The Maturation of Community Management: Moving From Art to Science

6 minute read
Siobhan Fagan avatar

State of community mgt, community roundtable, cxm
Quick, what does a community manager do?

Having a hard time answering? You’re not alone. The Community Roundtable’s latest report seeks to correct that.

While the concept of communities is nothing new and the role of the community manager is past the nascent stage, the exact duties and job descriptions of community managers is still unclear to many. With “The 2013 State of Community Management: The Value of Community Management,” the CR reports on a maturing profession, one still misunderstood and struggling for resources, funding and recognition, but demonstrating measurable results. 

The results are based on an in depth look into 40 organizations, many from high tech, telecom and software industries. The maturity of this sampling is noted, with 43% reporting a fully networked organization, 55% describing their organizations as strategically innovative and nearly 40% reporting measurable value from the community manager role.

This report, the fourth that the organization has issued, is the first time the CR turned to quantitative methods, measuring the roles and responsibilities of community managers and the value created for organizations and pointing the way to emergent patterns in the field. This demonstration of the discipline's maturity level shows the graduation from art to an equal mixture of art and science. Some may be distracted by the so called "soft" skills required to perform a community manager's duties well into equating the discipline is soft, and in that they would be wrong -- this report shows the verifiable outcomes that can result.  

The differentiation between those organizations reporting measurable value and those who do not is reflected throughout the survey. The points where those who measure value and those who don't diverge are of interest -- suggesting areas that might need more attention in your current community program or skills that should be sought in filling a community manager role. Though the report is quick to point out that all communities are unique and require attention to their specific dynamics, these patterns represent the formation of standards in the field.

Portrait of a Community Manager

Banish the vision of community manager as college intern or inexperienced recent hire. The average experience level of community managers is over eight years, with over three spent as community manager. Candidates come from diverse backgrounds but bring with them strong communication and people skills, with technical skills taking a back seat.

The lack of emphasis on the technological skills is a point of interest as was the conspicuous lack of tool-talk in the report.  If anyone out there still thinks that having a community means setting up a social media account, it's time to put that belief to rest.

Communicator, Advocate, Mediator  

The community manager performs daily balancing acts, acting as go-between across departments, between external customers and internal teams, between executives and employees. It will not come as a surprise then that community managers are spread thin, particularly in larger organizations, due to lack of resources and cross functional demands. While larger organizations contain multiple communities, the dedicated teams to manage them, while larger than in small to medium businesses, is not proportional.


This is one of the areas where the difference between those measuring value varies greatly from those who do not, with 80% of those with established value employing more than one community manager as compared with 40% of respondents employing only one. These hires are mainly internal, reflecting the relationships and establishment of trust necessary for successful communities, with only 10% outsourcing internal community management and 22% outsourcing external. The CR predicts these numbers will change as the demands on these teams will grow.

Learning Opportunities

The place of the community manager within the organizational structure is fluid, crossing departmental boundaries. This is again an area where the differences between those with demonstrated community management value and the average diverge, with those community managers in organizations with demonstrated value moving more frequently between departments.

Community Management Setting Down Roots

The report lays out two areas where standards are beginning to emerge in the field, regardless of the community being managed: programming and processes. There appears to be common approaches to programming across the board, with differentiations being made between financial support and chosen emphasis, with content programming and welcome emails being the two standards across the board with 80% of organizations, both those demonstrating value and those who do not, reporting usage.

Community playbooks are singled out as a sign of the maturation process, offering managers a single location of policies, rules and metrics. The existence of these within organizations (and the report offers several examples from different respondents) demonstrate an established process in place, a common standard as opposed to the trial and error method of the not so far off early days of community management.

Just as the State of Community Management reports have graduated from qualitative to quantitative measurements, the state of measurement within communities evolves in the same way according to maturity level, with those in the more advanced stages being able to now report visible results. These measurements are necessary for every community manager to advocate for resource allocation and funding. The report doesn't identify any standards in this area, with variation shown in which areas to report on and frequency of reports. 

The report equates value with engagement levels, with successful communities comprised of members who take active roles in content creation and contributions. The results dispel the 1% rule commonly thrown around at levels that surprised the surveyors. The success of a community manager can therefore be correlated to the lower profile he or she has within the community -- a thriving community becomes self-sustaining to a certain extent, alleviating the need for the community manager to be everywhere at the same time (which is a relief when taken in context of their numbers in relation to their community's numbers).  

The research is ongoing with the promise of more resources forthcoming. I'm hoping future reports will include further insights into the organizations with demonstrated value -- what factors they are measuring outside of engagement,  what impacts are visible within their organizations as their communities thrive. 

This report begins to show measurable ways in which successful communities grow. As the discipline matures and the social business evolves, the numbers will be sure to change, but this sets down a starting point from which to measure and a common vocabulary to discuss the field. The science and the art of community management are evolving and the Community Roundtable are here to document it.