When a social network draws people from all over the world to one destination, someone has to be waiting on the other end to shape millions of users into a unified community. Enter the community manager. In a recent interview, SoundCloud community evangelist David Noël explained what a community manager does, how to give an online community a presence in the real world, and when to get the other departments involved in the process.
Founded in 2008, SoundCloud’s audio platform attracts a fairly diverse group of people, from indie artists who want to promote their demos to journalists who need a place to upload their interview recordings. Even performers like Snoop Dogg will put the rough edits of their vocal tracks on the site and invite their fans to fill in the rest. “Anyone who creates sound in any way will find value on SoundCloud,” said Noël.
Noël is part of a seven-person team that specifically handles the day-to-day interactions with musicians and other SoundCloud users. “Every company should have a community manager,” he said, and as social networks with strong communities like Foursquare and Etsy have shown, the need is not likely to go away. Separate from public relations and marketing professionals, said Noël, community managers are user advocates who also serve as the company’s voice online.
Part of this process is reactive, he said, which means responding to customers and complaints. This includes monitoring outside networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr for customer feedback as well as SoundCloud’s help forums. “When you put people first and listen to their stories,” said Noël,”it reinforces the connection they have” to the product.
The team also tries to be proactive by reaching out to the community and recognizing the users for their creativity on the site. On May 17, the company will host a Global Meetup Day where SoundCloud users can hang out and share music in the real world. SoundCloud ranks among the top 10 communities on Meetup.com, a site for organizing local groups. “We try not to organize [the meetups] ourselves,” said Noël, but SoundCloud will send swag to event organizers who register through meetups [at] soundcloud [dot] com.
More recently, the company launched an experimental program called SoundCloud Heroes. The team invited 10 SoundCloud users from all over the country who were chosen by application for an all-expense-paid trip to the office in San Francisco. While the “heroes” had never met in person prior to the trip, Noël said that some of them had already talked to each other through SoundCloud. After learning about the company’s history, mission, and future goals, the group came up with a “guiding principle” for future SoundCloud heroes to follow.
“We are very embedded in the community,” said Noël, but with more than 80 employees spread between three offices in Berlin, London, and San Francisco, some are more embedded than others. His team is the company’s lifeline to the outside world.
Every week, SoundCloud hosts a Community Camp: a half-day workshop where any employee can learn to be a community manager. The day begins with a presentation on the company’s milestones for the week.
After that, the employees are paired with a mentor who shows them how to use the internal systems to interact with the public and coaches them on how to respond to questions and complaints. They spend the rest of the session simply fielding 40 to 50 customer emails.
The process is illuminating in many ways. Not only do the other employees learn more about their customers, but they also learn how what they do affects people in other departments. Noël recalled several incidents where a developer has improved a tool or a manager has streamlined a process as a result of stepping outside his or her usual role at SoundCloud.
At the end of the day, everyone fills out a form to report on what they’ve learned so that the information isn’t lost. More importantly, said Noël, the connections made with the users become “part of the DNA of the company.”