new community managers success

Ever since COVID plagued us in 2020, companies are looking to community to fill in gaps that live events, retention and contraction have left in the pandemic’s wake.

When I used to see a dozen decent community role job posts every week (and I had to look very hard for these), today I can find new positions every couple of hours on CMX, LinkedIn, and AngelList. And there’s even more on Google and all of the application platforms like Greenhouse, Workable, Lever, SmartRecruiter, Breezy.

Community is a movement, and it’s exploded. This is really exciting, and for people (like me) who have been around for a while, we love that community is getting the exposure and attention it deserves.

But…

What tends to happen when something like this becomes a trendy movement? While everyone may be on board at first, the excitement causes a lot of optimism and heightened expectations. Ultimately, both the company and the community manager responsible for results may feel set up for failure.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every new community role will fail. Most of the time, the challenges encountered don’t reflect the community manager’s work; it’s that the company wasn’t prepared or educated enough to invest successfully in its new community role. But alas, fewer succeed in the end than anyone would like.

As someone who loves the idea of community and how it can help industries, practitioners, businesses, and just about every department in a company do a better job and be successful, I want to help.

I’ve recently talked to some individuals building out their company’s first-ever community programs, and want to share my thoughts for how they and their employers can make their new community roles great.

How Community Managers Can Succeed in a New Role in 2021

Welcome to your new community role! I’m sure you have some experience and you are very excited to have the opportunity to make this successful. Chances are you will be given a LOT of ideas, wants, and needs from your company, possibly without the resources, access, and understanding you need.

Step 1: Educate your company about community

When it comes to new community programs or existing communities that are finally getting a dedicated hire, your job is to educate.

Most companies have no idea what a community needs, what it is capable of, how it works, or how long it takes to reach success. And without your guidance, they will go on thinking their community is going to look and work exactly the same as another community they visited or heard about that inspired this direction.

Now take that and multiply it by every person in the company who is a stakeholder in the community. Here are the average stakeholders for two of the most common types of community:

    • Communities of Interest (a community that focuses on a topic such as sales, digital marketing, entrepreneurism, wellness, health, pets): CEO, marketing, customer success, support, legal, privacy, product, design, education, sales.
    • Customer Success & Support (a community that brings together customers to help them succeed, so the company can improve retention or reduce cost): CEO, customer success, support, product, education, legal, design.

As you can tell, there are a lot of people on your new team that all have different ideas of what community is, what success of your community looks like, and how it will impact their department, the company at large, the customer, and many other people down the road.

Start with a message to your company stakeholders—everyone with whom you will work, and especially those that have interest in the community.

Hello Team, 

Thanks for allowing me to join. I’m excited to be here and I know there is a lot we can do to make this community initiative successful. 

While I’m eager to jump in, get some wins, and drive the community in the right direction, there’s some initial work I need to do. I want to make sure we set realistic goals and priorities as part of a concrete plan for turning this into the community our company and customers/members need. 

I’m going to reach out to each of you to set up a quick call to learn a bit about your department and get your input on how we can build the best community. 

Step 2: Learn about your company and their community expectations

To start on your road to educating your team, you should interview your new coworkers. Tell them you’ve been hired and you’d like to learn more about their department and get their input on community goals and priorities.

Here’s a script to help with the questions:

“Hi Karen, thanks for taking the time to talk. I’d love to get to know you, learn about your department, and get your input on the community we are working on. Do you mind if I jump in with a few questions?

What are your goals for the year? What does a successful community look like to you? How could community help you achieve those goals?”

Ask follow-up questions as needed through the interview. You want to understand their collective ideas of success in as much detail as possible.

    • In your opinion, what stands in the way of us achieving that today?
    • What does a successful community look like for your department?
    • How does a successful community look for the company?
    • Based on your top priorities, what should be our community priorities?
    • Which of your key metrics or KPIs would be impacted by the successful community?
    • What resources do you know of that can be used to help this community be successful?

