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What Makes A Great Internal Community Manager?

By in Tips & Guides on September 8, 2011

Social tools are easy and intuitive to use, but they are only as good as people using them. As the old adage goes: “Garbage in, garbage out.” As you build out your internal social network, your plan should include an internal community manager – someone responsible for its overall well-being. Why is that? Simply because accountability gets results. How many successful initiatives do you have without a clear owner?

What this doesn’t mean is that you need to hire a full-time person on day one; you can certainly work up to it. You can (and should) have several people taking care of the community, and even if they are doing this part-time, there will still need to be that one “owner”. Whether or not your community manager is full-time or part-time, the job is not trivial, and you have to  choose the right person carefully. Or maybe you are that person? I’ve written about attributes and skills necessary for an external social media manager before, and although there’s some overlap, it makes sense to explore in more detail on this blog.

An internal community manager is:

Passionate: In every piece of writing I do on the subject, I always place this characteristic at the top of the list. You can learn a lot of other skills; however, passion is something you can’t fake. Most likely, you will be breaking new ground and changing the company’s culture; it will be challenging. Your passion will keep you going when you want to quit. All great community managers — internal or external — have passion (often borderline fanaticism) in common. They are passionate about their communities and industries, passionate about making a difference, passionate about the higher mission that the community is built for, passionate about connecting and helping people. This brings me to my next point.

Inspired by service and people: Any social network —  internal or external — is ultimately all about people. If you don’t want to interact with people or be generally helpful, you probably won’t make a very good community manager. As a community manager, you will be the resource for the entire community for best practices and continued support and enablement. Treat that as a badge of honor, and always focus your discussion on what you want people to do vs. what not to do. That will minimize your need to make unpleasant decisions (see below).

Able to inspire others to act: Related to the point above and inspired by comments from Kate Dobbertin and Christian Dahlstrom below, the community manager, although the person ultimately responsible for the health of the community, must realize that it’s all about allowing the community be a community. If your community depends on the community manager to be always present, it will fail. If your community can self-sustain, it will succeed. Thus, the job of the community manager is to encourage people to talk to each other, build relationships, work together and take ownership of parts of the community.

Well-connected: An internal community manager is very well networked in his / her organization. In a fledgling community, you have to galvanize the organization to participate and take a leap of faith with you. To that end, you need to know your colleagues, what their strengths are, and make sure you have shared goals and viewpoints. In a more mature community alike, you have to know your coworkers in order to facilitate the connection of people to each other.

Knows evereything and is everywhere: As good as platforms like Yammer are at search of older content and serendipity of real-time discovery, sometimes important discussion points and questions get overlooked and need human involvement. If you see an important question languish without an answer, you as a community manager, need to do some legwork and connect the pieces and people.

Understands existing business processes: A key differentiator between an internal and external community management is that an internal manager must understand how the business works from the inside. A successful community will bring together people from all departments and job functions for purposes ranging from innovation to planning events. The community manager must know how to flow information and issues raised in the community into the right process.

Tactful and diplomatic: Because you are dealing with people and their careers, it’s paramount to always be tactful and diplomatic. In case you ever have to moderate a situation, things may get awkward later down the road if you mishandle the situation. By the way, fewer situations get out of control in an internal community vs. external. Unlike external communities, people’s careers are on the line, so there’s a heightened interest in “behaving.”

Confident and shrewd politician: The internal community manager is oftentimes navigating a previously unexplored space and creating an unprecedented socially-enabled workspace. The community manager will need to be able to sell the value of the effort to the C-suite, managing and mentoring upwards, aligning and navigating objections. The community manager needs to be confident, but never conceited.

Can create structure without stifling: The goal of a network like Yammer is to encourage and inspire sharing, collaborations and conversation. Thus, it’s important to not do anything to stifle a natural exchange. At the same time, in active networks, a “free for all” with no structure won’t sustain over time, especially as the network grows. It’s important to put structures in place that allow users to find what they need easily and help them isolate signal from noise, per their own definition (one man’s noise is another man’s signal, in essence). This requires cooperation on the part of the writer, reader and responder, and the community manager is there to make sure that best practices are being developed and adhered to.

Not afraid to make unpleasant decisions: Each community should have its own policy and governance, and the breadth and depth of the policy is going to depend on your company’s legal and HR teams’ involvement and comfort levels. The community manager will ensure that this policy is written, represents the stakeholders’ interests and is adhered to. The community manager knows where the line is, and is empowered to take action on minor infractions and escalate the major ones to the right departments to take disciplinary action. Outside of infractions, the community manager should take action to ensure that the general mood of the community is productive and constructive.

Patient like a saint: As your network gains mainstream acceptance in your company, you will be the person to whom everyone comes for advice. Remember what we said about accountability leading to success? Well, congratulations — you are that person! As new users will come in, you will find yourself answering the same questions over and over. Recognize patterns over time and create your own list of FAQs; direct people there. At times you will feel like you are stuck in The Groundhog Day movie having the same discussions over and over. That’s OK; remember, you are a resource for everyone else.

