Want to Hire an Online Community Manager? Better Answer These Questions First

Karen Schoellkopf
May 13, 2014
May 3, 2024

A CEO recently sought my advice, and asked, “How should we hire a community manager position?”

They knew that community would be important for the growth of their company and they had been searching for a community manager with experience building communities from the ground up, in tandem with product.

The problem was, they couldn’t tell if the people they were talking to were the right fit for the job. They wanted to actually quantify whether their candidates would be up to the leadership role they envisioned.

After talking through their challenges, it became clear that there were still a lot of questions they needed to answer for themselves. It’s a common mistake that fast growing companies make. It’s easy to rush into the hiring process without first really understanding what the role will involve.

Here are the five questions I recommended thinking through to better guide your company through hiring a community manager.

1. Why are you building community?

Before you do anything, make sure that you actually need to hire a community manager, (like, really make sure).

A lot of companies rush right into building a community because it sounds nice on paper, but when pressed, they have trouble articulating exactly why they need one.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do you know why your business needs a community?
  • Have you identified which communities you’d like them to manage and represent?
  • Do you know why your customers or audience needs a community?

2. What resources will your community manager have?

In the same way a cook needs to know what ingredients are stocked in the kitchen before they plan a meal, a community manager needs to know what resources they will have to work with, to create a strategy and tactics that deliver results.

Are they in a fully stocked restaurant, or a food cart?

By being honest about your resources, you’ll be able to better assess candidates on their ability to help you reach your goals. This also means you should calibrate your expectations. What’s possible in a fully stocked kitchen may be different than what’s possible with a food cart.

Budget and resources (design, involving product team, additional community outreachers, metrics tools, ad spends, etc.) are both tools that would empower the person you hire to get expected results.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Will they have budget to create and fund events/campaigns/advertising/etc?
  • Will they have a budget to purchase tools to build and track the community program?
  • Are you awaiting funding, or looking to fundraise in the future?
  • How has the team committed to involving community within all areas of the company internally (or do you need guidance on this as well)?

3. What role will community play in the company?

Community roles are often treated with ambiguity within the company hierarchy.

This is a disservice to your community manager hire, as well as the rest of the team. You should be clear about where this person will sit within the company. Some companies keep community as a standalone department and others place it under other departments.

Either approach can be right. What’s important is that you think through which approach is best for your company.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Is this a leadership role that is closely involved with the founders?
  • Do you eventually see this role reporting to someone else, and if so—who?
  • Will they be able to bring others on the team (direct hires or agencies), or are you expecting them to run everything on their own?

4. What do you already know? What don’t you know?

Talk with candidates honestly about what you know, what you don’t know, and where you’d like community to grow.

You don’t need to know the “how,” (meaning: you don’t need to know the strategy, or the tactics) but you will need to have an idea of the goals for the community.

Don’t have the goals? Let the candidate know that, so that you can be clear about which high level conversations you’ll be needing them to direct and filter through with you, and the rest of the team. This will also be a good way to gauge the skill level of the person you’re interviewing. How easily can they articulate their ideas and help you understand what needs to be accomplished?

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are the goals of our community strategy?
  • What are you confident about in your planned strategy?
  • What areas are you not so confident about?
  • What would you like to achieve, but have no idea how to make it happen, or if it’s possible?

5. What is your timeline?

Where do you want your community to be in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 4 years, 5 years, 7 years?

Most companies have milestones that they’d like to hit, so here’s where you can start injecting community goals into the overall company milestone targets.

It’s not yet important that you know how to get there, but you most likely have some ideas of where you want to be, and the communities that you’d like to be involved in.

This will be helpful not only in terms of “what does community mean,” but also, who else will be needed to help bring these ideas to fruition (on-the-ground advocates, PR, marketing, business development, product efforts, customer support, etc).

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Does fundraising affect how quickly you need to achieve certain milestones?
  • What is the relationship between sales acquisitions and community members?
  • Is community something that you’d like to focus on in the beginning, but have the community become self-sustaining over time? Or would you like to invest more resources as they become available?
  • What does success look like to you, for your community?

You can determine the answers to these questions ahead of time and then present them to your candidates.  Allow your candidates the time to think on them, and then get their thoughts on what they’d envision focusing based on resources, timelines, and access.

After you nail these tough questions, you’ll be ready to work on the questions you’d like to ask your candidates. As you bring your great new hire onboard, you may want to review how to create a community strategy that actually works, and work in tandem with them to define goals, strategy, and tactics.

Community professionals aren’t magicians, and the more clear you are about the resources, support, and access they will have, the better they’ll be able to have real conversations with you about reaching your company’s community goals.

Have you hired a community manager in the past? What did you do that worked?

Karen Schoellkopf
May 13, 2014
May 3, 2024

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