Don’t Hire a Community Manager for Their Network

Photo cred: Paul Walsh

I’m not going to get into the debate about the definition of a “community manager”. For the sake of this post, lets consider it someone who’s job is to product content for an audience, interact with that audience, and take care of the internal community.

There’s a trend in who’s being hired as community managers. They’re usually young, they “omg love love love” social media, they’re already active in the company’s target market and they have already established a large network.

I’m going to talk about the last part.

Now I understand why having an established network can seem appealing to a company. Let me address some of the assumptions that I see pretty often.

“If they can build a strong network around their personal brand, they can do the same for our brand.”

  • No. Well, maybe… Building a personal network is very different from building a company’s brand. The core difference is the motivation.  You don’t have a boss demanding that you show results when you’re building a personal brand. You’re not doing it for anyone but yourself.
  • “By hiring this person, we automatically get their network to become part of our community”

  • No. Well, maybe… Sure, since the person you’re hiring is passionate about your company, they’ll want to share it with their network. They can’t just automatically convert their friends into fans of your brand though. Their network might be an “in” for your brand, but it will have little long term value for you if the person doesn’t give their network (and the rest of the brand’s audience) something to share and support (aka they don’t do their job well).
  • “But their network supports them so much now. They think the world of them!”

  • That could certainly be a good sign. It could also be a sign that this person is reliant on their network to get things done. “Community management” isn’t calling in favors to your friends. It takes a lot more business knowledge.
  • “They speak at a ton of events! Now they can go talk about our company at those events”

  • No, well sort of. They can’t just go up and talk about your brand the whole time. It will however, bring great credibility to your brand as they’ll be representing you, as an “expert” voice in the field. I’m sure they’ll slip a couple plugs in there too. Just don’t think that you can replace their usual content with information about your brand.
  • There are just a few of the common misconceptions about the value in hiring a community manager with a big network. Remember, you’re hiring for a position that requires as much business know-how as it does “social” know-how.

    Having a large network is a good sign that the person knows how to connect with people, and that they’re committed to their career.  If you hire a community manager strictly for their popularity however, you’re making a heavy investment for a very short-term gain.

    17 thoughts on “Don’t Hire a Community Manager for Their Network

    1. Hey David, really great post.

      One point that was floating around in my head as I read this:

      Even if you are hired for a community manager position for a brand that you are crazy about, constantly talking about it, especially on personal accounts (which some community manager gigs require), can alienate some people who like you and don’t care about the brand. Can you change their mind? Sure. But is that really part of the community manager job description? Convince your connections, personal and professional alike, that they should buy and use our product.

      Is that ethical? Should that be what’s expected of community managers? Thanks for the post.

      1. Agreed, and many brands that hire community managers, I think, expect them to sacrifice their personal network to the brand’s community. I don’t think it’s ethical.

    2. I am a community manager for a person and his brand – Chris Pirillo. I have never been expected to sacrifice my personal network, thank goodness. I have to agree that it’s not ethical in the least for a company to demand that their comm. mgr. give up their friends and family in that way.

      I also have to shake my head, sigh and agree with you over the “age” that seems to be targeted for these positions. Personally, I know I am a better community manager b/c I am NOT young. I am able to talk to people and communicate with them on a much better level at my age (39) than I was able to ten or fifteen years ago.

      Communication is what my job is all about. It has nothing to do with going out and shoving a brand down someone’s throat. 🙂

      1. I did not know that Chris had his own community manager! That’s very interesting. What do you do as a community manager for an individual?

        It’s true, that age really shouldn’t have anything to do with how good of a community manager you could be. The greater majority that I’ve seen have been in their 20s, but I’ve also seen some extremely successful ones who are 30+.

        1. “Community Manager” is only a part of what I do in my work with Chris. As such, he has a social network (geeks.pirillo.com) that currently has nearly 30,000 members. His live chat room routinely has more than 300 people at any time of the day or night. There’s the new answers site (lockergnome.net) with several thousand more members. As the Community Manager, my job is to oversee operations on all of those sites… find, coordinate and train moderators, step in to deal with problems when necesarry, etc.

          My role of Community Manager is very different from most people. I’ve seen two types: they either create social media buzz about their community (to me, that’s not a CM, that’s a social media person) or else they just go around talking the community up. What I do is very different, but very rewarding. I get up close and personal with all of the regular members, and create strong connections with many of them.

          It’s my favorite part of my job, hands down. 🙂

    3. I agree to a certain degree on most parts. it is a balance a company must strike how about hiring a community manager that his built a small network, business, savvy, passionate then they kick off the companies profile and they gain no traction because the network they have is not that big. I think this is a tougher hole to dig out to prove value.

