Customer Development, Customer Experience, Startup

How to Hire an Awesome Community Manager for your Startup

3152173431_4725e83dab_b

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.
Life Hacks, Startup

5 Steps to Surviving and Thriving in Startup Life

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadicentrepreneur/

 

On Climbing the Startup Mountain

Life in a startup is a non-stop business. Whether you are aware of it or not, your work-life balance suffers, your relationships are strained, and your personal health and motivation may waver. Yet it’s the most amazing rush in the world.

Working in startups gives you the freedom, opportunity, and responsibility to build an uncertain product for am uncertain customer in an uncertain market. There is more change in a startup day (and sometimes, intraday) than most businesses see in a week or a month. And that change brings stress, excitement (sometimes anxiety) and an intense need for resilience.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” 
-Nelson Mandela

Failure Happens. How do you get up?

We often fall in startups. And we need to get up stronger and faster to make the changes that prevent the same mistake from happening again.

With that in mind, here are 5 steps to help you survive in startup life as you scale new heights:

Continue reading

Life Hacks, On Writing, Product Strategy

The hard thing about realizing it’s a hard thing

If you haven’t already picked up Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, you should. When I started to read Ben’s book, I thought that I already knew many of the things he would share, and that the payoff of reading the book would be learning about his particular struggle and viewpoint on startups. I was wrong. Full stop. Reading this book made me realize that when you’re working on a hard thing there are no easy answers and that you have to do everything you can to solve them. I knew these problems are hard – I’ve worked in startups before – but this realization was different.

Doing everything to solve a problem also means you don’t have the ability to solve every problem all of the time. You don’t have the ability to spend all of your time at work. And you don’t have all of your time available to be with your family. And you certainly don’t have time to be alone in your head not thinking about the problem. What you do have is the ability to work on the most important thing possible and to keep asking yourself at different points in the day, “Am I working on what’s most important?” Ben’s point is that you have to be brutally honest with yourself to know what’s important.

The meaning of important will change throughout the hour, day, week, and month. And the insight I gained from Ben’s book is that the most important thing isn’t always evident – it’s a combination of what you feel in your gut and the data that you gather – and you need to try very hard to stay true to that instinct. You won’t always be right, and it’s in fact guaranteed that you will make some mistakes. So what should you do when you realize you’re working on something hard?

You need to keep your body and brain going. That means that you need to eat right, get at least some exercise, and figure out when you can get sleep. When you’re working on a hard problem you often need to put in extra hours. If you put in extra hours every night you’ll run out of gas before you solve the problem. I’m not sure what works for you, but it helps me if those aren’t consecutive late nights. And family time? Yes, that’s important too. Turn off your phone. Turn off your laptop. Try your darndest to make some of your time real family time (no, not multitasking time, but actual family time.)

There are only so many hours in a day. If you want to spend your time solving hard problems, you will have to give up some of those hours to solve the problems. Make the hours you spend count. You’ll only know how hard the the problem was when you look back and see how high you climbed.

Marketing Strategy, Product Thoughts, Startup

Entrepreneurship Starts with Asking Someone to Buy

bracelets

Remember to ask for the sale. You’ve probably heard these words of advice many times – whether in the context of a prospective deal, a request for a favor, or in an interview prep – and the first time you made the ask it was probably really scary. Asking for the sale is the first step to becoming an entrepreneur. When you ask someone to buy what you’re selling, you really know whether they will vote with their wallet and trust you to provide them with value.

My son has been talking about selling the friendship bracelets he makes for months. I heard about many potential business models. There was the “set up a stand at the end of the road” during the summer, the “find people at school to buy it” model, and several other less promising ideas. And the one that won the day today was “Mom? Can you give me your phone to take some pictures? I want to sell my bracelets to people I know and I hope you can post the pictures on Facebook.” The simplest business model sometimes is the best.

When you face a challenge, it’s really easy to say “I’ll think about it tomorrow” or “it’s not quite right yet” or “I don’t have all of the answers.” It’s really important to take the biggest small step you can take to move toward that goal. You won’t get it right, but one step forward is better than no steps at all.

My son is now getting orders for his bracelets, learning how to fill orders, take commissions, and deal with inventory. He is selling these bracelets for a goal – earning enough money to buy a concert-level trumpet – and he’s also learning about the details of small business. (I believe there is some side negotiation with contract labor and his little sister.) What stopped him from doing this before? Inertia. Today he decided to ask for the sale and people are buying.

“I think it’s so cool that you would do this for me,” he told his Mom today, “thank you so much.” Very soon I think he’ll figure out that he did most of this for himself. We enabled him to take the first step toward starting his business – and I hope it won’t be his last one.

Customer Service, Innovation, Productivity, Startup

Turn Off Your Lizard Brain

Seth Godin - "Quieting the Lizard Brain"
Seth Godin – “Quieting the Lizard Brain”

Seth Godin

“You don’t need to be more creative – you need a quieter lizard brain” –Seth Godin

Your brain is not your friend. At any moment now you might encounter something scary or unexpected or just plain wacky that will inspire your lower brain functions to conduct a simultaneous takeover of your higher functions (it’s for your own good, your brain tells you before quickly pulling out the rug.)

