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Online Community Manager: Yes, It’s Really A Job

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Photo By Sam Grover
Photo By Sam Grover

Later this week, I will be taking a road trip from Portland, Ore., to Oregon State University in Corvallis to give a talk entitled, “Online Community Manager: Yes, It’s Really A Job.” As a result, I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few days thinking about online community management as a profession. I have been working in various community management roles over the past several years, sometimes managing online communities directly and more recently consulting with companies to help them build new communities or improve existing ones.

Community management is one of those careers that I think of as a quintessential web worker position. In my first full-time community manager position, I worked from my home in Portland for a company based in the Bay Area. Now, I work from home as a freelance online community consultant. Even when I was working in a more traditional company with a local office, I tended to behave a little more like a web worker, since almost all of my work was online.

I have also noticed that online community management positions tend to be weathering the current economic downturn better than some other jobs. Community managers are still being hired on a regular basis, and I’m still seeing openings on various job boards for companies looking to hire community managers. Here are just a couple of examples of companies who are currently looking for or have recently hired a community manager: Current TV, Sega, a record label, Rosetta Stone, QT Software, reddit, and more. Community management continues to be a hot job despite the state of the economy.

While online community management isn’t a new job, it is still a career that tends to evolve out of other positions instead of a career where people have formal degrees in the field. I happen to have a computer science degree and an MBA, but I know other community managers with formal training in marketing, library science, communications, criminal justice, product design, and more. Some of the best community managers I know have a broad background with a diverse job history, which seems to give them a variety of experiences to draw from when managing communities filled with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

What are your experiences with community management as a profession? What would you tell a room full of college students about community management? What trends have you noticed during the economic downturn?

41 Responses to “Online Community Manager: Yes, It’s Really A Job”

  1. Lea Owens

    Dear Dawn,

    I am currently employed as a Community Manager for a non-profit association and I really enjoy my work. I am always learning something new and find the position to be challenging and very rewarding.

    The position taps into my passion and talent for research, creating knowledge content and training. I love blogging, creating discussion threads and providing best practices on the placement of content to better promote your CoP website to your members.

    I would tell a room full of college students who are interested in career as a community manager to take more Communication and web content writing classes. Be sure that the communication classes focus on “FIERCE CONVERSATIONS” with internal and external key stakeholders. Because communities of practice website are not defined by geography, please take some Sociology classes to learn about other cultures and their norms. It can be quite challenging developing a team virtually and having excellent verbal and written skills is key to this position. Lastly, I would tell students to take a good look at their personality (and be brutally honest) with who they are as a person. If you are closed and do not enjoy interacting with people, this may not be the position for you. But if you enjoy reading, ongoing learning, research and technology — This is a position that will be quite gratifying for you!

    During the econical downturn, I have noticed more people visiting online communities of practice websites to collaborate with other practioners, professional development and volunteer opportunities.

  2. I am launching a new start-up in the e-commerce space and am searching for a community manager. I have found it to be quite difficult to find someone that has had previous experience in this. Any tips on where to search? Or am I looking for the wrong things? I am trying to find an individual that has created social media content in the past, done outreach to bloggers, and has engaged actively with the community, listening and responding to their needs.

    Thanks for your help!

  3. Yes, it is really a job. The emphasis in most organizations is on the product management factor – you really need to have the “hard wired” discipline of product management. That is, know what it takes to build and launch new products, know how to prioritize new features that will go into existing products, have the discipline to develop marketing requirements documents and product requirement documents and know what to do with those internally to get the product(s) to live. This is all very much harder than it sounds – and it’s as important as being the customer advocate.

  4. rondata

    For 18 months, I managed the developer platform at MySpace in a Community Management role. It was a great job, and while more technical than most, it involved working side by side with developers (both internal and external) to grow our platform and to engage and support our developers. It was not a role I ever thought of doing before I went to MySpace and not one that I really need a degree for, it was more the fact that I was experienced in product I was supporting. These types of jobs revolve around companies and each one is different and unique in their own way.

    Some communities are technical, some for special interest, others for fun. All of them need to know there’s someone on the other end who are are available for them and that support them. All communities need love and support and patience** to help them grow.

    The greatest thing is, there are tons of resources out there for Community Managers and even books written on how to grow your community.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. Yes it is a growing job and not one that’s for everyone ;)

  5. I’ve been in this type of business for over 10 years and well over 30 online communities, and I must say that this is a real hard job at times. Because when your dealing with different personalities as well as age and you have to find a way to relate to each one differently. Not to mention the commitment that is needed by ones self to make it succeed.