      I think the you have to look at the community they have built to make some better businesses decisions on this person too. Are they one talking within one vertical? Are they talking about the echochamber? Are they doing things for people in the community? I wouldn’t be to quick to discount these qualities for long term success of someone in this role.

      The one thing that is key in having the complete package for this role is a hybrid approach to traditional job description & role. They are going to need to know tech, process, how biz makes money, marketing, sales, pr, comm and people skills (most you can’t teach). So most hiring managers need to look past this network thing like you said, but if they have this and have shown success with even better!

      1. I agree, that the network a person has built, who the network consists of and how they interact with them can all be a big part of whether or not a potential community manager is worth hiring.

        Obviously, if you’re hiring a community manager for a band, and the person has built up a large network of marketing experts, it doesn’t really help you.

        Like any job offer, there should be a number of things that go into your decision. IMO, popularity/size of network should not be priority #1.

        1. Agree! many other factors would be priority for me. It reminds me of an interesting conversation I had with a recruiting manager when I told him I could get 10,000 followers in a week by doing some not very welcomed activities, his response can we do that with this account to get as many followers as we can…..I said I would not advise you to use such tactics when trying to establish yourself. Then he asked well how did you did then?

          I said a lot of hard work, being myself and over 4 years across many different social channels and many different verticals. “Oh it takes that long….” was his response. Thought to myself yeah it’s like real life and building trust, crediability and a relationship…..

    4. Hi David,

      Great post. As others have said above, the size of a personal network isn’t particularly relevant; give me a small highly targetted network or community over a large, disjointed one any day. We can all deploy scattergun techniques to say “hey, look at my 1234124 fans” but how many can truly communicate and encourage the growth of loyalty?

      1. True, size isn’t nearly as important as quality in terms of networks… and the quality of your network isn’t nearly as important as it’s niche when hiring for a community manager position.

        There are a number of factors that should go into hiring a community manager. If you’re doing it solely, or even primarily, based on #s like fans and followers…I’m not sure how your business lasted this long.

    5. David –

      Great points above. The one part I think is often missed in hiring for a community manager is industry knowledge. A large network is great. Energy, enthusiasm, willingness to “be everywhere” – all important. But – you MUST know your topic. You must be a thought leader in your industry and passionate about it AND the company.

      Thanks for bringing these points up. Excellent.

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
      @djwaldow

      1. Hey DJ, thanks for stopping by and commenting man (=

        You’re exactly right. You can be the best networker in the world…but if your’e not extremely comfortable with the content/knowledge in the field you’re expected to participate in, then what good are you?

      2. I completely agree with DJ Waldow. I believe it’s essential that the Community Manager have a Passion Hat. I wrote a Blog post about this and started a discussion around it on LinkedIn. Some disagreed. I think the best Community Manager will be the one with Industry Knowledge + Passion + a large Network of their own. A large network of their own, only, is arbitrary.

        Thanks for the great discussion around this post everyone!

    6. David – “omg love love love” the post! (LOL)

      Although having a large network shouldn’t be a hiring requirement for a Community Manager position, having the social networking experience demonstrated by a large, engaged following should be a factor in hiring the right person.

      Someone who has never built a network of people who interact with and respond to them personally will have a much more difficult time doing it for your brand than someone who is recreating their experience in building strong networks. You also risk the potential “newbie” pitfalls that can happen to a less experienced Community Manager like gathering a let’s-see-how-many-people-I-can-follow-in-hopes-they’ll-autofollow-me-back social network.

      I completely agree with your post that Community Managers shouldn’t be hired for the size of their network. Experience, not the size of the network, matters most.

      Sharon Mostyn
      @sharonmostyn

      1. Thanks for the comment Sharon.

        You’re spot on. Knowing that your potential community manager is comfortable with communicating, building, and engaging with groups of people is extremely important and should absolutely be a big part of your decision to hire them or not. Even in those parameters though, there’s a lot more that determines their ability to do those things then the size of their network.

    7. Great post. I’ve been applying for these types of positions and have encountered companies who just want to see numbers of friends/followers. They don’t realize that it’s not about the number, but rather, the engagement. Sure it’s important that a Community Manager can show they are able to connect and engage with an audience, but a company should not expect to use my network for its purposes at all. Unless I believed my company’s product or service was relevant to some of my fans/followers, then I wouldn’t promote it to them just because I work for the company.

      @thekimschneider

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