The hijack of your brain does happen to all of us. Emotional stimuli cause you to protect the most important things, not to think critically about the next step you need to take toward your goal. If you resist this effect or at least learn to recognize when it’s happening, you’ll spend more of your time (as Seth Godin suggests in the video above) getting ideas out the door in the form of product.

The first product that you build is probably not your best. And without this counterpoint to improve you won’t get to the best product waiting two, three, or twenty iterations down the road. So listen to Godin when he points out that getting a product out the door is what matters. Note that Godin doesn’t say “ship any product.” He sells you on shipping the best combination of product and utility available using the time and money that you have.

How can you make that choice today? Do a little bit every day. Make a commitment to deliver something with an impossible (or at least uncomfortable) timeline and then go deliver something good enough to meet that requirement. Because good enough is the first step on the highway to great. You won’t get there overnight, and you can’t get there if you don’t start walking.

Customer Experience, Customer Service, Startup

You are competing for attention

attention
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/35429044@N04/

The average person can hold between five to seven items in working memory. You are probably using a couple of those items already. The takeaway – especially when you’re asking customers to do something for you – is for you to ask them to do as few steps as possible.

The first step to getting consumer attention is to state very clearly why they need your product or service. The “throw it up against the wall and see what sticks” method is one way to start – refining along the way – and another is to pick the narrowest focus possible. For great examples, think of Uber (press a magic button, and a car arrives within minutes to take you where you want to go), Amazon (buy anything you want on your schedule), and Dropbox (store files that you can read from anywhere).

The second step for getting consumer attention is to realize that you are not at the stage (yet) of offering all things to all market segments. So for the target market, what problem are you solving right now? (If the answer is “not sure” perhaps you should ask your current customers and find out what they feel you’re doing to solve their problems). An example of a problem to solve right now is one that you know the customer has (because a real customer told you or asked for that service).

Getting attention is great – and guarantees that you will get one shot to make a first impression. These opportunities are also a good time to find out (sometimes abruptly) what’s not working. In the best case scenario, you gain the customer’s attention, solve their problem, and deliver a meaningful and repeatable excellent experience. And it doesn’t always work that way (no surprise).

Your best response is service to the customer. You’ve got their attention, have identified some portion of their problem, and have delivered a service or product that solved their need. Now, make sure they know you care. This sounds eminently corny and sentimental, and is the way you will find out whether you still have the customer’s attention. If they care, you have a shot at making a bad experience tolerable or a good experience great. Think of service as the peanut butter that sticks the process together. It may feel temporary but means the world to the customer when you deliver a personal solution.

Lean, Product Strategy, Product Thoughts, Startup

Duct tape and baling twine are essential tools for your startup

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhian/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhian/

Think Like MacGyver

Using duct tape and baling twine, you can build almost anything you need. It won’t be pretty, and it’s a good metaphor for finding a way to create a solution for an unknown problem. The first step is to do whatever it takes to find a workable solution. The next step is to see how well your improvised solution works. And finally, if the problem still exists and your solution is directionally right, you’ll need to find a more scalable way to solve the problem.

Finding a workable solution may mean using a kind of hack. Start by imagining how the process should work if there were no impediments. Recently, I wanted items from a calendar to show up on an Agile board – the goal was to understand how many of each item showed up in each list. A perfect solution would be an automatic import from the calendar. An imperfect solution would be to copy each item manually from the calendar to the Agile board. The end goal is the same – understand which calendar items belong in each buckets.

Go for the “It’s Done” Solution

My duct tape and baling twine method in this case? A product called Zapier – a kind of “data glue” that allows you to connect events in one service to events and data in another. I started by connecting Zapier to the Google Calendar and I also authenticated against Trello, a simple solution to create Agile boards. Zapier connects products using recipes for events triggered by data in a service. My recipe matched data in the calendar events to particular buckets in the Trello board. Using the date/time of the event and translating it into the day of the week didn’t work, so I had to use a different method: adding characters to the description of the calendar to indicate a particular day (a manual solution FTW).

Did the temporary solution work? Absolutely. Events added to the calendar now show up on the Trello board, which is a big improvemen over the previous method. To get the results into Excel, I also added another bit of duct tape – a Chrome extension to export the Trello board items. As an end-to-end solution, it works. As an automated process, it leaves a bit to be desired.

Next Steps: Building a Feature

So where will this solution go next? It needs to scale to be usable. Events need to get added to the calendar automatically and coded in such a way so that they show up in the Agile board. They also need to show up in the right place. The feature version of this idea could be feasible if there are additional user stories, a documented process showing how these events “live” from start to completion, and some idea of when the manual process will break. Start with duct tape and baling twine and build a “fake it until you make it” version. Then, test that version and see where it breaks. Finally, compile the “must have” and “nice to have” items and pick the best ones.