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


 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


 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


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.


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.


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.


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.


April 8, 2011

Today I happened across Facebook’s Open Compute project, coincidentally the same day they made the project public – ah, the joys of the Internet, and real time news – and it reverberated inside of me like reading Macbeth does to Shakespeareans, or a Classical Music buff listening to Bach.

This here is how modern companies should be focusing on not only sharing ideas with customers, but listening from them, taking their worthwhile suggestions, and implementing them, and becoming the proverbial pane of glass.Pane of Glass

Today’s society expects, and demands such transparency. I am sure that more traditional business managers and owners would frown on such an approach, “we have developed this leading technology, we want to keep it proprietary”. Really? And loose the advantage of utilizing your greatest source of innovation (your customers) to help you steer your business to where it can improve upon?

Not only is the Open Compute project such a boon from a PR perspective, a great “give back” to the Social Media community, it is a genuinely wonderful way to spur on further development, Jonathan Heiliger even says in their intro video that he wants their ideas to be torn apart by customers, tell them where they are doing things wrong so they can improve them further. What an honest way to approach a project “I haven’t made this perfect, tell me where I can do better” – I hope he can be rewarded by some of the responses.

This act by Facebook really shows to me that they “get” Social Media – I know that sounds ironic, many would argue that they are Social Media, but in my mind they haven’t had the best background in understanding that users are your commodity, and focusing your company towards that – through unannounced (and unwanted) UI changes, a CEO that at times has presented himself in a manner that doesn’t always portray the image as being personable (although I am sure he is), and the genuine lack of community that Facebook can create, a place of centered expression, and not communal extension.


The Internet is one global community, we all need to participate in it, help ourselves and each other grow, and often by “giving back”, we can gain a whole lot more.

March 22, 2011

Benefits of Community Management

Community management is a practice of expanding a website’s value through building goodwill with your customer, the end user. By expanding this relationship, and giving value to the user, the community in return receives “value”, in terms of expanding the capital in the website (goodwill), as well as expanding its revenue streams.

What is value?

Value within a community is the art of “giving” to a user.

In an industry where there is minimal “hard capital”, and developing a distribution network does not have the barriers to entry of traditional media (Newspapers/TV etc.), giving value is essential, as it distinguishes you from competitors and provides a larger barrier for new competitors to overcome.

This can be the following:

  • Giving a user the information they are seeking
  • Giving the user a “sense of community”
  • Giving the user a “sense of individuality”
  • Giving the user a feeling of enjoyment in interaction

List 1.1

Giving a user the information they are seeking

As a site it is a necessary to be “the resource” for getting the correct answers. This information also needs to be accessible in a manner that is simple and logical. This can be done through appropriate product and community measures.  First, make sure the necessary content is present; then, make the content easily accessible. Ultimately, users come to your site for a reason – give it to them!

Giving the user a “sense of community”

Make the user feel as if they are part of “something big”, something growing and expanding, and those individuals by sheer association will feel as if they are gaining value. People want vibrant communities, not stale ones. Users can be fickle at times, and as such a community needs to “inject life” into a user. This can be done through advocating community activities (e.g. publicising local get-togethers), promoting members of the community, advertising the community elsewhere (on the internet or off the internet). Make sure your name is “out there”, and it is seen by both fresh eyes and familiar ones.

Giving the user a “sense of individuality”

The easiest way to give a user a sense of investment is to allow them to be themselves within the community. One needs to maintain the expectation that everyone is an individual with varied backgrounds, and their desires/demands and forms of expression are just as varied. Allow them to utilize the site as they want to, provide them with the tools to do so, and allow them to express themselves. Where possible one should attempt to accommodate all potential users needs/wants and desires. Allowing users a “sense of individuality” can grow into giving users a “sense of community” as individuals form into groups of like-minded individuals as your audience expands.

Giving the user an overall feeling of enjoyment in interaction

Enjoyment in interaction can come from many aspects – gaining information, sense of community and sense of individuality – conversely their enjoyment can possibly be eroded by an disproportionate focus on these items. A community should be something that everyone feels as if they “enjoy” participating in. Be cognizant that while one should provide users with a sense of individuality, don’t allow that expression to go beyond their talents or infringe upon other users desires to see peoples “individuality”. One of Myspace’s greatest failures in comparison to Facebook for example was its ability to create completely custom profile pages – this would be fine if it was merely a community of web designers, but it was a community of 16yr olds. Facebook on the other hand allowed people to express their individuality in offering very varied (and easily accessible) language settings for different countries, and security/privacy settings to allow people to express their content in their individual manner. Make product implementations, communication, policy changes etc. in a manner that the community will appreciate and enjoy.

An important aspect here as well is that while one should actively encourage personal individuality/community, one should also espouse a global sense of identity for the site that users can associate with and want to be a part of (avoid being cliché’!). Where you cannot avoid utilizing common concepts (for example, a common forum platform) for reasons of scalability, ensure it is personalized appropriately – details will not go unnoticed.

How can you extract value?

There are many methods in which “value” can be gained from the website, these are by no means all the forms of extracting value, but they are the most common.

  1. User being exposed to advertising
  2. Purchasing direct sold products (premium memberships and/or advertising)
  3. Contributing content (posts)
  4. Expanding the brand through viral marketing (Hey John, are you on Corvette Forum? Etc.) and linking elsewhere on personal sites or other communities.
  5. Management and leadership of the individuals that provide these contributions.

