How To Hire The Ultimate Community Manager

The wrong person tweeting or writing on a Facebook wall can make a brand look insipid, off-message, or worse. Yet many marketing managers responsible for hiring community manager positions on their team make decisions predicated on the wrong criteria, and end up doing irreparable harm to their social presence. It’s a daunting task; finding the right person for the job is critical, and there are abilities that are must-haves to build a strong social campaign. Making a smart decision can be difficult, as the job requires a wide variety of talents. The table stakes for the role range from basic skills such as good grammar, to less tangible traits like enthusiasm and the ability to work with people. Strategic thought and holistic planning are required to guarantee the best possible fit. Moreover, specific industries will need to consider particular requirements. This article will explore requisite capabilities for the community manager, provide recommendations on how to interview candidates, and clarify possible consequences through industry case studies.

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Table stakes
Three years ago, the vast majority of brands didn’t even think about community management. Now it is a crucial role in a digital marketing staffing mix, playing a high-visibility part across the spectrum, ranging from brand advocate and marketing mouthpiece, to consumer ombudsman and rallying point of the community. There are many requirements particular to a given brand or industry, however there are a few must-have traits. The first is enthusiasm for the brand and motivation for the mission, almost to the point of obsession. A community manager must not only embody the values of the organization, but they must also be able to espouse them in an engaging and compelling manner. One particularly valuable benefit of the enthusiasm is that it’s contagious. A fun voice encourages other people to join in the conversation, and increases engagement, a common KPI for social programs. It also helps if they are already plugged into the community, with a good sense of the subculture and what matters to it. The second baseline trait is an ability to write clearly and succinctly. This is more than being comfortable with Strunk and White’s rules of grammar; it’s about demonstrating a copywriting skill to capture the voice of the brand, and modulating the style to the particular interaction. If messaging goes out with grammar mistakes, or an inadvertently flippant tone to an upset customer, the damage to the brand can be significant and lasting.

Think strategically
Once the table stakes have been met, it’s important to step back and think about the other aspects of the job particular to a specific brand or organization. Community, like all other initiatives within the organization, needs to be driven by strategy. The first step is to identify the strategic context in which this person will be operating, and how the brand can best leverage the social channel. First, identify the themes that dictate a successful social plan, as well as the growth strategy for the channel as it evolves. For example, a business intending to use Twitter as a channel for customer service should search for individuals with strong customer skills and the ability to respond to unhappy people with aplomb. Comcast, the telecommunications service provider, has done an outstanding job here. In a field not exactly lauded for great customer support, it leads the industry in its dedication to using Twitter as a channel to inform consumers and rectify problems.

If an organization seeks to use its social voice to reach a broad audience with a common interest, a background in marketing or communications is helpful. Finally, brands targeted to a specific demographic with a particular voice should find individuals who have a background in that space and know how to engage the audience with a relevant voice and authentic, informed tone. Good social reinforces a brand’s leadership in the space. Mountain Hardware, a leading manufacturer of technical outdoor gear, does a great job on its Facebook page. It manages to combine fun messaging with relevant topics, and show avid climbers and skiers how leading athletes use the gear to push the boundaries.

While the brand is working on a social strategy, it is worth noting that a good community manager does not need to be a strategist, per se, but should be able to help evolve the strategy. These people have their finger on the pulse of the audience, and should be able to draw insights and make recommendations based on what they are seeing and doing. In the interview, ask the candidate if they have looked at any competitor’s social campaigns, and what their thoughts are. This will help assess the level of effort the candidate put into preparing for the conversation, and can help probe their style of thinking.

Identify their social presence and ability to curate
Knowing the social space is not essential for an entry-level community manager, but it’s crucial for a more senior individual. Check to see that the candidate is active on the channels that the brand will utilize, and take some time to review how they are interacting with their friends or peers. While it’s unlikely that the brand community will ever know the true name of the individual, it’s best to find someone who maintains a consistent and appropriate voice at all times. People who don’t know the fundamental rule of “don’t type something you couldn’t show everyone” in their personal lives are more likely to create a risk for a social campaign in the long run. If the candidate claims to have prior experience, it helps to review their prior work to see if they are prolific, pithy, and pertinent. Asking for sample writing, both in terms of an essay or a tweet, can be very helpful, as can giving someone a test during an interview to see how they would communicate a message. Also, probe into their ability to curate: What do they think would be most interesting for their constituent audience? If they truly live and breathe the brand, they should know this sort of thing easily. Their job is not to fill the web with fluff; it’s to ensure that the brand is speaking in a relevant and engaging way. The manager should be able to provide valuable insight to the Twitter channel, and keep a lively conversation going on Facebook, not just retweet every bit of spam or cut and paste the content calendar ad nauseaum.

