How to Hire an Awesome Community Manager for your Startup

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photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3152173431

Who will be successful as a community manager?

I love coming across new community managers who say, “I guess I’ve been doing this my whole life.” It’s a light bulb that goes off in them and they’re excited for the rest of their career to get started. -Jenn P.

Many brands are searching right now for a community manager and it’s hard to know what sort of person will be successful in the community role at your company. Job descriptions (and the environment and the customers) vary wildly, so it helps to know what’s involved in the role, what kinds of behaviors mark someone as a good candidate, and how to “know a great community manager when you see them.” Everyone wants a great community manager even though they are not quite sure what that role should be. Because interviewing people for the role of a community manager can be difficult, we decided to ask some of the smartest community types we knew for their opinions.

Why should you pay attention to us and to our opinions?

Both Thomas (@thomasknoll) and Greg (@grmeyer) have been hired in to community roles and hired others into community roles, so we wanted to share two different perspectives fromboth sides of the desk. We’ve thought a lot about this challenge and wanted to get your opinions too.

Here are some of the other people we asked:

This is not an exhaustive list, and any of the folks in this group have great perspectives on building and maintaining communities – you should talk to them to get even more nuanced feedback on these questions.

When is it time to hire someone to focus on community full-time?

The first question we wanted to ask was an obvious one: when it is it time to hire someone to focus on “community” and to do it full time? Many companies and startups by their nature ask a founder or an early employee to do this, and works! (For a while.) At some point the value of the community or the time demands on that employee make it pretty obvious that you either need to ask that person or someone else to run the community show all the time.
Here are some perspectives from the group:

Before you think you need a community manager, you’re going to need to find some awesome people to share your brand with the world. Think about what you want to present if you were able to “talk to the customer” without actually being there. If you have something to say, you need an amazing community advocate.” -Greg M.

Early on, the founding team should be involved in the process of building the community before hiring someone to take primary ownership. And, whenever possible, recruit from the community itself.” -Thomas K.

“Ligaya Tichy would say it should be the 5th hire. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here but all I know is once you have customers, you have an opportunity to start building a community that will improve their experience with your brand and product. You can be learning from your community from day 1 in order to improve your product. If you don’t have a community minded founder on the team already, finding someone to focus on your customers should be a priority.” -David S

What’s your favorite community question or hack?

Sometimes the most obvious and simple answer is the best one – that attitude and technique matter to the community manager.

It sounds completely like a no-brainer given the career path, but enthusiasm is one of the greatest things a person can present when going for a community manager role. -James M

Who do you think our audience is, and what do you think is important to them? (Follow up: Assuming you got the job, how would you go about discovering these answers, and how would they factor into or drive your overall strategy? -Rachael K.

What’s the difference between customer engagment, customer success, support and community management? Which one are you? -T.A. M.

Determine the last time they helped someone independent from work – are they naturally empathetic and action-oriented? -Laura G.

How does a great community manager behave?

When I say ‘Enthusiasm’ – I’m not just talking, walk into the job interview smiling, laughing and using the words ‘I’m really passionate’ an excessive number of times. I’m talking SHOW the interview you’re enthusiastic about the role. An relativity easy task is to take a look at the companies website. From your point of view, does it harbour community as it stands? If not. Print off a screenshot and DRAW all over the damned thing! Don’t just “Tell” the interviewer how you’d help develop their platforms, physically SHOW them. A good CM would look around their competitors and other community eco-systems, pick up on where the company is lacking a little ‘something’ extra, and show the interviewers your plans and YOUR ideas. I did just that and fought off people with tons more experience than myself to land here at Sumo today :) -James M.

Community management is one of those skills that’s difficult to teach. Given the right attitude and checklists, almost anyone who engages socially can be a *good* community manager. Great community managers – like unicorns – are remarkable because they do things that good community managers don’t do in their position. What behaviors do these great community managers demonstrate? The ability to think big, think small, and to make every customer feel like a rock star.

These community managers also know how to deliver negative news in the best way possible.

Here are some more thoughts from the group:
Find people who are already engaging as community managers and talk to them (online or offline). Learn more about what makes them tick. Imagine the person in the role and see if you can imagine trusting them with the responsibility to communicate your vision and mission to the world. Every day.

It helps if they’ve done the job before. If they haven’t done the job before, look for evidence that they know how to write, how to express their ideas, how to speak in front of people without freaking out, and that they have *fun*.

