In this episode of the Community Strategy Podcast, you’ll hear an excerpt from Deb Schell’s new book, Creator to Community Builder. This episode is an expert from Twelve — Maintain Your Community.
Creator to Community Builder offers time-saving tips for struggling entrepreneurs to establish and scale online communities, enhancing business growth and client connections. Community Strategist Deb Schell shares insights from aiding 60+ business owners, offering stories, strategies, and practical tools to launch thriving communities, ultimately saving money and time.
A note to readers that there is no audiobook version, which is why this particular season offers audio experts of the book. To get a PDF digital copy for free, click here. (Link expires 1.1.24)
Back in 2012, well before developing my own community, I went to my first improv comedy show. I had struggled with taking myself too seriously, so when a friend suggested I join her, I was interested to see if it could help me eliminate my “Debbie Downer” attitude. (And yes, I wouldn’t say I like that term.)
The result? I was instantly laughing and realized I wanted to laugh even more, so I started attending monthly shows. Over the years, I became a superfan, attending shows with friends and inviting others along. Three years later, I decided to try improv for myself. I wanted to jump out of my comfort zone, so I signed up for a beginner’s class at the Harrisburg Improv Theatre (HIT). I knew back then that I wanted to do some sort of public speaking, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that looked like, so improv was a great way to become comfortable with being on stage.
Over time, my confidence, in life and onstage, grew. I signed up for a level two class six years after that first class. I left my comfort zone a year later and registered for level three. By then, I’d built relationships within the improv community in Harrisburg. It was like nothing I’d experienced in my adult life. I instantly felt welcomed. I also felt included, a sensation I hadn’t experienced for a long time.
The reason I felt welcomed was because I’d been invited to participate. I’d been encouraged to connect with others. Anyone can attend a show or take a class, but this community provided a path to become more involved. Not only was there a path to involvement, but there were also leaders in each class who guided me to participate and engage further. After class, community members went to dinner and had a great meal together. As I discovered, it’s hard to beat the feeling of being welcomed by a community of peers. Years later, a fellow improv friend shared with me that she wanted to shift her existing courses online and wanted my help. Excited by this opportunity, I jumped in to help her make the transition by becoming her community manager. At the time, I had a solid understanding of the technology setup, but the focus of the community, Reiki healing, was unfamiliar to me.
I worked hard to reach out to each member, answer their questions, and guide them through navigation of the community. However, I struggled to connect with them in a deep and meaningful way. Although I cared about their member experience, I didn’t share their passion for the subject matter.
What I took away from that experience is that, while I loved and related to my improv friend (the community host), I wasn’t a good fit as her community manager. When I speak with clients about hiring a support team, I always recommend starting from within the community. Your members are already interested in the subject; some have built friendships and partnerships outside the platform. Maybe they even consider other members among some of their best friends. Community members are the best people to help you grow your membership; when you’re starting, they may even volunteer to help things start moving!
Before Hiring Your First Community Manager
If you need support, I recommend that you document your current processes to manage the community through a standard operating procedure (SOP). If you plan to hire a community manager, they’ll need this document as a guide. Many new community professionals will expect to be trained by you or your team.
If you don’t yet have an SOP, setting one up is worth your time. Start by writing out everything you can think of that’s required to operate your community. You can perfect the document later. For now, capture anything that comes to mind. Consider the software and the time needed to set up each community space within it. Take notes about tasks to perform within the software, such as logging into your community platform, updating or adding content, and creating events. It would be best to write out everything you currently do or want the community manager to do.
I wish I could tell you an easier way to do this, but it’s about getting what you know out of your head. Someone else needs to be able to read, understand, and act from your guidance.
Pro-Tip: You could use artificial intelligence (AI) or voice-recording software to transcribe your SOP for you. Alternatively, you might hire a virtual assistant (VA) to capture your verbal brain dump and turn it into action steps. Remember, this person’s job isn’t to read your mind. You still need to be heavily involved in the process.
