#TipTuesday – Have a Full-time Community Manager From the Start

|   Sep 8, 2015

Last year I had the opportunity to present a session at the J. Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Philadelphia. The session was about building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) – an internal social network used by employees within a business. This has been my profession and passion for the past 5+ years, so I was pleased to talk about it and to hear others’ experiences as well.

The time for that presentation was limited to about 35 minutes of me presenting plus time for discussion. I had more to say than time to say it, so this blog series on the topic gives me the chance to say much more about each of the tips.

I wanted those present in the session to have as many specific takeaways as possible, so I pondered my years as the community manager of our company’s ESN (called Buzz) which we launched in 2010, and I came up with my top 12 pieces of advice for having a successful ESN. These tips apply to those just thinking about starting an ESN as well as to companies who may already be several years into the effort. I’ll share them one at a time in different posts. The tips come from having done some things well and from learning some things the hard way. I’m happy to share both so that you can learn from my mistakes as well as my successes.

Here we go! My first piece of advice is: Have a full-time community manager from the start.


As a community manager, I am unashamedly biased on this point. I am convinced that someone needs to live and breathe and own the overall experience of a company’s ESN. A passionate, qualified community manager is that make-or-break person for the enterprise. I’m not overstating anything when I say that this tip may be the most important of all 12 I’ll share. That’s why I’m leading with it.

I know it isn’t always easy to convince businesses that a full-time person should be or can be devoted to the effort from the beginning. I understand (painfully well) the nature of resource constraints. I wasn’t allowed to be full-time as our company’s ESN community manager until three years and ten months into the effort. That’s crazy for a Fortune 100 business with 50,000 employees, but that was the case. I asked to be solely devoted to the role for nearly three years before it finally came to pass, and then it only lasted for five months before my role expanded again and additional non-ESN duties started taking a chunk of my time.

During these 5+ years as the main person behind our ESN, I’ve had to do double and triple duty as a SharePoint consultant and community manager/moderator for our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ external social properties. I currently consult with lines of business about standing up online communities for external audiences, and I work with those community managers to provide guidance and professional development around the area of community management. It was only as our enterprise social media team expanded that I was able to gradually pass on some of those tasks to others. In March 2015 I was allowed to hire a second person, Brenda Rick Smith, to help with the ESN – a vital step that has produced immediate, significant results. It’s amazing what having the right resources can do!

Did we grow without me being full-time? Yes. We did so well, in fact, that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing our story at conferences, via webinars and interviews for articles, books and industry research reports. But I know that we only went from A to M in four years where we could have gone from A to Z if I’d been allowed to work full-time doing what I knew needed to be done.

Community managers wear too many hats to neglect any of them. There are constant needs around defining the strategy, setting goals, advocacy, growing awareness and adoption, moderating content, training, consulting with leaders and business areas, analytics, reporting, support, planning, troubleshooting, connecting people, answering questions, working with vendors, partnering with other enterprise stakeholders, editorial content planning, preparation of user resources, being a participating member in the community, establishing relationships, governance, continuous efforts to improve the platform and user experience, documentation, and other responsibilities that most people never see and have no idea community managers spend their days doing. That’s a lot! It takes full-time attention to do all of the above and to do it well.

You may eventually be successful in your ESN efforts without a full-time community manager (although I wouldn’t count on it), but if you want to be successful sooner, if you want to mature your company’s efforts earlier, if you want to see the greatest return on your investment sooner rather than later, then you’ll have at least one full-time community manager from the beginning, even before the community exists.

Some suggest you should have a community manager for each 10,000 users, so don’t assume that only one will suffice forever. With 42,000 users on Humana’s ESN, I should probably have 2-3 additional full-time people working with me to do all that I envision for our ESN. I assure you I could easily use them doing meaningful work for the business.

If you’d like some research numbers that show the correlation of community maturity and value to those communities with full-time community managers, then I suggest you read the excellent “State of Community Management” report from The Community Roundtable from 2014. While you’re at it, be sure to download and read the one released this week for 2015. They have been doing this report annually for several years and it just keeps getting better as the field matures and as there are more communities and community managers to survey in the research process.

So there you have my first and most important piece of advice – Have a full-time community manager from the start. Stay tuned for the remaining tips.

[This post has been modified from the original version first published at jeffrossblog.com.]

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