Also, look for a person who exhibits “lazy programmer” characteristics – meaning that they go out of their way to automate a problem that annoys them so that they can spend more time being “lazy” and thinking about the next problem to solve. -Greg M

There is certainly a significant level of strategic knowledge that only comes through experince. But most community building tactics can be taught. What is nearly impossible to teach is empathy and supurb communication skills. So, I make that a primary filter for the process.One of my favorite interview questions is to explain the interest in throwing a party and what the group will be like, and have the candidate talk through the process of determining the best venue, music, food, activities, invites, and how they would manage and host the party during the event itself. There isn’t really a right answer, but the types of questions they ask, and the way that describe their decision process will give a lot of insight into how they would think through gathering the members of your community, making them feel welcome, and “managing” the experience. -Thomas K.

Where do you find your next community manager?

We’ve talked about how to know that you might need a community manager and how to identify them by the behaviors they demonstrate. But where do you find the real people? An obvious answer might be: “engage in a community and you’ll find the community manager.” And it’s a bit more than that. You need to find people who are already doing community work – and they might not be in the tech field – and to engage with the people who best match the style of your brand and your customers.

Look in the most unexpected places. Look for people who don’t know they’ve been a community manager all along. Someone who’s a natural event planner, someone with a personality that people flock to, and someone that’s entrepreneurial and starts groups based on hobbies or interests. -Jenn P.

If you find one good community advocate, you’ll find more. Look for the places where they talk to each other – this could be a local meetup, a conversation on Twitter, or in a piece that they publish online. Finding a great community type is a bit like a unicorn – you might not know where to look immediately, and you know one when you see them (or talk to them) – so it might require a bit of unconventional thinking. Or you might find them in the usual places – engaging with customers. – Greg M.
Even though the number of community professionals continues to grow, there are not many people who have been doing this job for 15 or even 5 years. But, there are a lot of great professions to recruit people from. Teachers, social workers, therapists, event planners, and people from top-tier-service organizations tend to be amazing at transitioning into community management. -Thomas K.

This may be counter-intuitive, and these are definitely generalizations, but there are several roles that tend to be very difficult to transition from. People from support can jump too quickly to solving everyone’s problems, rather than helping the community support each other. People from marketing can treat the conversations and relationships a little too transactionally. Social Media Rock Stars and Social Media Ninjas can have a little too much trouble stepping out of the spotlight, to let the community and its members shine themselves. -Thomas K.
Depends if you need them to create the strategy, or just execute the strategy. You’ll need someone with experience to really put together a thorough strategy. You can either hire them full time or bring them in as a consultant to put the pieces in place. The day to day execution can be done by someone entry level. A great first place to look for this is in your own community. Who has naturally established themselves as a leader? Hire them. -David S.

What questions should you ask to evaluate a Community Manager?

Community management positions are hard to hire. Behavioral questions that help the CM to tell a story are a great place to start. When you ask the candidate to convince you as if you are a member of their community, you’re seeing them do similar things as they would when actually in the job. So be skeptical – to a point – and let them charm you. The best ones will.
Some great questions to consider asking:
  1. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever facilitated?
  2. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever see someone else deliver?
  3. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you fixed it anyway.
  4. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you couldn’t fix it.
  5. What do you like to read or do when you’re not talking to customers?h
  6. What are some of the best communities you participated in?
  7. Which artist do you think has the best community?
  8. How would you plan a party for 60 of our cusotmers who have ________? (see above)
  9. Ugh, users are so dumb… am I right?!

How is community management different in a B2B or B2C world?

When you’re looking for a great community manager, you’ll want to make sure that the person has experience driving a community that uses a similar business model as the one you’re engaging in. Many community managers can handle both the “business to business” mindset and the “business to consumer” mindset, and some have a preference for one model over another. The basics of community management are the same in both worlds, and the implementation can be different by night and day.
b2b = businesses who want you to be able to hit their problems with an “Easy Stick”. They want you to give them solutions they can use over and over again and implement with little effort. They may place less importance on building an emotional relationship and more emphasis on building a pragmatic, business driven solution.
b2c = wants you to save the day. The customer would also like you to make the process as easy as possible and is not crazy typically about doing work to get you there – though many customers will help. The b2c customer would love to trumpet you to the skies when you deliver a WOW experience to them. -Greg M.
at their core all communities are exactly the same. Yes, they are going to play out differently for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely have different goals and KPIs and metrics for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely want to adopt different strategies for b2b vs b2c. But, ultimately all businesses are h2h: human to human. And the characteristics of community are the same: shared purpose, sense of belonging, an appreciation for dialog and the pursuit of shared truth. -Thomas K.

What now?

Now that you’ve learned a little more about our perspective, you should go ask the people on this list for the best community types that they know. You should engage online with the communities most similar to yours. And you should pay attention to the people who respond to you online – they just might be your next community manager.
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