Creative like a circus: Success in a community takes diligent development and observing of best practices, as well as a dash of serendipity and creativity. How will you launch your Yammer network or celebrate its birthday? Will you do anything special for your 100th user? What about user 10,000? Predictable is boring! Let your imagination run wild and take some chances. As we all experience information overload, you need to stand out. Check out some creative things our customers have done.

Industry and market expertise: Your internal community manager needs to be the jack of all trades and really know what’s going on in the market. The knowledge of macro and micro trends and market forces, as well as immaculate knowledge of the company, will allow this person to have interesting and enlightening conversations with others.

The above success characteristics are common to many internal community managers; of course the list is not exhaustive. Depending on the lifestage of your community, you may need to emphasize certain characteristics above others, but that’s fodder for a follow-up blogpost.

So what do you think, reader? Do you manage an internal community, or know someone who does? What success characteristics are you finding important?

Photo credit: marfis75

21 Responses to What Makes A Great Internal Community Manager?

  1. Maria, thanks for putting this into words. I’ve been trying to describe this role myeslf. It seems that there is a true need to have a person who owns a community. A few weeks ago there was a blog about engagement, “How engaged is your community”. It was a perfect lead into this article.
    In my opinion, your community owner needs to be a community builder. I look forward to comments from others on this thread. Thanks again.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Christian! Great seeing you here, and thanks for the comment. To Kate’s point (below) – the success of the community depends on participation of others, but yes, there absolutely needs to be one person who’s accountable. And great terminology re: community builder. Agree 100%

      Great to see that you liked the other post. That was also inspired by questions that I got when I first started in the job roughly 6 months ago. It’s the questions from the community that help shape these discussions. You guys rock!

      - Maria

  2. Kate Dobbertin says:

    I’d add to this list: as willing to give up responsibility as she is to assume it.

    The most important thing a community manager can realize is that she, by herself, can never make the community successful. A community that only looks to one person is, in reality, a helpdesk! A community manager must notice and praise those who naturally start taking on community management tasks — and help to organize and lead these individuals in an organized effort to improve the community.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Kate! Great great great comment! I completely messed up by not including this. Something that most people don’t realize is what a large percentage of a community manager’s work is done behind the scenes — encouraging, coaching, putting together best practices for others. I just realized that I missed yet another point — ability to create a self-sustaining community. If your community manager steps away and the community falls apart – that’s a problem. This is true for internal and external as well.

  3. Alex Blanton says:

    Curious about how much of numbers person you think an internal community manager should be. Particularly around defining success measures and tracking them. And then communicating those numbers to management. Thoughts?

    • Maria says:

      Hi Alex!

      Great question. I think in most meaningful positions in social media these days you have to have at least some kind of facility with numbers and analysis. Being able to recap the successes that you are having, as well as being able to understand how you can coursecorrect, is critical in driving the effort forward. However, be careful not to go into “analysis paralysis”, as you can’t measure everything. Make sure to also pay attention to qualitative and quantitative analysis for a well-rounded view.

      Thanks again for reading and contributing!

      - Maria Ogneva @themaria

  4. What great timing. I am in the process of hiring a community manager for external and internal purposes. Perfect post!

  5. [...] the theme going on in this blog about internal community management success. We wrote about general success characteristics, as well as what it takes to build out and nurture a nascent community. It’s now time to [...]

  6. Excellent post. Thanks Maria.

  7. Ron Stoller says:

    Interesting. I didn´t even know that there is some kind like a community manager. But after reading your article i have to admit: It makes sense, that big communities like Facebook or the german meinVZ need some kind of special management. Thank you for this insight.

    Greetings Ron

    • Maria says:

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Ron! The beauty of social media is that it’s people talking to people. So it always makes sense to have a person who is ultimately responsible for these efforts. Let us know how your community efforts go.

  8. [...] best practices around internal community management. In a previous post, we explored common success characteristics for internal community managers and best practices in building nascent and mature communities [...]

  9. Great article. I’ll be printing this out and handing to several of my employees. Patience and creativeness are two aspects that I believe go a loooong way to being a good manager.

    • Maria says:

      Wonderful! Patience is absolutely key when dealing with humans, and a social business is made up of individuals first and foremost.

  10. [...] more on internal community management, refer to Yammer’s blog on what makes a great internal community [...]

  11. Hi, – fairly new to Yammer, which we are testing and named as ‘Enterprise Connector’ (we are moving towards being a true Enterprise and it’s all about connecting). Happy to see that I tick all the boxes. Currently working on our internal social networking strategy to truely get the management buy in. Any good links and tips would be appreciated.

  12. Maria says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Ole! There are certainly lots of good resources about writing a policy. There are lots of resources on Slideshare, and a quick search should reveal some great stuff. I wrote this article also, with some tips that encompass internal and external social media http://mashable.com/2011/05/02/social-media-policy-tips. Make sure to check out the embedded video for a great example of what Victoria’s Dept of Justice did.

    - Maria

  13. [...] job description of internal community managers range depending on the maturity stage and size of the network, [...]

  14. Mélanie Paré says:

    Finally an article about community management I can relate to!!! Well, ok, not all of it (I’m the Global Community Manager for CGI’s internal social business tool and there’s just absolutely no way on the face of this earth I could know everything about how each of our over 40 business units do things…), but still, I can recognize myself in most of it. So thank you! :)

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