What do community managers do? And should your startup have one?

by Jeff Chenoweth on December 3, 2012

As new communities continue to flourish across the web, both the established companies and emerging startups that can benefit form cultivating them face the same pressing questions…

How do we manage these people???  And who is going to do it???

Since those entrepreneurs that fail to address these questions are often left behind, community specialists and managers play an increasingly vital role in a startup’s every day success. I recently had the opportunity to ask Joyce Peralta, community specialist at BraveNewCode, a few questions about the community she works with, her daily routine, and what aspiring community specialists, as well as those looking to hire them, should be aware of.

1. What is your day like as a community specialist?
My schedule varies from day to day depending on the projects I’m working on. On average, I’d say I spend about 40% of my time responding to feedback and networking, 40% creating content, and 20% on strategy and planning.

2. What are some of the essential qualities a community specialist or manager must have?
Besides, strong communication and social skills and a good understanding of web technologies, I believe creativity is a key quality of effective community specialists and managers. Multi-tasking and organization skills are also important.

3. Which aspects of your work experience, personal life and skillsets helped you achieve your current position as a community specialist for BraveNewCode?
I’ve often been asked how I stay on top of advancements and trends on the web and my response throughout my career has been the same, I take on projects that allow me to learn and grow in both my work and personal life. Where work is concerned, this might be a given, but in my personal life I spend a great deal of time seeking out new ways to connect with people in areas that are of personal interest to me – namely music and photography and to a bit of a lesser degree, tech and social media. I get much of my inspiration for new projects and do most of my learning in my off-hours time spent online.

4. If you could give one bit of advice to someone trying to find a job doing what you do, what would it be?
My suggestion would be to pursue opportunities in channels that might already be open to you. There are many types of communities out there – tech, design, development, sports, the outdoors, etc. – the list could go on forever. Seeking out job opportunities in an area that you are already active and familiar with is the best place to start. Check the sites of companies and organizations you visit regularly online. Are they hiring? Are you involved with any local organizations that might be looking for help? Are there related sites you could check?

5. Who are a few community management, marketing or social media professionals or companies that you admire, and have tried to model your approach after?
There are so many! Being a community specialist, networking and communicating with people online is a big part of my daily routine, and I frequently come across inspiring articles and companies. I will say that experiences that have made the biggest impact on me are often ones that happen in the real world at events and conferences I attend. I try to go to SXSW Interactive every year. Sessions that have stuck out for me over the years include Ted Talks’ June Cohen’s presentation on ‘Radical Openness’ and Gowalla co-founder, Josh Williams’ talk on game mechanics. I also very much enjoy meeting members of the WordPress community at WordCamp events. The WordPress community is full of inspiring, creative and supportive people.

6. How do you create an environment in which users feel comfortable and excited about getting involved with?
I’d like to take the credit for getting our community members excited, but the true inspiration for our fan base is the exceptional products we develop – shameless promotional plug, WPtouch Pro, WordTwit and Piggy. Our design and development team does a knockout job of creating tools that are in a league of their own. That said, it’s my job to make sure people hear about the exciting new features we introduce and how to use them. I also try to post content that tells our story and allows our community members to connect with us on a personal level.

7. How do you deal with negative feedback from your community, especially when it happens publicly?
I delete all negative comments and pretend they never happened…just joking! It depends on the comment and context. A few years back I attended a super helpful talk put on by the Department of Defense on their social media and moderating strategy and picked a tip on creating a moderation flow chart to provide general guidelines for responding to negative comments. At each company or institution I’ve worked at I’ve sketched up a different version of the flow chart, depending on the personality of the community, but general guidelines remain basically the same.

8. What are your favorite tools to utilize in terms of listening to and managing the buzz within the BraveNewCode community and beyond?
HootSuite, Twitter Reach and Viral Heat.

9. In your experience, which channels have been most effective in helping to grow the BraveNewCode community, which channels have been least effective?
Twitter and Facebook are the channels we place most of our focus in, though we also have a presence on other sites including Google+ and Flickr. Besides our social media channels, one of the key ways we connect with and grow our community is through our involvements with WordPress events like WordCamp. It’s at these events that we get a chance to talk with people one-on-one about the projects they are working on and how they use the tools we develop. Invaluable!

10. What should startups looking to hire a community specialist look for in the ideal candidate?
A diverse web-related skillset is a definite asset. In a flexible, dynamic environment it’s important for a community specialist/manager to be able to have a broad understanding of developments, to be able to easily identify opportunities and potential challenges.

About the Author
Joyce PeraltaJoyce Peralta has been building websites and online communities professionally for over fifteen years. Her work history includes senior positions on web teams at leading universities and she’s also initiated and maintained social strategies for communities at a number of organizations and companies. For the past year, Joyce has been very pleased to be a member of the team at BraveNewCode, a company specializing in WordPress development, and maker of WPtouch, the most popular mobile solution for WordPress.  Find Joyce on LinkedIn and Twitter.



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