you plan the pieces that you’ll need to create an engaging community for your customers.

The CMX Community Strategy Canvas. An alternative to the 7P’s, the community strategy canvas is a simple guide that lays out the 9 fundamentals of community strategy in a canvas that you can fill out. This is perfect for the beginner. It will ask you all the hard questions you should think about in order to have a comprehensive community plan. Consider this your high-level roadmap. You can use it now, and refer back to it whenever you feel a little lost.

The Social Identity Cycle. This model will teach you how communities are formed. We break down the experience that a member goes through as they become more engaged in the community over time. By understanding the community member experience, we can then start to plan out the content and programming that fuels the community experience.

The Community Measurement Model. Measuring community health and performance is still the biggest challenge that most community professionals face. The truth is, it’s hard to assign metrics and dollar signs to human relationships. But it’s not impossible, and this simple model will help you wrap your head around how you can start to measure your community strategy.

As you’re reading through these models, don’t get bogged down in details just yet. There is a lot of information and it can feel overwhelming as you first read through it. We recommend you read through them so you can start to wrap your head around the best practices in the space.

To go deeper with professional training, check out the in-depth courses offered at CMX Academy.

Step 2: Connect with other community professionals

DavidOnStageCMX Summit West 2015

There’s no better way to learn than to connect with other people in this industry. You can ask people out for coffee or join one of the many online and offline communities available to you.

Here are some of the options CMX provides to help you meet other community pros:

  • CMX Summit: Join over 2,000 community professionals at our annual event.
  • CMX Connect: Participate in one of over 50 local CMX chapters where community professionals gather.
  • CMX Facebook Group: The largest online group of community professionals
  • CMX  Slack Community: Slack group for CMX community members

Here are some other great conferences you can check out:

(Know of more? Let us know! We’ll add them here.)

Step 3: Subscribe to the top community industry resources

Every Wednesday, we send out the CMX Weekly newsletter which shares the top news and resources in the community industry.

Here are some more online resources you can learn from:

There are more and more resources launching all the time for community managers. Just be sure that the resources you find do not confuse or distinguish between the terms social media, support, or customer engagement with the term community, as that may end up confusing you and your team even more.

Step 4: Watch talks from industry leaders

All of the talks from CMX Summit 2020 are free for you to watch here!

And make sure to check out our upcoming CMX Summit, which happens every year in the fall.

Step 5: Hit the Books

There are some really good books out there on the topic of community but unfortunately not *that* many specifically focused on professional community building.  You have the books that are more focused on community related subjects and general community or social theory. There are a few solid books on community strategy as well.

Check out The Business of Belonging, by our very own David Spinks!

Here are some of our other favorites:

If you want to geek out on some community psychology, check out these theories:

There you have it: The complete guide to getting started in community management. That should keep you busy for a couple months!

If you ever get stuck, remember step one. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do too much at first. There’s a lot of information out there. And the truth is, community is still a relatively new professional discipline that’s constantly evolving. I’ve been working in the space for close to a decade, and I still don’t have all the answers, but we’re learning every day. That’s all you have to do for now, listen and learn.

It’s an exciting industry to be a part of, full of opportunity to grow and to have an impact. You’ll have the chance to develop communities that help great companies succeed and you’ll give people a sense of belonging, a core human need. You’ll empower people to change the world for the better. Of course there will be challenges but hey, nothing worth doing has ever been easy right?

We’re really happy you’ve taken an interest in professional community building. From the moment you started reading this guide to community management, you joined the CMX mission in advancing the community industry and helping community professionals thrive. If you ever need anything, we’re here to help.


David Spinks

David is the Founder of CMX (, the world's largest and most passionate network for community professionals. Thousands of community professionals come to CMX for support and education in com...

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