How to find, hire, and onboard a successful community manager

Aug 6, 2021

Hiring a community manager is hard! It's an in-demand role that's also new, so there isn't a large pool of existing, proven candidates to pull from.

This week I'll answer:

  • When to hire a community manager
  • Where to find great candidates
  • What skills to look for
  • How to interview candidates
  • How to set them up for success
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Crucially, you should not hire a community manager on Day 1. In fact, you should hire one as late as possible (without spreading yourself too thin).

To build a successful community, it's important to be immersed in that community yourself. You should build individual relationships with as many members as possible in the early days, and maintain them. You'll find that this gives you a much deeper understanding of what your members want out of your community.

Providing what they want will cause them to be engaged, and this will send signals to new members when they join that your community is a high-value place and worth their time.

Eventually, you'll need to hire a community manager as the community grows too large and/or your time is spread too thin between varying responsibilities. At this point, you'll have developed a strong intuition for what your members will want in the future and can feel safe handing off the CM duties to a dedicated manager.

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Candidly, the best candidates probably aren't looking for a job. The community manager role is still new and, with only a small pool of “experienced” candidates, many companies are competing for the best community managers. With that said, there are some great places to look for candidates with relative consistency.

  • Community Managers -> It's common for community managers to run multiple communities and work part time. Think critically about whether your CM role is really a full-time workload. If it is, this is still the best path forward — you might just need to pay up a bit more to get them to move over to your community.
  • Community Club -> The largest, engaged community of community builders that I'm part of. There are tons of resources and potential recruits in here.
  • Consultants & Product Managers -> This one is a bit more controversial, and tougher to pull off. Both of these roles pay much better than most community manager roles currently do (I'd argue that CMs are underpaid), but they make use of frameworks that can be useful when setting community principles and governance structures.
  • job boards -> Pallet targets creators and communities who want to set up job boards. It's common to see community manager job postings on them and, since the boards are incredibly niche, it's likely that higher value candidates make use of them.
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Similar to product managers, the role of the community manager can vary between communities. For example, at Launch House, we have both physical and digital community manager responsibilities. We're a small team right now so responsibilities are shared, but as we grow we see those as distinctly different roles.

A candidate's pedigree will be less useful or informative, and you will have to rely more heavily on their traits and demonstrable skills. Here are some skills to look out for:

  • Personable: Having one person manage a diverse group of community members means a CM must be likeable and have the ability to authentically connect with your entire, varied group of members.
  • Detail oriented & responsive: Bringing an analytical skill set to the role helps a CM carefully communicate and network across multiple channels, understand what resonates, when and where to publish, what topics to cover and be quick to make changes when something doesn’t work.
  • Empathetic: CMs must be able to understand and empathize with where all sides are coming from when issues arise.
  • Problem solver: CMs must be prepared to manage a wide range of situations. They are on the front-lines of your organization. They should know how to find creative solutions as autonomously as possible.
  • Strong communication skills: A CM must clearly communicate a company's message, brand voice and values while answering comments, leading discussions, and answering questions from members.
  • Relationship-building: A CM can make your community stand out by building meaningful relationships with your members and understanding when to harness opportunities for deeper connection.
  • Creative: The role requires out of the box thinking and, with it being a new field, a CM must develop new ideas and be consistently generating engaging content. A creative passion will also transmit across the company and community in positive ways.
  • Patience: Great CMs understand that building trust with a community takes time, and introducing changes should be as gradual as possible in most cases.
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This is your chance to assess whether someone is the right voice to add to your community. Here are some tips for finding the right person:

  • Due to the high demand, try to keep your interview process quick.
  • If the candidate has a community manager background, ask them questions about their experience. Get to know what challenges they've had to face. What were memorable things that happened in their community that they learned from? How big was the community? Why are they considering leaving the other community (if they are)? What processes would they replicate with your community?
  • If the candidate is new to community management, focus on situational questions about their previous experience. This will give you some idea of their natural aptitude for community management, and how much you'll need to guide them through the first few months on the job.

In all cases, ask them what they're interested in learning, why they want a community manager role, and what they know about your community in particular. You should also ask questions about the types of teams they've been on to get a sense of what type of working environment they're coming from and if they'd be a culture fit for your team.

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Once you've hired the community manager, your job's not done yet. The on-boarding process will ensure your new employee is set up for success, both with their relationship with you and with community members.

Foremost, this means understanding their strengths and weaknesses relative to the requirements of the job, and giving them tasks right from the start that will build their confidence and cultivate affinity from the community. Here are a few things you should do right away:

  • Be sure you, or someone the community is currently familiar with, introduces your new community manager to the community. Members are more likely to read a post from a voice they know, and this also builds trust in the new community manager from Day 1. Of course, this also sets the scene for a personal introduction from the community manager themselves.
  • Provide a list of power users for them to DM 1:1 and get to know. This will get the strongest voices in your community comfortable with them and supportive of them from early on.
  • Have them work on established processes first. The community will build trust in them faster if they see the new community manager executing things (events, discussions, policies, etc.) that are familiar to them. It's harder to bring in a new voice if that new voice is also saying unfamiliar things.
  • Work closely with the new CM at the beginning. Every community is different, so make sure they understand the norms of yours as quickly as possible.
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