If money was no object, what roles would you hire into your community team?
I was recently asked that question, and it sent me down a rabbit hole of reflection on my years of building teams as well as research into the exciting areas of specialisation that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the community industry. I’m going to answer the question in this post, so if you want my take on it then stick around and read on.
This post ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated. I considered breaking it up into separate posts, but it needs to all work as one unit, so feel free to bookmark it and come back to it when you have time.
General or specialised?
Before getting into the actual roles involved, I want to recognise that all community teams are different. This may feel obvious since all communities are different in the first place, but people frequently feel there should be a standardised list of roles they need to fill and then they’ll be all set. While there are certainly some core roles that benefit almost all community teams, each team is unique and will need to be serving its community in different ways – some teams are quite general, while others will be more specialised.
Some teams will lean more heavily into growth and engagement, while others may have a larger focus on education or operations – this determines which roles are needed, how many, and what level of experience new hires will need to have.Tweet
Even then, each team will use each role in their own unique ways – some teams will lean more heavily into growth and engagement, while others may have a larger focus on education or operations. This will determine not only which roles are needed but how many of each you’ll need and what level of experience new hires will need to have. The size of the team and the total headcount that you are allowed will also play a big factor in this – more on that below.
So, with that highlighted up top, let’s have a look at what I believe are the roles that worth considering for your community team.
Community team roles
What follows here is a large set of roles, but, as mentioned above, not all teams will need all of these. When you are putting your community team together, you need to figure out what your team needs based on what you want to achieve with your community – take it back to your KPIs and the objectives of your community program and see how these roles fit in.
I’ve grouped the roles into disciplines which could be used in one of two different ways, depending on the size of the team. Smaller teams could have one or two generalists for each discipline who covers all of the areas involved, while larger teams could break the community department up into smaller teams each with a focus on a different discipline.
In my experience, community programs are very broadly defined and can be viewed in many different ways. Essentially anything that involves structured engagement with the community can be seen as a “program”. Additionally, my preferred way of operating is to manage programs as you would manage a product – they have similar planning, development, and deployment cycles, and seeing them in that light makes it easier to share roadmaps and plans with the community.
A program manager is a strategic role that needs to have a clear understanding of the goals that the community is aiming for and what success looks like for the community team.Tweet
Since the definition of programs is really broad, this title can be interpreted to incorporate a number of different things. A larger team could see this role as a line manager who oversees the development and implementation of all programs, while on a smaller team, the program manager would more likely be on the ground implementing events and engagement programs. Either way, a program manager is a strategic role that needs to have a clear understanding of the goals that the community is aiming for and what success looks like for the community team.
Some items that a program manager could generally be responsible for:
- Meetup program
- Outreach programs
- Central events (like an annual conference)
- Super-user or ambassador programs
- Deputy program (I wrote about this recently)
- Onboarding efforts
The title of events manager is relatively self-explanatory but can be interpreted in different ways. In my experience, it generally incorporates two major focus areas: a community meetup program and centrally-organised events. A meetup program involves supporting community members in different locations around the world in running in-person events for their local community. Centrally-organised events would generally involve something like an annual conference organised by your organisation. if the scope of this work allows for it, you could have multiple events managers, each focused on one of those two areas.
Engagement managers are, unsurprisingly, hyper-focused on creating meaningful engagement with community members – both between the members and organisation, as well as between the members themselves. Their work covers a few areas: outreach or acquisition of new members, onboarding for folks who recently joined, and ongoing tactics for keeping the existing community engaged. Again – you could have multiple people with this title, each with a different focus area.
The role of a communications manager crosses over with marketing, so if the community team headcount isn’t high enough to incorporate this role directly, then it would likely be an area where you would collaborate with the marketing team instead. This role is all about how you communicate new programs, events, and engagement efforts with the community, so it requires great skills in written communication as well as understanding of solid marketing practices.
Operations, in any industry, is generally seen as the vital administrative work that keeps the wheels turning smoothly. This is largely true for the community industry as well, although, for a deeper dive into this field, I would highly recommend checking out Tiffany Oda’s work (including an excellent online course). This discipline is largely internal and won’t always need to interact directly with community members.
A community operations manager is responsible for implementing and maintaining the processes that keep the community running.Tweet
A community operations manager is responsible for implementing and maintaining the processes that keep the community running. Their work involves administrative handling, project management, cross-functional collaboration, writing documentation, an understanding of the tech stack, data analysis, and process management and improvement. I realise that’s a lot, so it could definitely be split out into multiple roles.
In the context of a community team, the project manager would be someone who oversees much of the work that goes on to develop, implement, and maintain processes. This could be the way that programs are developed, how the team collaborates with other teams in the organisation, or how data is used to inform decisions.
As I stated in an interview with Uncommunity, content is vital to any community, and that holds true regardless of what content you are developing. This kind of work could be folded into programs, but I much prefer it to be a stand-alone discipline as good content writing is a rare a wonderful thing.
The content manager oversees the entire content creation process – this could be blog posts, program announcements, documentation, community guides, training content, thought-leadership posts, video content, podcasts, or anything else that needs creative writing work. While this kind of work tends to come fairly naturally to a lot of community professionals, it certainly is a unique skill set that not everyone possesses. A content manager, is not only adept at creating content, but also has a strategic view of the work as they ensure that messaging is aligned across the community and with the overall goals of the team.
