Does this sound familiar? A single community manager, working in a part-time capacity, is taking care of an online community. The community is successful: it attracts new members, who create more discussions, which in turn attracts even more members. Before long, the community manager is presented with a “good problem” to have: the need to grow the team.

CMAD Hangout on Building Your Community Team

Building Your Community Team” was the first session of Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015 (CMAD), which took place Jan. 26. With a street-lit, downtown Milwaukee in the background, Jonathan Brewer, Sherrie Rohde and Dom Garrett kicked off CMAD from Attention Era Studios.

Brewer, Rohde and Garrett would host 24 consecutive hours of video hangouts, featuring community managers across the globe. After giving a warm welcome to their online audience, the co-hosts handed things off to Jennifer Sable Lopez (@jennita), director of community at Moz and moderator of the first session.

The panelists were:

  • John Brown(@brownbare), Director, Head of Engagement at Hotwire PR
  • Siobhan Hitchmough (@SioTweets), Community & Support Manager at Archon System Inc.
  • Kelly Hungerford (@KDHungerford), Community Manager and former Head of Digital Marketing, Community and Customer Care at
  • Liz Schmidt (@lizign), Senior Creative Community Manager at Adobe

It was after 9pm PT when the panelists began to introduce themselves and I found myself away from home, so I plugged headphones into my phone and watched the session on the go (the video quality was great!).

Know When to Grow the Team

As the sole community manager, you may use qualitative measures to determine that help is needed. Perhaps after a long day interacting with a number of frustrated members you tell your boss, “I need help.”

While qualitative input should not be ignored, the panel encouraged quantitative assessments, based on key performance indicators (KPI) tied to your community’s objectives. If metrics show that you can’t provide the same level of service (to the community) that you have in the past, then you can take that data to management.

Know How to Grow the Team

The panel agreed that it’s smart to bring new members on in part-time roles. Sable Lopez said it was important to first assess whether there’s enough work for the new team member. Then, once it’s confirmed that there’s enough to do and that new hires are a good fit for the role, you can transition them into full-time positions.

As the team grows, it’s essential to have an effective approach to distributing responsibilities across team members. For the community team at Moz, Sable Lopez noted that each area of responsibility has a primary and secondary point person. But beyond that, the team is cross-trained in all areas, which allows them to help out as needs arise. Sable Lopez devised this approach based on an early lesson she learned: once, when she was away from the job, the people covering for her had to scramble to figure out how to get things done.

Know How to Find New Team Members

The panel discussed the pros and cons of recruiting new team members from the following groups:

Learning Opportunities

  • People outside the organization
  • Employees within the organization
  • Members of the community

The size of your organization often dictates whether you look inside or out. A 10-person startup will need to look outside the company, while a 1,000 plus company can look for candidates on the inside. Kelly Hungerford found success recruiting new members from the community itself, or “from your own backyard.”

Because community managers are continually nurturing relationships with their members, they’ll know who can help on what. In that way, they can approach community members and say, “We could really use you on THIS,” noted Hungerford. An added benefit is that community members already know your business and your community. This shortens the onboarding process compared to someone you bring in from the outside.

Know How to Gain Executive Buy-In

OK, so you decide that help is needed. Don’t expect the organization to rubber stamp the approval right away. You’ll need to convince management to provide the budget and support. Panelist John Brown recommended that you be strategic in identifying executive sponsors. Find someone with a vested interest in community outcomes (e.g. Marketing) and take a pass on executives with nothing to gain.

Hungerford suggested that you build some small successes first, then go to management with actual data and results. She found help for some of her core community management responsibilities, which allowed her to spend more time obtaining product feedback from the community. She then went to management with existing proof points, to convince them to make the larger investment.

Don’t Build for the Sake of Building

A thought of my own on growing community manager teams: “If you build it [the team], they will come” is a false proposition. Just because you’re building your community team, doesn’t mean you’ll achieve your community goals.

As I learned from the panel, the first step is to use data to determine when to grow the team. Then, structure roles and responsibilities wisely to put your team in the best position to achieve your goals. You can view the on-demand replay of this session at the CMAD website.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  betsyweber