Raising Your Game as a Community Manager

Oftentimes in Community Manager forums the question comes up “What are some skills I should learn to become a better Community Manager?”. The usual go-to answers are to develop ones skills in time management, empathy and analysis. Easier said than done, right?

In this new blog category I’m calling “Raise Your Game”, I’ll share some peripheral skills that have helped me as a Community Manager – ones where you can actually get started with immediately and begin bringing your best to your position.

effectively raise your game

  1. Know how you learn. Do you learn by example or hands-on? Work within the parameters of how you process new information for the highest ROI.
  2. Whittle while you work. Don’t overwhelm yourself thinking you have to absorb everything you read. Break things down during your workday or work week and take note of one takeaway.
  3. Rome wasn’t built in a day but they were laying bricks every hour. Start small and remember that even if you’re moving zig-zag, you’re still moving forward and learning new things.

Knowledge Nuggets: Centers of Excellence (Adrian Speyer)

Lightbulb on a stack of magazines

Knowledge Nuggets from Adrian Speyer‘s article and presentation Centers of Excellence: The Next Big Thing for Community. What’s shared here is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of content so I encourage you to dive deeper by reading the article or watching the video.

EPIC Quote

There’s an opportunity for there to be a space – a digital home so to speak – for everything customers need to be successful – a center of excellence – but with community permeating all aspects of this – so the conversation is not to the community as much as it is with the community. It would touch all aspects: help, learning, connection, discovery, and thought leadership.

Adrian Speyer, “Centers of Excellence: The Next Big Thing for Community”

My Takeaways

  1. Communities should be the central hub for all customers to be successful along their journey – from pre-sales to learning best practices
  2. Communities should “broaden their horizons” and move past being just a support community.
    • Stop using the word “support” and use “success”
    • Focus on outcomes – what makes the customer happy (max ROI)
  3. Stop working in a silo. Think laterally and involve teams in a “Center of Excellence Advisory Board”
  4. Understand your customers by building personas.
  5. Focus on your members, finding the right people to run the community, and develop a robust plan (don’t just wing it).
  6. This takes time so don’t expect immediate results. Rather, focus on micro-successes.

My Action Items

  1. Redefine my communities as Centers of Excellence where customers find value beyond support and focus on highlighting content that will make them successful such as virtual events to connect with peers to discuss strategy and share their experiences (best practices and pitfalls).
    • Extend CoE concept to internal teams – product, engineers and developers. Hearing product feedback will help make the product better, improving customer experience and building trust in the company.
  2. Reach out to other teams – especially those in the field – to better understand what is keeping their customers from being successful (e.g. knowledge gaps) and develop community opportunities for them to connect and learn from others.
  3. Empower customers by partnering with them to develop customer-led/focused community programs so that they can share their success stories with others.

Thought follower…and proud of it!

Everyone wants to be a thought leader. But what’s the point of leading if no one is following?

There are so many influential and brilliant community managers creating amazing content – books, articles, webinars, videos – that I’d like to start highlighting them as a thought follower. Author Todd Henry said in his article Forget Thought Leaders – We Need more “Thought Followers”

[Thought Followers]…are people who immerse themselves in the brilliant, challenging thoughts of others, commune with great minds, and then follow their own thoughts wherever they might lead. They have a disciplined Study Plan that challenges them to think about important problems and allows them to stretch their thoughts and explore uncomfortable places.

They aren’t afraid to humbly submit to the great insights of others and consider their implications to their own work. They are fiercely curious. They love process. They set aside time to savor great writing. They understand that brilliant ideas are excavated and assembled, not self-generated.

And this is what I plan to do starting in 2022 whether it’s listening to a podcast, reading a book or article, or watching a webinar or conference session. I’ll summarize each with my top 3 takeaways followed by my action items. I hope to follow my summary posts with my results as well!

So here’s to the Thought Followers! Let’s begin…

Don’t Forget to Smell the Flowers

I was walking around Rockridge talking about community strategy with a good friend and we stumbled upon these gorgeous blossoms.

I’m not sure if you can see it in this photo, but this particular flower had a bee in the center going to town, collecting pollen.

As I mentioned in Advice for a New Community Manager, it’s important to “take that vacation…and enjoy it!”. This suggestion also applies to taking a break from thinking to enjoy moments like these.

Flower with a bee

Advice for a New Community Manager

Two people having coffee

My winning submission from Khoros’ Community Manager Appreciation Day 2020 Contest.

