I Became An Online Community Manager Overnight. Do I Have What It Takes?
I created a private Facebook group for people who are “born sometime in the ’90s and shaped by the early 2000s, too young to be Millennials and too old for Gen Z” as an assignment for one of my University of Florida graduate courses. I quickly realized recruiting for an online community was far trickier than I imagined. I sat with 22 members (17 of whom were classmates) for two weeks before, by some stroke of luck, I was thrust into the role of a full-time community manager for thousands of people who craved to be apart of something bigger than themselves.
After posting a TikTok defining the term Zillennial, explaining the group, and asking fellow Zillennials to pity me for a grade, the member requests started flooding in. In less than one hour, the group reached 250 members. In three hours, Born Zillennial had garnered 5K members. By evening, we celebrated 20K. Today, three days later, we stand~70K Zillennials strong.
Somehow, bringing together complete strangers was the easy part. Suddenly, I was tasked with fostering a sense of belonging within the group and providing the value I promised. I still wasn’t sure what value I had to offer. But I did know one thing for sure: thousands of people were eager to engage with one another in a private, online space. I decided to let them do just that.
I spent more time on Facebook in three days than I have in the past 5 years. After curating a feed of 262 posts that received 288,757 reactions, I’ve come up with the five qualities that I believe are most telling of a successful community manager:
1. Good judgment
A community manager’s role is that of a curator. Ryan Lytle wrote in a Mashable article that a community manager is charged with reviewing all the content coming in and must “determine what to share, how to share, and when to share.” Good judgment is hard to teach, and it’s imperative to a group’s longlasting success. Of all the qualities that make a successful community manager, this may be the most important. No one is joining a group for more about you. Rather, you have curate an experience that gives members a voice and empowers them to use it.
2. Great communication skills
All community managers should have excellent people skills. Both online and in-person, a successful community manager’s best friend would describe them as outgoing, friendly, and relatable. It’s hard enough to decide on the message you want to share in your group, and it’s even more important to effectively communicate that message to members. It’s an ability to talk, listen, understand, empathize, and ensure that group member’s needs are fulfilled through your community.
A successful group should bring together a variety of personalities and unite them over a common interest. To engage a community, the community manager should know the type of people who make up the audience, said Tim McDonald, the community manager for HuffPost Live. “If you’re not empathetic, you’re never going to be able to put yourself in those people’s shoes, which means you won’t be able to communicate a message to them.” Empathetic community managers find out what their member’s needs, desires, and goals are, what they want to accomplish by being a part of the community, then do all they can to help them achieve success. You’re the People’s Champion.
Fact: community managers are on 24/7. You better be personally invested in the group and dedicated to facilitating its success, or you will grow to resent it. If you’re going through the motions, so will your members. But, when you’re passionate about the community you manage, you’ll find your position feels less like a job and more like a lifestyle.
Community managers carry the responsibilities of multiple jobs, and you’ll often go beyond simply creating a conversation with your members. In order to be a flexible community manager, it helps to be level-headed, knowledgeable, and genuine. No matter what’s thrown your way, you’re prepared to tackle it. And I suggest buying a portable phone charger.
Ultimately, it’s easier said than done. But no community, and no community manager, is perfect. As long as you strive to be honest, transparent, and unapologetically authentic, your online community will be there for you like you are them. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
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