When Should I Hire a Community Manager?

Are you ready to hire an online community manager, but not sure if now is the best time? If you’re facing this problem, don’t worry, because you’re certainly not alone. After having conversations with a number of growing companies about this topic, I commend those who think about it thoroughly and address the question head on sooner rather than later. It’s much easier to make adjustments before making the hire, as opposed to having to reset expectations after a community manager has already been on the job.

First, what exactly does a community manager do?

Considering that community management is still a new and fast growing career field, there’s still a lot of debate about what a community manager actually does and doesn’t do. Before you think about making a hire, it’s important to establish what the community manager role means to your organization.

Some starter questions:

1. Does the CM report to marketing, PR, customer service, or elsewhere?

Is the community manager going to be responsible for handling customer emails, writing blog posts, managing an online forum, organizing webinars and offline events, and/or a wide combination of other responsibilities? One of the biggest mistakes one can make when bringing on a community manager, especially for the first time, is to throw them into the trenches and hope everything sorts itself out in time. Save yourself the future headache and answer this question beforehand.

2. What quantitative and qualitative improvements does the CM bring to the table?

It seems like common sense, but don’t hire a community manager without first putting down in writing what you want out of the position.

3. Are your expectations grounded and realistic?

Although a great community manager can do wonders as a part of a team, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to jump in and be a quick fix to a big problem. If your company has developed a consumer facing web product, and for some reason you expect the hiring of a community manager to somehow instantly grow your customer base or rapidly shift the public’s perception of your product overnight, it unfortunately just isn’t going to happen. Make sure your expectations are more than just a well conceived pipe dream.

A social media manager is NOT a community manager

It’s a common misconception, but the truth is that a community manager isn’t a person who solely sends marketing messages or fields customer service inquiries via social networking sites. While the aforementioned can be a portion of the community manager’s workload, especially within a smaller team, there’s a clear cut difference between a social media and a community manager. Some businesses need a community person, some need a social media person, some need both, and some aren’t ready for either.

3 Signs that you’re not ready for a community manager

1. You don’t have anything that resembles a community

For the sake of simplicity, a community can be defined as a group of people who talk about and who are clearly interested in what is that you do. If no one is talking about your business or your industry than you’re either A) not suited to have a community manager because the niche you’re in is too narrow B) you’re not looking hard enough or C) you haven’t differentiated or marketed your brand in a way that’s currently worthy of attention.

2. Your priorities are elsewhere

For community management to really work all your ducks must be in a row. This can vary, but most of the time these ducks are: sales, web / product design, management and business development, and marketing. If you’re weak in one of these areas community management probably shouldn’t be your first priority.

3. You’re too small or too lean

How much does a community manager cost? A recent survey by Social Fresh found that the average community manager now makes around $50k a year, a number that’s beyond reasonable for someone who is qualified; and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with hiring an intern or an employee at a low paying wage, keep in mind that in most cases you’ll get what you pay for.

Are you ready?

If you’ve weighed out your options, sorted expectations, and have critically assessed your need for a community manager, and are still confident about making a change, than YES by all means it’s time to bring someone on. Community management executed in the right environment is one of the more natural ways of boosting brand loyalty, customer satisfaction, and word of mouth marketing. It all starts with knowing who and when to hire.

Image credit: Anthony Quintano

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