Hiring a community manager? Don’t do this.

by Venessa Paech October 16, 2019

Online community management is a growing occupation and more organisations are looking to engage community head-count internally.

Working in online community for 20 years, this is music to my ears. But I also know, as an emergent and not well understood discipline, it’s easy to get hiring wrong.

Here are some important things to avoid if you’re hiring a community manager for your organisation.

Don’t hire a social media addict

We’ve seen way too many recruiters ask for someone who loooooves social media and spends every waking moment posting.

Being an avid user of social media, a community manager does not make. In fact, it might mean that the person needs some self-care and time away from screens. While a strong personal brand on social media can be a strategic asset for your business, it’s utterly unrelated to the skills and experience it takes to manage an online community. If you wanted to hire a mechanic would you look for someone who spent all day driving?

If community management is what you need (versus brand ambassadorship), don’t get dazzled by personal follower counts or obsessive usage.  A Community Manager is a public-facing representative for your organisation. They will be building peer-to-peer relationships and oversee social care and governance. They will be driving strategic engagement (not vanity metrics). They need superb, nuanced communication and mediation skills, commercial acumen and much more.

Don’t hire an intern

Community management is not an entry-level role. Repeat, Community management is not an entry-level role.

There are a hierarchy of roles with community management, from junior to senior decision-maker and C-suite. But even the most novice community role requires a blend of polished written communication, reading digital behavioural cues, engagement techniques, people management, mediation skills, and governance implementation.

By all means, hire an intern to be mentored by your community manager. But it’s a recipe for disaster to ask an intern to take the lead; the digital equivalent of shoving them in front of a global press conference for your entire business. It’s also cruel to the intern, who’ll be taking on risky work that may create issues in their personal and professional lives.

Community management is complex and highly visible work. It’s not a safe space for unsupported newcomers.

Don’t hire a marketer/advertiser

Social media marketing and social media advertising are highly-skilled, sophisticated roles. But they’re totally different from community management. There are overlaps (particularly with the former) and they can and should support each other in a business, but getting them mixed is common – and a really bad move.

The tasks you do each day, what you optimise for and how you measure success – all these and more are very different for marketing, advertising and community management.

In a smaller market like Australia, many professionals have cultivated a range of these skill sets and specialties, so you may find talent that can flex either way. But it’s essential you don’t let that confuse what you need, what you’re hiring for and what gets asked of the person you hire day-to-day.

If they can’t tell you the differences, they’re probably not the right one for your community management role.

Read more about the important differences between Social Media Management and Community Management

Don’t hire someone who does too much

Beware of hiring someone who lists community management alongside a raft of other careers: developer, digital strategist, marketer, PR co-ordinator and so forth. While community management may be something you spend one part of your career working in before moving into another area, it’s not something you can really dabble in. It is, however, something many people in other roles (e.g. digital marketers, journalists or advertisers) get ‘lumped’ in with the rest of their already significant workloads.

If you’re the one advertising for a role that spans too many areas (e.g events, marketing, SEO, PR, community management), you’re destined for disappointment (they’re not interchangeable and each demands discrete skills and backgrounds). Think about whether strategic community building is actually a priority for your organisation. If it is, then it needs a dedicated resource with relevant experience and skills. Inadequate resourcing is a top reason communities fail.

So what should you look for?

If you are looking to hire or engage the services of a community manager, look to their practical experience. If you can’t find someone with real online community experience, you should prioritise written communication and conflict resolution/crisis management skills.

Working knowledge of the platform/s your community will be built on is great, but these skills can usually be learned with relative ease if the person is technically fluent.

Many will suggest you hire a “people” person, while this is true, don’t confuse popularity or extroversion with ‘people person’. Ask, are they an online ‘people person’? Community management can be socially isolating within a business as it’s often a solo (even remote) appointment it’s new and misunderstood profession, and most ‘socialising’ happens within the confines of the community itself. Make sure they find online socialising enriching. Remember that people’s online personalities can be very different than their offline personas.

Read more: Why extroversion isn’t a requirement for community management

If you need a community manager, it pays to hire thoughtfully and methodically. Getting it wrong risks legal and reputational damage, and getting it right can be an investment in a high-value, long-standing business asset.

If you have any more questions about what to look for or prioritise, we’re happy to help.