Please take a look at what this community manager will do and how they will best support you. For example, if you run a course, how can they help you gather materials, set up events, or schedule social media promotion posts? The more specific you are about what you need, the easier it will be to find the right person.
The community industry has become a booming field where you can find various kinds of community managers. Some are more operational-based, focusing on systems, processes, and efficiency. Other community managers are focused on member experience. These professionals moderate the digital space, ensure members receive what they need, and respond when expectations aren’t being met.
So many of my clients want to hire a community manager right at the start of their journey. I did, too. I learned, however, that the decision to hire depends on the community hosts’ individual needs, intentions, challenges, and goals, which will determine when and how to hire a community manager.
Ultimately, it comes down to budget. If you have the financial backing to hire support, then great! If you don’t, you’ll need to find ways to utilize ambassadors, advocates, volunteers, moderators, and members who want to support the community.
Community management is about building relationships, solving problems, and facilitating a safe space. Many community managers offer technical support to members when problems arise. A good community manager will know many of the members of a community by first name and usually can tell you something about each one. Depending on how active the host is within the community, it may be the manager who’s the heart and soul of the space. Members should feel comfortable expressing their issues and asking questions when needed.
No matter the platform, a community manager needs to understand the importance of their role. They could handle the daily operations so the host can focus on the business development and growth strategies.
Before you hire a community manager:
- Develop an SOP for your community processes.
- Allocate funds to cover the investment.
- Make time to train this new person.Prepare a thirty- or sixty-day plan to guide them
Tips from community pros
I asked several community professionals what they wished they had known when they started. These experts represent various spaces, including business-to-business and customer communities. Here are their thoughts:
Pat Cooney is a Community Engineer at ProntoForms, a software provider for corporate technicians who work with remote and outside field teams. Pat says, “Always ask questions and reach out for help. Remain flexible and be ready, willing, and able to adjust your course. What is true today may not be true in six months, and you need to be agile enough to adjust to shifting realities and targets.”
Glory Osiagor is a social media manager and community manager for NNN, an ecosystem that “empowers the Crypto revolution.” Glory states, “It’s okay to feel frustrated and lost; it only means you are one step closer to becoming one of the best community builders because those scaling this niche never had an easy journey.”
Matthew Grande, cofounder of Careerage, advises new community builders: “Start with twenty-five to thirty people whom you can spend time building a relationship with. Don’t do any of the technical setup alone; hire someone. Give the founding members the ability to craft their own experience.”
Pablo Gonzalez, co-founder of BeTheStage, is the community builder show host. He also generated more than $40 million for a single client. He advises, “Don’t try to be Superman. Build the Avengers as quickly as possible and share the stage with them. Create a space where you add value, and each member receives and adds value at their capacity or want.”
Jenny Weigle, a strategic consultant for large enterprise companies, says knowing stakeholders’ expectations within your organization is vital to success and growth. “I learned how to work with stakeholders in other company areas to help them understand the community benefits. Those are skills I had to focus on and build over time. It would have helped to know how to talk to them about their goals and how the community could help to achieve them.”
Paul M. Bradley, vice president of Community at Kaplan, advocates approaching the community with curiosity: “I wish I’d known that campaigns could be better to launch and that it’s more important to have something out there bringing people together because people don’t only collaborate over perfect experiences. I spent nearly a year working on a grand plan for a community already launched. When I left, I was disappointed with what I had achieved. I should have been firing my ideas out there as they came running with what stuck.”
Robert Maddox, community manager for Delinea, shares the importance of utilizing your network. “Start with an internal audit of the company and get to know existing community members before launching a new campaign. As for building my community or meetup, double down on events to start and build the community and content around those.”
Vineet Nandan Gupta, a community strategist and consultant, says, “Community building takes many long hours, beyond the expected, until members treat you as one of them, and that is a thin line to tread a lot of times.”
Email Deb@FindCalmHere.com for questions or comments.