Most community managers are on a team of one (as I am) so my advice focuses around that – especially when Community is new to one’s organization:

  1. Don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks. Select up to 3 initiatives to focus on for that particular quarter or fiscal year. Is it growth? engagement? Your calendar and any task manager software are your friends!
  2. Become familiar with your new organization and how it fits with your community. Go to your intranet, make a list of all of the departments and create bullet points on how they could contribute and benefit your community – tactically and strategically. This list will help you promote community internally and find allies that will help make your job easier.
  3. Have an open-door policy to talk about Community. Find active community members (internal and external) and call them up to learn how they use community and what could be better. This information provides incredible insight into user behavior
  4. Welcome new internal team members, introduce yourself and the Community’s value to their department. Newly hired folks need a buddy…so why not have it be you? Not only will you be their lifeline within the company, you can show them the value of Community. Similarly, newly hired folks want to be recognized and seen by their managers. Share how the Community would benefit their careers within your org (i.e. Give them something they can share on LinkedIn!)
  5. Always think strategically. Connect with internal team members who are influential in making decisions and would encourage their department to participate more in the community. Take them to coffee or lunch to understand their current work struggles and leverage that information to demonstrate how your community will help make their jobs easier.
  6. (Last but not least) Take that vacation…and enjoy it! Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a day off or a vacation. Come up with a process where you can casually check emails (or train a back-up) while you’re on vacation. You will be more influential and valuable when you’re refreshed and well-rested.

My First Podcast on Community Signal

Iphone on Sofa

Community Signal LogoI’ve always enjoyed listening to other people talk at conferences about community management and never thought that I’d be asked to actually be on a podcast…but then it happened!

Out of the blue, I received a Twitter DM from Patrick O’Keefe from Community Signal which is a bi-weekly podcast for community professionals.

I’ve heard of this podcast before and always thought that the guests were people who had done amazing things so I was definitely surprised when Patrick asked me to be a guest on his show.  I was super excited about it, but also nervous because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say.

To gauge whether or not he had a show, Patrick sent me a questionnaire and I answered it as detailed as I could because I wanted to be picked.  He wrote back saying “We definitely have a show!” and we setup a time to chat.

Without giving away too much of my episode, we talked how I discovered Community Management and titled my show From Civil Engineer to Community Manager.

So without further ado, here’s my podcast episode.  I hope you like it!



FAQs: Your Community's Best Friend

There’s nothing more annoying than fielding the same question…over and over again.  When I was going through my Lithium training, the instructor said that the rule of thumb was that for every person who has a question, you can assume that 25 people have that same question.

That’s where FAQs in your Community help – especially with deflected tickets.  When I was a Meetup forum moderator, I kept a cheat sheet of FAQs so that I could copy and paste the answer.

For the Zuora Community, nearly all of the questions are technical; customers usually search Google for their answer, which is why it’s crucial to have FAQs for error messages, security issues, “how tos” and so forth.

Customer Solutions Articles (CSAs)

Since we’re on Lithium, we have our support agents write what we call “Customer Solutions Articles” based on questions asked in their Zendesk tickets.  They post the question as the original post, followed by the reply in the subsequent post.  Then they mark the reply as an accepted solution.  Right now, we don’t showcase our accepted solutions (I know, I know….I’ve logged that request with our IT team), but when we do, those will show up.

CSA Tracking

Each CSA is given a “Customer Solutions Article” label so that I can track the number of label views.

Quality Controlled CSAs

In our first year, we used to have a Q&A process, but that took forever to get something posted so the community would get, at most 5 CSAs posted a month, if the agents didn’t have many fires to put out.  The number of views were around 1000 page views/month and the “Customer Solutions Article” label was consistently #1 – not bad for a brand new community!

The problem with this process was that there was a lot of back and forth – checking, editing, rechecking – such that the CSA queue was getting longer and longer and it wasn’t a priority.

Enter…the Kraken!

At the beginning of our 2nd year, the CSA queue got to ~60 pending articles waiting to be quality-checked.  So we said “Screw it…let’s just get the articles out there for our customers!” There were some folks who were hesitant on letting incorrect information float around the Community, but my opinion was that it’ll create a great discussion; any engagement is good engagement to a Community Manager, right? 🙂

So, we released the Kraken…

Liam Neeson Release the Kraken

Did all hell break loose?  No!  Our CSA views skyrocketed to around 4000 views/month!

One can easily assume that a percentage of those views resulted in a deflected ticket as many customers didn’t ask additional questions in the CSAs.  We also had very few corrections.

Wait…it gets better!

Requiring CSAs Upon Ticket Closure Results in Metrics of Gold!

If agents posting CSAs at-will increased the article views 4x as much, we should require agents to write a CSA (if it makes sense) before they’re allowed to close a Zendesk ticket.  Sounds evil, right?

We followed this process for a few months (no more than 2 quarters) and the Community was overflowing with CSAs.  Imagine how many tickets an agent sees a week and translate those tickets into CSAs.  It was awesome and the metrics supported it.

One month prior to this requirement, CSA labels were seeing an average of 4000 page views/month. The month after, CSAs skyrocketed to 7000 page views/month.

While these numbers are impressive, we found that agents were getting burnt out and a little sloppy writing their CSAs, so we went back to posting articles at-will.  Still, our CSA metrics hang out around the upper 7000 page views/month.

FAQs are Your Best Friend

It takes time to build up a FAQ, but the payoff is well worth the effort.  Our agents were reporting that customers were asking fewer lower-hanging fruit type of questions, which made their job more interesting and customers were getting their questions answered.

Start out with 10 FAQs and built it up from there.  Remember that browsers will crawl your site when people Google their questions so keep SEO in mind.