    Their are many tricks to make an online community a success to the point where I could probably write a book on the subject.

  6. I love working as an online community manager, but I had never heard of the job when I was in school. I’ve always been fascinated by PR, Marketing and online communities/web 2.0. While I don’t have formal training in marketing/PR (except that one PR class back in college), I do have over 10 years as a very active social networking participant and blogger.

    I’ve read that community management is the new PR. While it will never replace PR, it’s definitely an important job for any brand – whether or not they are defined as an online community/social network. I feel very fortunate to be able to work as a community manager. Don’t get me wrong – the job is tough – it takes a lot of time, patience, and determination. You get to hear from users who are thrilled with your product and you get to hear from users who don’t like it at all. You have to be aware of your online presence at all times because in many cases you become the face of the brand, at least on the web-savvy consumer side (which is growing daily.)

  7. I am really enjoying your posts. I am refining my craft daily as I move into this career field full time in a paid position. Come to find out I was doing this for years but did not know there were people getting paid to do this. Go figure.. :) I am in a senior position now in my career field and transitioning to this one. I am lucky to be in a place where I can combine my other skills into this profession. Thanks again!

  8. @Sunfell Glad to know someone who shared the same experience as me ^_^ Building and developing communities for a decade as a “hobby” was how I get started in this field. Then just like you, handing them off to others, and start a new one.

    It is hard, frustrating, fun, exciting, and we learn a lot of things along the way. Like what to do and what not to do. How to handle troublesome community members and how to do Attraction Marketing and Magnetic Marketing.

    And I got hired because of it! ^_^ But there are still a lot of stuff to learn, especially for us in the Philippines, Community Management evolved much faster there in the Western World ;)

  9. It’s nice to see that people are being paid to do this sometimes frustrating job. I’ve been creating and/or moderating communities as a hobby(horse) sideline for over a decade. I have a habit of building communities, then handing them off to folks to run. Some make it, some don’t. They do have definite life-cycles.

    It’s very true that the broader the background and Real World experience you have, the better it is for you and the community. I can tell all sorts of stories about how a moderator/community manager can make or break a community. Or what happens when you feed the troll(s).

    Running a community right is something of a Black Art, and one of these days, I will finish an article I’ve been working on about how to do it.

  10. For nothing more than fun, I have been a Moderator and Supermoderator for seven years on a large chat forum.
    The site has gotten so big they have decided to hire an Online Community Manager to help run it.
    I never thought you could get paid for this!
    Anyway, taking the jump from hobby to professional is great, I’d love to get my teeth into it.
    I’m wondering if you good people could give me any tips when going for the interview.
    This is new for the guys running the site and I believe they will need me to come up with good ideas on how to run the site more effectively.
    Any help you could give would be very much appreciated.

  11. I knew that there were people on forums who did this type of work but had never heard of the title of Community Manager. I had an online webzine with a forum that was never used so perhaps I’m not cut out for this but how does one start in this field? I’ll be reading all of the linked posts of course but any tips or suggestions would be appreciated. rkfoster at thewindjammer com

  12. Julie – I would love to meet another community manager here in the Portland area. I’ll be at Beer and Blog this Friday if you want to stop by and say hello:

    Andy – thanks for posting your link. I really like the part about keeping your mouth shut. The community manager has to be able to step back and let everyone participate rather than trying to chime in on every post.

    Amber – congrats on the new job!

  13. Turns out you don’t need a degree for this at all.

    I have a comm degree and an MBA, but my business partner doesn’t have a high school diploma, let alone an advanced degree. We own/operate a very large online community (125k+ members).

    Great post Dawn – I’d love to meet you offline sometime being from the PDX-metro area myself. Would be fun to connect!

  14. At, our community manager has a background much like your own with a background in Computer Science and an MBA. More so, she is incredibly curious, energetic and passionate about her role in building our audience at Beaker.

    The skills required to be successful are readily transferable from other career paths/positions across the industry, but the intangible character traits are what give someone the greatest chance of success in the position.

  15. Today is the first time I’ve heard of an Online Community Manager. I believe I have been performing the duties of the manager I just didn’t know it had a title. I work in real estate and I’m working very hard to get my fellow agents involved in the social media world. I’m convinced it is going to be a major part of the way we conduct or prospect for business in the very near future.

