Open Community and the new association community manager

I'm taking part in the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. In this post, Maddie and Lindy introduce the book and discuss a few of the ideas we hope to discuss more here and over on their blog at SocialFishing.

This blog is participating in the Open Community Book Tour

Before we get into today’s topic of the new association community manager, give me the scoop on what Open Community is all about.


Maddie: Basically, Lindy and I have talked to thousands of association executives - including you, Maggie!--who have voiced their frustrations about the social web--from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff (and members!), to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning. We decided to write Open Community as a way to address those frustrations and redirect the thinking about using social tools to build community online.

So, what is “Open Community?”


Lindy: Here’s the gist. Your Open Community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online. Connecting with and supporting your Open Community is really important, because if you don’t, someone else will.

I’m psyched to see that in the book you hit on one of my hot topics - community management. Is it a good idea for an association to outsource community management?

Maddie: I’ll put it this way - there are certainly people out there who have really good community management skills and can help an organization get started, especially from the social media management and content strategy side...

Lindy: ...But no external consultant or agency can build relationships for you. We hear stories every day of campaigns that went great, built up a nice level of activity for a period of time, then the agency was done with their engagement and the community went dormant. Which is to say that the people stopped paying attention because the organization stopped paying attention. Huge waste, IMHO. Whether you have outside help or not, the point is to build up your internal capacity for this kind of work.

What level position should community manager be? Entry level, mid-level, etc.

Maddie: I’ll give you the classic consultant’s answer: it depends. We trained an intern for one of the groups we worked with, and she turned out to be amazing and has really managed to get their social media engine firing on all cylinders. But she has the support of good supervisors, and a team of execs as back up. Plus, an awesome person like that will eventually move on or get poached if they aren’t appreciated or paid what they’re worth (regardless of age!).

Lindy: On top of that, if you bake “clarity over control” into your whole organization, so that everyone knows the overall strategic goals for using social tools and building community, then the community manager becomes an administrator and facilitator. You can hire someone at a relatively lower level with the right skill set to do the daily work, and enough experience to know when the community needs a more senior executive to weigh in.

That said, most associations aren’t there yet. The first step on the personnel side isn’t “hire a junior or mid-level community manager.” The first step is finding a person who can lead the changes the organization needs to make to support an open community. That takes someone in a senior position.

Does an association really need a designated community manager?

Maddie: What an association needs is what we describe as “skill sets for a social organization” - listening, curation, conversation, social etiquette, facilitating and mediating, and collaboration. (We talk in the book about the specifics of these). For some orgs, a great individual community manager will have all of these abilities. For others, a team might work just as well, and for yet others, every single person in the organization will do the work of community building and management.

Lindy: Yep - it needs to be someone’s job, however you slice it. I think the association industry needs to recognize the value of this role, whether you hire a new position, or reassign tasks and rewrite existing job descriptions. And either way, the role should be fairly compensated and benchmarked like any other. But I don’t have to tell you that, Maggie!

So what’s next?


Maddie: Well, we see the book as a conversation starter--we hope lots and lots of people will get the chance to read it, and think about how the concepts affect their organization.

Lindy: And we hope to gather lots of great stories about Open Community in action, which we’ll continue to share in many ways throughout the year. So here’s a question for all of your readers to consider...

Who does community management for your Open Community (an individual, a team, everyone)? What skills are most important for them to have for achieving your organization’s community building goals?