Are you a Lone Ranger Community Manager?
Lone ranger community managers. Who are they? What are they? There’s a good chance if you were intrigued by the title of this blog you might just be one...
Community Management can be a lonely affair. Many organisations have heard of the power a community can bring to their business and have embraced the concept. However, they aren’t quite sure what to do with this exciting new thing and who should do it.
It’s a bit like social media isn’t it?…
Often one of two things happen. Either a luckless person from marketing or the office junior gets tasked with “making community happen”, or a community manager is appointed and tasked with “making community happen” again.
Everyone is pretty excited at the start. There’s a general agreement that once we buy a platform and put our logo on it community will happen. Build it and they will come!
Let’s examine these two scenarios in a bit more detail.
The Luckless Office Junior (LOJ)
This is probably the route quickest to complete failure. The unqualified individual, usually over burdened with the actual job they were doing before (the one they were employed for) is called in for a high level meeting. Exciting, no?
Management outline their vision for community. It should get 5 million members this year, easy. Lots of posts will drive business to us. Katy Perry has 100 million twitter followers and this is exactly the same. All good? Go do it!
LOJ stumbles out of the conference room in a slight daze. Wow, they think. They went….well? Ok let’s do this community thing.
LOJ figures with no community experience some training is in order. Management refuse to budget for courses. Most of this seems easy, they say, and surely you can google the rest and find out?
You can see where this is going. They’re already morphing into a lone ranger.
Wrong person + complete misunderstanding of community management + no training or experience = guaranteed failure.
It isn’t LOJ’S fault. None of us can do a job we don’t understand. When you add in unrealistic expectations and a lack of expertise we’re setting them up to fail.
Lone Ranger Community Manager (LRCM)
The LRCM is more far more common than they should be. They either have some experience of community management or have been given a proper remit and budget to drive the vision.
Their challenges are slightly different.
Their challenges are just as tough.
Budget has been approved for some form of training (books, courses, seminars) but it’s hard to know where to start. Often the LRCM doesn’t have an extensive network of contacts or resources to turn to and aren’t sure where to go.
All too often someone reaches out to me following some searches on LinkedIn and asks something like:
“Darren, I’m so sorry to contact you out of the blue but I’ve got this big community challenge and I’m not sure where to start. Can you help? Sorry sorry sorry!”
I never mind people contacting me like this and I’m always happy to help. I’ll share some of my go to resources a little later for anyone interested.
Internal alignment and support
Whilst the company has approved the vision, the community is often a department of one or two orbiting around the traditional powerhouses of Marketing, Legal, HR and so forth.
Other staff members from these recognised departments will chat to the LRCM in the kitchen, share a joke at a social and ask polite questions such as “How IS the community coming along?” before glazing over and mentally rating the best episodes of Game of Thrones.
Many organisations assume that the community has nothing to offer other areas of the business. How can the community benefit legal? Does anyone from Editorial get it?
As such the community is considered a low risk, non-threatening pet project. If “community happens” great, if it doesn’t it didn’t really affect other areas and no harm done.
What a shame.
The reality is that the community should be the heartbeat of the organization. All employees should be asking what the community can ADD to their area of expertise.
A common complaint cited to this day by many team members is that they rarely understand what other departments are doing. Knowledge is being lost because there isn’t an effective way to curate, share and educate the team.
Hang on though. Doesn’t community do that? The very remit of a community is to bring together people who have a shared passion, interest or expertise around a collective goal. Community can solve problems, provide toolkits and resources for its members.
It also removes the physical challenge of geography. Whether that’s simply an office wall in a building, or a transatlantic flight, community connects people instantly without ever leaving your seat.
Consider this real life scenario a client had
Challenge : Legal had a document to write for a potential Chinese client but wanted to make sure it was both culturally sensitive and grammatically accurate.
Solution : Leveraging the internal community network, they found an employee born in China who could not only help with culture and grammar, but offer some local knowledge that would otherwise have been absent.