Where do they fit in?
Smaller brands probably will have other work for them than simply updating Twitter. Think carefully about where the community manager fits in with the larger organization, and how the firm will cultivate the individual as his or her career grows. This helps define the requirements for the role, above the table stakes defined here. By hiring someone who can support other tasks if needed, it helps the business by providing more support. For example, if social marketing is run out of communications, additional skills to support the business should center around writing press releases and supporting the rest of the communications team. If it is owned by digital marketing, a knowledge of SEO, content management, or other relevant skills will help. Finally, it will help ensure retention of the community manager. This is a reasonably strategic rationale for hiring someone with broader skills, but also helps ensure a consistent voice by reducing churn from dissatisfied employees.

Adaptability is key
Like any role, ensure that the individual is bright and adaptable. The social space changes very quickly, and anyone starting the job thinking they are writing a few tweets is in for a bit of a surprise. While it helps if the candidate is deeply involved with the social space, either through being an active participant or following industry trends, it is more important that the person can learn about what is of specific importance to the brand’s objectives. One example of this is ensuring that the person can learn to use the tools that form the heart of a concerted social campaign. Metrics tracking tools, such as Sysomos or Radian6, are critical to track the success of how a community manager is faring. Ideally, your manager can help track success metrics, and provide insight into how changes to the social calendar or voice can improve ROI. This trait also factors into the value that the hire will provide to the organization over time. Determine what interests the individual and what the person wants his or her path to be within the company. Ideally the community manager is a starting point to move up, with any number of interesting paths. If the person is only interested in writing Facebook posts for the duration of his or her career, the hiring manager must question whether this is all the person will need to do, and if the lack of curiosity and motivation will ensure that the firm is getting everything that it needs.

Under pressure
It is crucial that community managers are comfortable in stressful situations, and can act with autonomy when needed. If someone posts a scathing comment on Facebook, a prompt, appropriate response can be crucial. This is not always possible; sometimes messaging has to work its way up and down the management chain, which can be excruciating and send the wrong message to the audience. Ideally, community managers can think on their toes and respond in a proper manner quickly. Keeping a calm head is essential, as failing to do so can have drastic repercussions.

Nestlé provided a classic example of what not to do in the face of a social media crisis. When Greenpeace posted a parody video lambasting the company for its use of palm oil, an ingredient that can be harvested in environmentally destructive ways, Nestlé asked that YouTube take it down, instead of embracing and addressing the problem through social channels. The problem is, once something is forbidden, it’s all the more compelling, and the video began showing up all over the place, quickly going viral. Consumers began to write negative comments on Nestlé’s Facebook page. Instead of keeping cool, the social team at Nestlé pushed back and threatened to remove content that was deleterious to the brand. This only added fuel to the fire, instead of defusing the situation.

Nestlé’s Facebook fan page

Seeking out individuals who have prior experience managing high-pressure situations can help minimize crisis. There any number of jobs where quick response and the ability stay cool in the face of angry consumers are key, including customer-facing retail jobs or waiting tables. While this should not be the only trait, it can help. Ask interviewees what one of their most stressful work situations as been, and how they handled it. The answer will provide insight into how they might deal with the first problem that comes to them once they are hired.

Know the rules and regulations
In certain industries, such as healthcare and finance, it’s essential that the interviewee have an understanding of the regulatory constraints that could impact the nature of the conversation. The individuals don’t necessarily require specific training, but a good sense of things that can and cannot be done is of utmost importance. The people managing the Fidelity Twitter account aren’t working in the investment strategy side of the house, but they do know enough to not provide investment advice to the people they are interacting with. It’s worth pointing out that they are also doing a great job of maintaining a smart yet lighthearted voice, and mixing up the content and conversation.

If the organization seeking the community manager works in a highly legalized space, it’s worth checking on candidates’ basic understanding of legal and information security practices before they start. While frameworks such as HIPAA can be taught, a prior familiarity with these things at a high level can minimize risk.

Avoid clock punchers
No matter when the office closes for the evening, the conversation will continue 24/7. Be sure to look for someone who is willing to pull late hours if things heat up. Depending on the organization, this can range from individuals who have to stick around if there is a PR crisis, to people working trade shows as the voice of the community. As a general rule, we want to work with people who don’t check out every night at 5 p.m. sharp, and in the case of community management, it’s especially important.

If an organization decides to bring on a community manager, it’s important that the right hire is made. Failing to do so can result in to very serious problems, harming the brand and alienating consumers. There are basic skills that should be fundamentals for any hire. Seek out brand enthusiasts who are strong writers. Think about what the strategic needs are both from the standpoint of what else the community manager can do, and how they fit in with the larger organization. Consider any constraints particular to a given industry vertical, and be sure that they are accounted for. Make sure that they can adapt to a constantly evolving social space, and always stay calm. Chances are this person will take a long time to find, or the business will have to make a few compromises. Be sure to prioritize what matters most to the team, and be thorough when interviewing. At the end of the process, a strong community manager is an incredibly valuable part of the digital marketing team, and the effort will pay off in spades.