More to come 🙂

Doing is the new talking.

August 29, 2010

With the burgeoning communication revolution brought upon by social media, how can one still maintain a positive public image? There are countless review sites, blogs, forums and numerous other forms of on-line communication whereby your businesses reputation can hang in the balance of an over opinionated 13 year old prepubescent keyboard warrior.
Enfant Provocateur

What to do?

Well – lets start with what not to do in your communication.
Don’t be flowery.
Don’t exaggerate.
Don’t be artificial.
Don’t be egotistical.
Don’t say something will be done, when it might not be.
Don’t be afraid to take the heat.
Don’t write a novel, when a sentence will do.
Don’t wear a tin foil hat.
Don’t be defensive.
Don’t be boring.

Some things you should do
Be Human.
Analyze if a public response is worthwhile.
Do something.
Fix the issue.
Show compassionate.
Pack some humor.
Act humble.

Talk may be cheap, it is cheap, but on the Internet, it can be expensive.

Online Social Hierachy

August 29, 2010

In days of yore, hierarchy (or “class” if you will) was a clear cut, easily defined item. Bourgeoisie and the proletariat, rich and poor, “well networked” and seclusive, most knowledgeable and most intellectually “challenged”, powerful and submissive were usually respectively synonymous.
Today, things are much more complex if you wish to divide individuals into “classes”, it could be argued that the breadth of “class” is greater than it has ever been, but also it is much more difficult to define. Is the person at the top of the hierarchy the person with the most economic might? The most intelligent professor? The individual with the greatest social influence? or perhaps those with the most political power?
Each of those categories are easy to define in terms of who holds the “upper hand”, but those that are at the top of each of those respective pyramids can be vastly different individuals.

Thats all well and good, but what does it have to do with online media? Well as we are more and more influenced by friends in our consumption of our media, those creating media need to find those at the top of the Social Hierarchical pyramid and leverage them. These individuals aren’t necessarily famous (although they might be, Vin Diesel, Aston Kutcher are good examples), but these are the people that cause people to gravitate around them, they are gifted with a natural sense of “sociableness”.

Utilizing the concept of “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon” comes into play here, as social networks lower our communication barrier and make us more connected, if you find those that are “most connected”, and influence them in such a manner that they are willing to organically share their experiences with your product/service/ability to operate a BBQ you will more effectively “touch” more people.

Internet is the future…

December 26, 2009

I was informed by someone this week, when they inquired as to what I did for employment that “the Internet is the future”.
Pondering the statement, I thought more about it. This individual was in their 20’s, appeared to be reasonably technically savy, but they thought that the Internet is the future?

I find the statement from Sony Pictures CEO, Michael Lynton amusing and relevant;

I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet

For reference, Michael Lynton was previously the president of a small company called AOL.

I appreciate that the Internet is the cause of a lot of creative destruction, where all forms of content is pilfered, extrapolated, pirated and just down right abused. Lynton further said

[The internet has] created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.

This I could only agree with as well. The Internet espouses not only a sense of entitlement to be able to get what you want, when you want it, and pay nothing for it, but also a sense of anonymity, in that you are entirely removed from the consequences of your own actions. Given one of the theories of road rage evolves from the sense that the physical barrier of your vehicles windows/panels empowers an individual to be much more bold in their actions to other road users than they would be in a normal social setting – and the subsequent “flipping of the bird” and colorful language than ensue – when you are 15, sitting in your bedroom in your underpants, typing out a comment on your favorite youtube video, because some ignorant fool just disgraced your mother and your family heritage, you can see this “social removal” in place.
Same with the downloading of pirated content, very few people see that downloading Batman is essentially putting some very poor movie script writers out of work, and those that do probably don’t care that much.

So, we have discovered that the Internet isn’t always necessarily “good”, but back to our original comment “the future“?
This statement I think could be correct, if it was made about 15years ago. We saw a stratospheric rise in the Internet business in the late nineties, followed by one of the most cataclysmic collapses in stock market history. From here however, the Internet industry has evolved and developed and it has captivated our attention: Time on internet doubled in last 10 years
Within 15 years it has caused the downfall (if not the demise) of conventional media streams.

So, while the Internet isn’t necessarily good, its hardly the future.

Users are your customers

December 13, 2009

In the age of social media and e-commerce eyeballs are the customers walking in your door.
Sounds simple.
Sounds common sense.
It is easily (and often) overlooked.

Whatever your intent is in creating a website, be it for profit, for enjoyment, for expression or just because its a Tuesday evening and you have nothing better to do with your time, take a step back for a second and examine how you can improve the end users experience, even if this is initially at the expense of your initial goal.
You have seconds to grasp a customer and a minute chance of keeping them.
Engage and captivate.

A website is often seen as a one way conversation, a site giving the end user what they seek, a marketing tool and also as I have (scaringly!) heard, the future!
A website should be like a good restaurant.
You should have people outside greeting the potential customers, engaging them, showing them where there are tables available; they came here to eat, right? A waiter should arrive promptly with water and menus and inform the customers of the evening specials. Whenever there is an expression of interest in a dish, he should describe the meal in greater detail. He should provide the customers with an enjoyable experience.
Likewise, a website should invite a user in, it should have a smile (and hopefully a laugh!), it should captivate them, it should provide them with the knowledge they need and not overwhelm them with what they don’t.
IOTA has a great presentation on some of the great rules of building a website for your customers:

Above all else, build a website that you would want to visit.

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