Step 3: Talk to your members

To make sure you’ve taken all stakeholders into account, you have to spend time talking to members — whether they’re potential members for new communities, past members for re-engaging communities, or active existing community members. Get at least 5-10 members to share their communities needs with you.

Here are some questions to ask:

    • What made you want to join/ What would make you want to join?
    • What are your current struggles? How can the community help you succeed?
    • What kind of content and events would you most like to read and participate in?
    • Would you be interested in helping with the community: posting, commenting, giving feedback, etc?

Step 4: Align goals, expectations, opportunities, and struggles 

You should now have an idea of what your company and members need from the community, as well as the tools and resources you can count on to make your new community role succeed.

This is the fun part, where you’ll bring together these strategies, goals, and ideas to build your path to success.

There are a few frameworks you can use to help you put this together. I’ve taken courses with FeverBee and CMX, but you can take a look at their frameworks here:

My suggestion is to take your biggest company goal, turn it into the priority metric you want to impact, and build a plan around how you will do that.

For example, a lot of customer-focused communities want to focus on retention. Now, how can the community help retention?

    1. Get access to that metric.
    2. Ask your team members what most impacts it.
    3. Align community programs and efforts. For example, if you know customers who better understand your product’s benefits, features, and resources are the most successful with the platform, focus on resources for the community.
    4. Build out these programs.
    5. Engage your members throughout the process as part of your ongoing community engagement.

Step 5: Tie community engagement into big-picture goals 

As you build these programs to support your members, you have to engage with them where they are. As you watch these questions grow, you’ll learn how to help them and figure out what they need to succeed. (Your interviews should have helped too).

But…do not make community discussions or comments a priority goal. Here’s why: If you can’t link back to a company goal that affects ROI, you cannot prove why you should invest in the community. And you will find it extremely difficult to prove X number of discussions = X number of dollars retained.

Let’s quickly cover talking this through with your company:

“Yes, we want an active community because that looks like there is movement and progress in reaching our goals. But we can’t align the number of discussions with the number of retained customers. 

What we can do is provide content and events that educate and help our members. We can use this platform to keep having conversations that lead to more education opportunities, while building deeper relationships with our users.” 

Now, back to the strategy or plan you are working on.

It will look a bit like this:

What do we want to accomplish? Retain x% customers

What does the member want? To be successful using our solution without having to spend too much time on learning and setup.

How can our community help us and our members?By providing a place for members to connect, share their success and stories in bite-sized content, and find interactive and unconventional opportunities to learn. Meanwhile, we will enable their success in a way that fits their fast-paced lives and aligns with our goals for relationships, revenue, and success metrics.

What’s the best way to do this? Offering courses, events, and engagement opportunities in our community platform.

How do you get started? With our goal of retention for a customer community, you would start by:

    • Creating an immediate content calendar for the next month
    • Finding 10-20 people who can help post and seed content now
    • Planning an event for a quick win (like a monthly AMA with a C-suite member)
    • Rolling out a cadence for keeping your team members up-to-date on the community

What does the roadmap look like?

    • Immediate focus: Improving retention through education opportunities
    • 6 months: Work with customer success on NPS
    • 12 months: Work with sales on upsells for revenue

What resources do you need?

    • Access to marketing tools for sending emails, looking at metrics, or building a landing page (if needed)
    • Ability to build or add to a newsletter
    • Access to social media

You will take this plan to your manager and possibly CEO. Then, you’ll present the plan to other teams so they know exactly what to expect.

Now that you have this plan in place, you can take your time to build the appropriate strategy for long-term success through a course on CMX or FeverBee. That will include thinking about how you help other teams succeed, getting the company and teams involved in the community, making your 3-year plan, adding programs for members, and more.

There’s a lot of work to be done in a new community role. But it’s essential to lay the groundwork for a successful experience between community and other departments.

If you come across any more obstacles, be sure to tap into the CMX Community. The CMX Facebook Group and Slack channel are full of other community managers who have been in your shoes and are ready to help.

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