A content creator is distinguished from the content manager in that they are creating the content without needing to have a birds-eye view of the whole process and how it all comes together. Depending on the needs of the community, this role will need to have experience with multiple different types of media.
What I’ve gone through above are what could be considered the more traditional roles on a community team. In addition to those, however, there are a few that are more specialised and are worth highlighting, even though you could reasonably incorporate them into some of the disciplines already covered in this post.
Conflict Resolution Specialist
A conflict resolution specialist is, as the name indicates, someone who excels at mediating and resolving conflicts.Tweet
If you’ve worked in a large community for a reasonable amount of time, you will likely have a good understanding of the importance of this role. A conflict resolution specialist is, as the name indicates, someone who excels at mediating and resolving conflicts. This could be included in the responsibilities of the program manager, but having someone directly focused on this work is incredibly valuable, so if your budget allows for it and it’s needed in your community, then I would strongly recommend you bring a specialist like this on board.
It’s no secret that I believe in the power of social learning and that community education is vital to the future of most communities. In that light, I firmly hold that instructional design is a vital component of a well-rounded community team. This work could be included in that of the content creators, but instructional design and educational principles are so specialised that it’s worth calling it out as a distinct role and discipline.
This is another fairly self-explanatory title, but one that any community manager will understand the need for. Community forums, live-chat platforms, blog comments – all of these areas require active moderation to ensure that they align with community guidelines and don’t create discomfort for other community members. A dedicated moderator is a highly impactful role that would benefit almost all community teams.
Working with data doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many community professionals, yet understanding community data is vital to running effective programs.Tweet
Working with data doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many community professionals, yet understanding community data is vital to running effective programs. The work of a data analyst could be reasonably included in the operations discipline, but I feel that it’s worth focusing on as a standalone specialisation. If you can gather and analyse deep data about your community, you will be able to make much more informed decisions about developing and implementing new programs and features.
Accessibility is core to ensuring your spaces are diverse and inclusive, and it touches all areas of the community. This role could reasonably be included in all of the disciplines listed above as it crosses over all of them in many different ways. Having someone on your team to consistently review your content, platform, programs, events, and everything else to maintain a high level of accessibility across all areas is infinitely valuable and vitally important.
I firmly believe that having a strong link and understanding of the community platform itself is an important part of making sure that the community experience is unified across all areas.Tweet
This may be a holdover from my past experience as a product developer, but I firmly believe that having a strong link and understanding of the community platform itself is an important part of making sure that the community experience is unified across all areas. That being said, it is frequently unrealistic to have the platform team included in the community team itself – it is far more common for this kind of platform development to be done by a separate team in the company, or even outsourced to a third-party. In cases where this can be included in the community team, here are the roles that I would advocate for including.
Developing a product requires a product manager – there are no two ways about it. When the product is a community platform, the product manager’s work often falls to the person who’s leading the community team, so there may not need to be a separate role here. Regardless of who takes on this work, the product manager’s job is to oversee the design, development, and implementation of the community platform. Even if the development team is elsewhere in the organisation, having the product manager sitting on the community team is extremely valuable.
I don’t think this role needs all that much of an explanation, but I will say that multiple developers would be ideal here, with a range of specialisations – backend, frontend, database, accessibility, etc. If they could be on the community team itself, then that’s great, but it’s more likely that they will be on a separate development team in the organisation.
This is another role that doesn’t need all that much explanation – an in-house designer for the community team is invaluable. This is not only beneficial for designing the community platform but also for creating other assets – logos, banners, promos, swag, and anything else that comes up in the course of work.
Some thoughts on team sizes…
I know that list is a lot – loads of roles, specialisations, and different ways of structuring a community team depending on the needs of the organisation and the community. I don’t want this post to go on too much, but I thought I’d give some final thoughts about how these roles can be implemented in different size teams and what the different organisational structures could look like.
Let’s start with the largest of teams – organisations that allow for multiple teams within a broader community department. Assuming the budget and headcount are available, then the implementation is relatively simple – each discipline I’ve highlighted above can be a different team, with some additional teams to handle the specialised roles I listed. A high-level structure could then include the following teams with as many members as is realistic and needed:
- Programs (perhaps even separate teams for broader groupings of programs if possible)
- Platform (again – you could have separate teams for each platform if needed and necessary)
That’s a lot of teams for a community department and likely out of reach for all but the largest organisations.
Mid-sized organisations could group teams together and have fewer people in each role – this would still allow people to have their focus areas while also maintaining reasonable team sizes.Tweet
Mid-sized organisations could group teams together and have fewer people in each role – this would still allow people to have their focus areas while also maintaining reasonable team sizes. A possible list of teams could look something like this:
- Programs, Content & Education
- Operations & Moderation
- Platform (potentially elsewhere in the organisation)
Finally, smaller organisations could simply have all the disciplines in a single team, picking the ones that are most valuable to their work. In these instances, it would be better to hire more generalists who can wear multiple hats, allowing you to grow the team over time as you prove value and positive ROI.
Thanks for reading to the end! I’d love to hear how your community team is structured, so please share your thoughts in the comments below. If you are looking for help building, recruiting, or growing your community team, then please get in touch!