    It’s exciting!

  16. @Joe: Stay tuned. :) We’re hard at work on some of our own community initiatives.

    And of course, we’re participating in the communities where our customers – marketing, communications, and customer support pros – already engage, like Twitter, blogs, and sometimes even forums or boards. Plus, we’re out in the in-person community often at events.

  17. Great post. I’m the Director of Community for Demand Media, an Internet company that runs more websites than I can count. Some of the sites I focus on include LIVESTRONG.COM and

    Demand takes community very seriously. The joy of running a business on the Internet is that that everything is fluid. Anything can be changed, and it can usually be changed quickly. So at Demand, we not only ask our users to provide constant public feedback to us, we also aim to respond to it as well. As much as possible, we want our communities to define our sites and set the “product roadmap.”

    Community management, of course, goes beyond soliciting and responding to user feedback (though it’s certainly one of the most rewarding elements). There’s also the day-to-day management of community-based goings-on across the site. And the strategy our community team uses across our sites is the same whether we’re responding to users via direct message, answering publicly on one of our sites’ Twitter streams, or posting on the forums: Be human.

    Real people power community-centric sites. We don’t want to hide behind PR-speak, and we know that without our community, we don’t have much of a business at all.

    Agree 100% that community management is often a position one evolves into — I certainly did. My background was technical, then product-focused, before landing in community. If you like to listen and love acting on good ideas (regardless of their source!), you’re probably a good fit for the career path, no?


    Lex Friedman
    Director of Community, Demand Media

  18. @Amber Naslund —

    Glad to hear of your new position. Radian6 is pretty sweet software for companies and brands to gain awareness. I’m curious though, where is Radian6’s community?

    (@JoeManna on Twitter if you want)

  19. @Robert S. Robbins —

    I’m well aware of the community needs of mentally impaired people. I used to manage a health community on AOL a short while ago and I had the most dramatic, interesting most complex community situations that you can imagine.

    I recommend to take it in stride and remind users that they are in control of their online experience. :)


  20. I find that the most successful community managers are those that come from a strong customer service background. These types of community mangers are better equipped to empathize and address the needs of upset customers and anticipate the needs of the company whenever new products plan to hit the market.

    One thing a community manager needs beyond time and money … they need to be listened to and pulled in as relevant stakeholders before a product or a service goes live. They need to be present in business meetings so they are aware of the direction of the company and will be able to anticipate the needs of the customer along the way.

    ~Joe Manna
    Community Manager for Infusionsoft –

  21. You would need training or experience in Abnormal Psychology to manage the online community I’m doing web development for. Most of the users share their mental health history with the world and they delete all their content every now and then because they are mentally unstable. And you would not believe the drama that takes place. Fortunately, the site is owned by a professional psychologist but it isn’t meant to deal with those issues.

  22. Hi Dawn,

    I’ve recently taken a post as a community director, and what I’m so glad you said: “It’s Really a Job”. :) While social media and online work sometimes has that perception of being a slick, cool post, it’s not a 9 to 5 gig, and it’s a hybrid of so many disciplines – communication, business development, online knowledge, customer or client service. I learn something EVERY day.

    I’m so excited to see that more companies are thinking outside the boundaries of more traditional roles and tapping diverse people for these positions. As the pace of business and communication continues at unprecedented levels, I cannot wait to see how our roles as community professionals develop and how businesses embrace the importance of having conduits like us for their communities.

    Thanks for posting on this; I’ll look forward to reading more on the topic right here!

    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community | Radian6

  23. Rick, It’s good to hear from you! It sounds like things are going well, and I’m happy to hear that you are seeing more requests for community manager training.

    Virginia, a great community manager can make a big difference (and there are some not so great ones out there). Having a community manager that is a good fit with the type of community they are managing is also critical.

  24. I don’t have any experience doing the work of community manager, but I’ve worked in two organizations with community managers: one great one and one not so great. A good community manager can make a huge difference in whether or not a site lives and grows. It’s nice to find there’s a bright spot somewhere in this economy.

  25. It makes complete sense that community management is becoming a vital role in a downturn – with companies doing all they can to build customer loyalty, reduce support costs, and leverage the innovative talents of their customers.

    Online community managers are an essential ingredient for successful communities, and I’ve seen a noticable uptick in the amount of community manager training requests coming through my department even this first month of 09.

    It’s going to be a busy year for online communities :-)