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5 Attributes of the Best Online Community Managers

Here’s the thing about great online community managers. There are REALLY hard to find. I’m pretty biased, but since I work with a few that are, for lack of a better word, totally badass, I thought I would share a few attributes I’ve observed that the best possess. Here’s the tough news: without a good or great one, your community will pretty much be toast. So go out there and find the needle in the haystack! Or, if you are interested in becoming one yourself, I’ve included some suggestions for how to improve, and ultimately be included in cream of the crop.

1. Presents an Authentic and Witty Voice

Since most people participate in communities in their spare time, your community manager needs to have a real voice and not be a snooze-a-lator (that’s the technical term). These people don’t want to ushered along by someone who makes them feel like they are talking to Dell’s customer service, or reading a Verizon Wireless newsletter. In other words, they are seeking a real human, something to give them a break from 90% of the other online interactions they have outside of their friends/work/family, etc. So, say something funny – – mmmkkk? Raze the audience! Otherwise, we’ll be all falling asleep on you.

How to develop an authentic voice? Practice commenting on online blogs, in other online forums, and always focus on being transparent, and generally interact like you would in everyday life. Loosen up the tie and take off your jacket!

2. Experienced in Social Media and Digital Body Language

Community managers need to have a strong grip on how and why social media is essential and here to stay for our future generations. Also, digital body language is a real phenomenon; just ask the pair in this Could Have Been a Love Story.

How to improve at social media and learn digital body languages? Well, like any basic human function, just being alive will get you about 80% there, but since you won’t always be right, try interpreting people’s interactions and ask them if what you’re interpreting, they are actually trying to express. Of course, this will always be a tough one, which is why social media sentiment analyzers will never be perfect. But then again, as a race, we will never always communicate perfectly with each other, so you get a break online, too. Just try not to totally stink at it.

3. Expert in Topic and Loves Talking about It

Community managers are ALWAYS on. The community doesn’t stop during the evenings, early in the morning, on the weekends, or on holidays. In order to sustain your interactions over the long run, you are most likely to succeed if you understand your topic, and more importantly, have some hard cord passion for it. If not, you, and the community, will be pretty miserable and failure is imminent (side note, like most start-ups, most online communities fail, and fail horribly).

How to improve at being an expert? Learn it. Pretty basic. As for the loving part, like anything you love, it’s either there, or not. If it’s not, don’t become a community manager just because you love community management. Make sure you really enjoy the topic too. It will take up a lot of your waking hours!

4. Know how to Ignite the Fire and Keep it Burning Bright

A big part of community management is knowing how to ignite the fire, and literally keeping the fire stoked. You have to keep throwing in kindling, and sometimes, larger pieces of firewood. Know how to do this!

How to become a better fire starter and maintainer? A lot of this comes with practice as an actual community manager. This really can’t be learned in theory, which is partly why community managers are hard to come by…someone needs to take a chance on you so you can get your community management sea legs. Maybe in the meantime, practice offline community management…start and lead a group, become a coach, religious leader, anything that might give you some traits that translate well.

5. Authoritative and Practiced at Enforcing Guidelines and Policies for Good of Everyone

As much as you need to be witty, creative, and a good fire starter, you also need to know when to turn on the role of “principal.” If your community is a bunch of raucous, uncontrolled beasts, no one will feel safe participating, and your membership will suffer. You need to set guidelines and policies, and ENFORCE them. You can’t be weak, or scared of not being liked. SERIOUS FACE! You need to be transparent about what you are doing with the violator, and the community as a whole.

How to improve? Probably the best way to improve in this category is to talk to other community managers: Andy, Steve, and Joseph are a great place to start, and learn how they manage this topic.

(the sweet image can be credited to Allesandra Ajraldi)

Now, go out there, tiger, and your online community rocking!

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Ryan Heise

Thanks for the advice! I’ve recently started managing an online community of practice and I’ve often felt I have no idea what I’m doing! I’m definitely learning as I go, so posts like this are very welcome 🙂