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12 Characteristics of a Successful Community Manager

The job of community manager blends cross-company and cross-functional leadership, big-picture strategy and vision, and a laser focus on execution -- requiring a blend of business acumen and understanding of interpersonal dynamics.

As job descriptions differ across types of communities and their maturity, so do traits and skill sets. Regardless, at a high level, a community manager’s job is to help people access each other and resources they need, in an environment of mutual trust, shared purpose, and ownership. To do so, the community manager must be:

1. Passionate
While other skills can be learned, passion is innate – you either have it or you don’t. It really makes or breaks the community. Passion helps you stay the course in changing deeply entrenched behaviors (which is often what you’re up against) and gather the right momentum and resources. Passion provides an authentic connection and builds trust with community members – it’s contagious and it helps people think bigger. This helps move the community from transactional (I go when I need something) to sustainable (I go because it’s part of who I am). Passion also brings the community manager to the cutting edge of the industry.

2. Service-oriented and patient
Community is ultimately about people. If you don’t want to interact with people or be helpful, you'll have a hard time because you will be the resource for the entire community for continued support. Treat service as a badge of honor vs. a nuisance, giving personalized attention, while answering boring and interesting questions with the same aplomb. Avoid the “Groundhog Day” effect though – deflect tactical, repetitive questions through proactively posted content and building up an scalable expertise capability.

3. Unafraid to let go
A passionate community manager is going to step into a de-facto leadership role, but must fight the impulse to overengage. You have to step back and let the community be a community. Dependence on one person creates bottlenecks, which grind a community to a halt. A sustainable community will remove bottlenecks by allowing people to self-organize. The job of the community manager is to help create a trusted environment that allows just that. Control freaks with a fear of letting go need not apply.

4. Business savvy
Whether you are building an internal community for partners or customers (or any other constituent), the community will only create business value if it’s designed to meet a business goal. Otherwise, it risks becoming a silo and staying on the periphery as the “intern’s job,” failing to get the investment and respect it needs. To that end, the community manager needs to understand the business, the marketplace, what’s important to the organization and members. You must have a general business savvy and understand marketing, sales, operations, P&L, product, business process, and customer support fundamentals – and what role community has in each of these.

5. A connector
While in the long term you need to build systems that can help people connect without your involvement, you have to do some explicit connecting when necessary – especially in the early phases. Know when to step back and when to get involved – so that you can loop the right people into a conversation to stoke the fires, or light new ones. In a fledgling community, you have to inspire early members to take a leap of faith with you. Knowing these early members – and helping them get to know and trust each other -- is critical, because it's these early dynamics that influence the community culture later.

6. Graceful under fire
All human interactions are messy, and any community is guaranteed to have its good moments – and bad ones. How you react under fire is the true test of a community manager. You need to know how to resolve an issue, while allowing parties to leave the situation and “save face.” Being firm, yet tactful, will allow you to influence people, while letting them know where the line is.  

7. A catalyst, one step at a time
It’s much more effective to help people change little by little, versus attempting a wholesale transformation. The community manager as a change agent will get further and faster by leading people gently to the proverbial water so they can drink – instead of making them drink. To create an environment that catalyzes people, you want to keep a light touch, but realize that a “free for all” cacophony will disengage people. Work with your early members to create light structures (i.e., groups, etc) to deliver a curated experience, and encourage the community to keep creating. Member ownership is really important, so don’t stifle it by being too involved.

8. Personable, yet firm
Because you are the community advocate, you need to be that "guy/gal you'd have a beer with." This doesn't mean being a pushover -- boundary setting is essential. The community manager knows where the line is drawn, is fiercely protective of the community's health and is empowered to take action when necessary - a policy is no good until acted upon. Outside of major infractions, the community manager should remain vigilant and ensure overall happiness and productivity.

9. Creative
Success in a community takes strategy and execution, as well as a dash of serendipity and creativity. How will you build buzz about the community or celebrate its birthday? Will you do anything special for your 1000th user? How will you reward desirable behaviors? Predictable is boring! Let your imagination run wild and take some chances. As online choice abound, you need to stand out and become a destination that members choose among so many other choices.

10. Comfortable with risk
The fast-changing landscape of social technology means faster action and adaptability to course-correct. While it’s critical to commit to community programs and stay with them in the long term, it's just as important to remain flexible to continue to bring value, even if the way you do it changes. You must be comfortable with constant change and taking risks.

11. Biased towards action
To say that today's world expects real-time is a platitude at this point, but a community manager must know how to weigh perfection vs. taking action. When creating content, for example, ship an MVP and ask your community to help you perfect it. When making decisions, a community manager can't wait for directions, and decisiveness is key. Leading change, building something from nothing, setting and executing strategy, sometimes in the face of internal skepticism, are not easy tasks.

12. Advocate for community and for the company
The community manager is the advocate of the community inside the company, and the company’s advocate to the community. While in principle goals of the community’s and those of the company should be the same in the long term (what’s good for the customer is good for the company), they may sometimes diverge in the short term. In those cases, getting people to see eye-to-eye is a delicate dance, but of course you can do it, because you are awesome, tactful and firm!

What personality traits and skills are helping you run your community? Or if you don’t run a community, what are you seeing as success traits in others? Learn more with our free ebook below.

This post originally appeared on the Salesforce blog.

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