A lot of community managers are not managing communities, they are just managing their own job security, they are ensuring that they have a job and the success of the community comes second (at best). In general it almost looks like a natural behaviour, since it happens so often, though if you look a bit deeper it is either based on fear or on ignorance.
Symptoms of a focus on job security and not on the community’s well-being
There are a few symptoms that show that a community manager might be more concerned about his job than about the community. These symptoms are:
- Treating your community members as toddlers. Even though common sense is not that common, there is no reason to assume that your community is a collection of morons. Empower your community members, help them, though do not belittle them, they can think for themselves. Community managers that are treating their members as morons do so to show that without them it would be a complete disaster, since the worst thing that could happen is that people start thinking for themselves and come up with some intelligent suggestions…
- Coming up with endless lists of rules, visions, strategies etc. A typical way to avoid any work is by making plans instead of taking actions. It is good to make a plan, however a plan doesn’t run your community. Some community managers take also the rather isolated approach with this item, as in: they work on these things by themselves without involvement of community members or other stakeholders. Community managers that make a lot of plans often actually don’t know what they should be really doing and therefore keep making plans to create validate their work. Plus like I said before: often making plans is perceived as real work, while most people do it just to avoid the real work.
- Using vanity metrics instead of focusing on business goals. As long as lines in charts are moving upwards to the right things are perceived as doing great. Therefore tons of reporting in communities is done on number of messages, number of members etc etc, numbers that always increase. However what kind of business value does it generate? If you cannot correlate (and preferably directly relate) your community with business outcomes you are managing somebody’s hobby, not something that adds value to the business. Community managers often report on vanity metrics because they are easy to measure and always look good and sometimes also because the organisation itself has no idea and the community manager doesn’t take the lead to guide the organisation on what to do.
- Keeping the lights on, even if nobody is there. Kill your darlings, especially as a community manager you shouldn’t be afraid to stop doing thing, to close down parts of the community or even to discuss the viability of the community in general. Community managers think that their job is just managing the community, though it is about generating business value which happens to be with a community as. Just having a community for the sake of having a community is the most desperate job security measure.
How to overcome this and be brilliant in your job
If you only know what you shouldn’t do, or what you are doing is wrong, you still don’t know what you should be doing. So let me counter the four earlier points with the things you could be doing instead. And more important with which you would make a bigger impact on the business and its goals.
- Empower your community members. Your job isn’t to to micro manage community members, it is to make sure that can do what they should be doing and be great at it. That is not something you do by holding hands, at least not if you want to make it scale. Think of what you can do to let your community members shine and derive value out of the community. You’ll see that is not you that have to be in the spotlight, you are more like the person behind the scenes: connecting people, stimulating people to participate etc etc. A community manager is facilitating most of the time and less (micro) managing. The community is about putting your community members in the spotlight, not yourself.
- Focus on business goals. If something is not contributing to a business goal it is a hobby subsidised by your employer. There is nothing wrong with hobbies, though subsidising is not something that is very sustainable. If you want to measure if a community is truly successful you need the connection with business goals, also because this can help in providing you with more budgets for activities on the long run (since if you earn more for the company you can ask for more to make it even better). If you are able in helping to meet business goals you are proving the real value of the community and you are doing a service to both the company and the community members, since you are also then creating a sustainable place for the latter group. If your company has no views on what business goals could be achieved with a community, help them in defining it. A community manager should lead, not just follow.
- Challenge everything / kill your darlings. Don’t take the community success for granted and don’t settle if you meet certain success standards, since your community is not standard and most likely never will be. Only if you challenge nearly everything you can move forward, if that means that you have to kill certain features in your community do so. Nothing is more disastrous for success than trying to please everybody. By challenging everything it is not just about challenging what you are doing, but also what others are doing and whether you could do it better (more effectively for example) with a community than it is done currently. A community manager should be able to inspire its surroundings, not just the community managers, but also the other stakeholders since that will be one of the ways the understand the added value.
In the first four points the community manager is a follower, somebody who just does what other people say so and doesn’t try to be remarkable or challenge the status quo. Though in the last three points you see that a community manager is a leader, somebody who make things happen, not by putting himself in the centre but by helping others, either the community members or the other stakeholders. A leader doesn’t have to be in the spotlight and especially when it is about community management it about letting other people shine and helping people to meet their (business) goals, it is never about making sure that you still have a job in a year from now. Since if you do your community management really well you might have a job for life.