Whilst that’s a very specific example, I’ve seen problems and solutions solved in this manner from many clients.
Likewise, using the network to build a knowledge database provides a constantly updated resource to save time, educate staff and solve problems.
Community Management is a serious profession
In the last 10-15 years this industry has evolved but we still see too many LOJ and LRCM cases. We are severely limiting the potential of a community and sadly, in too many cases, setting it up to fail.
Many expensive mistakes happen when an organisation treats either the community manager or the community as something that will just sort itself out. Curiously though it’s not unusual for a company to massively over invest in the platform.
I’ve seen many instances where a five-figure platform purchase is being completely wasted by a lack of investment in the community manager or training.
What a waste!
Improving the landscape
For anyone struggling with these issues, either personally or on behalf of an organisation, please do show them this post. Our motivation isn’t to say “See! Told you so!”, it’s not to say “You were wrong” and it certainly isn’t to disenfranchise senior stakeholders from the community.
I see too many great people and organisations struggling to get the most from a community because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is and how to do it.
I’ve been in the community space 15+ years. Believe me when I say it’s taken a lot of learning, lessons and evolution of tactics to get to a position where we get to build fantastic engagement spaces that work. But the Lone Ranger Community Management problems persist and they don’t need to.
Here’s a tactic I learnt several years ago. It will sound odd. It will sound uncomfortable but it works. What is it?
Go and sit in other people’s meetings.
It sounds completely bizarre right? Why would a community manager, struggling with workload take time out of their day to sit in Marketing’s meeting?
Well here’s the secret. Community works when we understand what problems and needs our ecosystem has and works tirelessly to solve them and improve a situation. We’re moving from lone to learner.
At first, you may get pushback and you might get asked to leave some meetings. Persevere. You need to make it clear you are simply going to sit in the corner taking notes and won’t contribute.
You won’t tell John from HR his plan to give new starters complimentary kumquats seems nuts, and aren’t there to collate gossip to spread across the company.
Your role is simply to learn.
You’ll be amazed what you glean about needs and objectives that arise. You are now armed with incredible insight that can be carefully curated into the community.
If you can get one single win from the community solving a problem you have, instantly, shown the value to the broader staff. People want their lives to be simpler, easier, better. The power of community just did that.
Curate and Communicate
Often a community is doing great things but the wider organisation isn’t visiting as much as they should be. They are simply unaware of the amazing happenings.
Don’t wait for your 2 mins at the end of the team weekly standup. Take the initiative and create a weekly roundup. It might look something like this:
- Amazing win
- Funny story
Don’t make it too long but hit your goals in a compelling and intriguing way. Make sure the headlines are either of value to the wider business or create an interest or expectation that grabs attention.
With stats, reflect not only the trend, but make it fun. I’ve built stats as top 5’s in the past – who are the movers and shakers this week?
Amazing wins are where you sell the power of the community. Find something that wows or solves a problem the company had.
Finally, finish off with something lighter. Hey, we might be doing amazing community work but we’re trying to build rapport with the wider team and everyone loves some light relief.
Send on a Friday lunchtime. People are winding into the weekend and they’ll be looking for something interesting to read away from their main workloads.
Make sure you ask for feedback and learn what’s most useful/interesting to the team. In many cases you’ll be the only person doing this sort of communication. It’s very common for the goodwill people feel because you made the effort to enhance your work and the value of the community.
You are not alone
There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of community managers out there just like you right now. Please do connect with me through LinkedIn, Twitter or join me on the LinkedIN Knowledge and Community Network to meet like minded people. You can also drop me a line on email@example.com if you want to discuss further support.
If this blog has resonated, please do share it socially and let’s help connect other Lone Ranger Community Managers.
Resources and webinar
As promised I’d also like to share a few resources with you to get you started.
Book : Dale Carnegie’s “How to make friends and influence people” (Kindle)
Often overlooked but as relevant now as it was in 1937
Resource : The State of Community Management Report (Link)
Produced by The Community Roundtable and is essential reading