Traits of good community managers

April 22, 2011

Characteristics of Community Leaders

These characteristics are not all necessary for one to be a good community manager, and all of the traits can be taught, however most of these characteristics need to be present in one form or another. A community manager is not necessarily limited to a person displaying the “community manager” title in their e-mail signature either, it is all individuals that take a position of leadership on a community site, be it moderators, administrators and important users of the site.

Primary traits

Communicator:

 Communication is an important trait. The fact is that this is a large component of moderation/administration/community management.

Communication is perhaps the most important trait, and as such the people that are utilized in these positions need to be very good communicators. It isn’t a matter of being a great speaker or writer. The primary need is to be able to express complex things in basic terms so that most of the community is able to understand them. Conversely it is necessary to communicate the Community’s message to our Company. Aspects that may assist in being a good “communicator” are covered below.

In the recruitment of moderators/administrators, what I am looking for is someone who has gone out of their way to communicate to other users something that they may have learnt recently and they wish to share with the community to help them.

Empathy:

Administrators/moderators/community managers need to see things from the emotional perspective of our community. It is the understanding of their wants and needs that helps our communities to make positive changes in manners which they will be most receptive too.

Community Managers need to feel what the community feels. If there is a significant change to the dynamic of the community, such as a policy change, the CM/moderators/administrators needs to feel it as it they were the community and understand the emotional impact on the community, and ensure that the policy change is received in a manner that the community will resonate positively too.

Perspective:

Differing from empathy in that it is necessary to be able to separate the emotions from the logical, using common sense and personal experience. The perspective to present the right information to the community and our companies is necessary.

This is the tough one, and one that can really only be learned by doing or by through observation (covered below). Each community is different and even within a given community there may be sub-communities that differ. The situations where you will need to use this trait will be just as unique. One can only work on experience formed from relationships that have been built within the community to ensure that these situations are “played out” in an appropriate manner.

Advocacy:

Simply put, influencing outcomes and the culmination of the three previous attributes. Sometimes this means we are advocating for the community within our company and in others it may be advocating for the company to the community. Either way, it is an important part of being a Community Manager.

We are the champions, the ambassadors and the evangelists. It is sometimes our jobs to ensure that the message is heard, fully understood, and acted upon.

Selflessness:

The art of building/teaching others and providing value to others will in turn provide people with an investment in the community.

This trait should be utilized with the individuals taking up positions around you, below you and competing with you. If you are a good “netizen” (citizen of the Internet) it places you in a position of advantage with your community and its identity, by default they will perceive that your intentions are those of genuine benefit and your interests lie in being a champion of transparency to them as individuals, their community and the internet as a whole. Those intentions need to genuinely provide benefit and encourage transparency as well… no smoke and mirrors.

Observation:

The art of recognizing new directions/cultures/behaviours early in their growth stage.

In keeping with “perspective”, this is a trait that is focused on watching others’ online behaviour and trends and being “in tune” with them. Be it through quantitative metrics (page views, unique visitors, new posts per day etc.) or through qualitative metrics (What is the “new buzz”? What are people now passionate about?) both in your community, or elsewhere within the Internet. Good community managers are astute observers of community interaction and interpersonal relationship dynamics. The earlier a new direction/culture/behaviour is identified, the more chance your community has of capitalizing on it.

Identity:

Conversely to observation where one needs to understand others’ behaviour, one should not be averse to sharing theirs. As is the point with any dialogue, it should never be “one way”, one needs to be an intent listener, but they need to be able to interject with appropriate commentary, questions, stories, facts etc. for the conversation to be stimulated. Don’t be afraid to have a personality, share your opinions, your interests, be quirky and have an identity, not only will it assist in giving you an investment in your communities, but to be personable, first one needs to be a person. I like adding random awkward silences in interviews to see how people deal with them.

Passion:

 Ultimately one needs to have some sense of passion towards the concept of the community, and hopefully the medium as well.

It is difficult to feign interest in managing individuals even at the best of times, and is definitely necessary for motivation when someone is parading over the Internet calling you all sorts of names at 2am. One needs to have a deep rooted caring for their community and what it stands for.

Secondary Traits

Organization:

Be a master of information and keep it all together.

The very nature of managing a number of users is that a moderator/administrator/community manager will deal with a lot of information and often have many tasks on their plates to the point of being overwhelmed. Managing and directing your time to those tasks that will provide the greatest benefit to your community/company is necessary and conversely ensuring as “few balls get dropped as possible” as small irrelevant issues can soon snowball into an 800lb gorilla.

Analytical:

Seeing beyond what is primary and often looking “outside of the box”.

We often gather a great deal of information and we need to be able to sort out the important information. Knowing that you had a 150% increase in community members from Spanish speaking countries may not be the first thing you notice, but it is information you should be aware of.

Creativity:

The art of looking at a problem, and coming up with unconventional ways to solve it.

While as above, being analytical and understanding appropriate data points is important, the application and management of that information in products/communication etc. should not be “dry” or “cliché”. Community management isn’t a formula, it is not a rubber stamp, one needs to see problems and find useful, simple, unique, integrated and proactive manners in which to solve them. The creativity in your problem solving and implementation will help with you and your communities identity.

Knowledgeable:

Ultimately one should attempt to be the center of the community knowledge base. It cannot be expected that one knows everything, but we should know how to find it all out.

The community will have an expectation that the fearless leader of the group should know just about everything. Often this can be quite challenging due to the sheer amount of information that one might be expected to know, but it is very important as it creates a sense of credibility (see selflessness). At the very least one should know how to get the requested information and be willing to say “I don’t know, but here is where you can find it”. However, one should not as an individual focus their responsibility on sharing this information at all times with everyone (a community or business cannot scale appropriately if the knowledge is only held by one person), but on occasions share it in a proactive fashion to encourage the learning of others, and at all times provide it upon direct personal request.

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