Building a Community Management Team

When it comes to building a community management team, we all begin with the same dreamy notions: a tidy employee spreadsheet and correlating assembly of offices dedicated to your community management dream team, comfortably housed within that shiny, well-established social media department that the client roster has totally accounted for. I think I see little Keurig machines stationed at every corner, with bagels and muffins and other tasty accoutrements.

But in most cases, it starts with some poor sap, chained to a laptop in some dark basement of self-loathing, methodically scrolling through TweetDeck and sending panicked Red Bull-fueled e-mails to the account director upon viewing a torrent of troll-induced hate rapidly populating the Facebook page. Not that I would know, or anything.

The path of a community manager may start out a little shaky, but after putting in those long hours and accepting that your audience is growing faster than you can handle, it’s time for you to assemble the right people around you to help create content, communicate, and plan for growth.

While everyone’s framework varies, here are some core roles that come with every community management team:

  • The writer. Typically, this is already you. You’ve found your knack for 140-character shorthand, and the brand’s voice has naturally become your own. But it helps to have the expertise of an experienced copywriter, particularly when crafting a new brand personality and tone, or tapping into an existing one. A writer can help answer some questions: are you neutral or opinionated? Are you the voice of a campaign character, a group of brand representatives? From there, they can take responsibility for creating content and immersing themselves in the conversation. It’s important to find a writer who thrives off the live, improvisational nature of social channels — someone who understands human nature and rolls with the punches.
  • The designer. It’s limiting to think of communication in terms of copy and not design. It’s important to visually translate the brand into different platforms, capitalizing on valuable assets many normally attempt as a DIY — your profile photo, thumbnail, Twitter background, Facebook tabs, and any and all creative content that you plan on introducing to the community. An experienced interactive designer has the chops to design to brand standards and creatively maximize an otherwise limiting space.
  • The strategist. While a good chunk of efforts focuses on the day-to-day aspects of community management, a strategist is there to keep an eye on the bigger picture, and in many cases, give everyone a reality check since they’ve been so absorbed in minutiae. Their role normally involves making sure content is in keeping with brand objectives; staying on top of trends, the competitive landscape and new vendor tools; setting goals for the team and client; and answering obvious-but-tough questions like “Should we even be on Facebook?” A strategist helps give meaning to why and how a brand is affecting its given social space.

With these team members at the core, it’s necessary to grow a strong relationship with the following roles and departments:

  • Tech/IT support: A relationship that needs to start from the beginning, not when you’re crying into your keyboard. They’re your lifeline when something goes down, when data is needed, or when you’re attempting any exciting/dreaded never-been-done-befores.
  • Research: So much feedback, but what does it all mean? And what is its value? The research team works with your strategist to measure your effect — from sales to brand perception — and conduct surveying as needed.
  • Public relations: It’s crucial to align with your PR department — what initiatives are on the periphery that could find its way back on your radar? Is there a contingency plan in place when things go awry?
  • Customer support: Inevitably and oftentimes purposefully, a social channel takes on the role of a virtual complaints desk. Work with the customer support team to establish where the lines are drawn, how (or if) a community manager should respond to customer questions or grievances, and how to direct customers to the most appropriate department that can best address their problems.
  • Brand manager: A brand manager has their own goals in mind, rightfully looking at social channels as another marketing asset to push campaigns and other newsworthy content. But it’ll be your job to properly curate and achieve a balance between brand monotony and customer alienation.

With all this said, the ideal community management team consists of members who are hybrids — learners and practitioners who are passionate (and disturbingly obsessive) about all aspects of the aforementioned roles. Find the trustworthy few who are willing to take on more than what any job title entails.

For those currently working within a community management team, I’d love to hear: what makes it work? What skill sets do you look for? What new roles have developed?

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