3 Questions to Ask a Potential Community Manager

Find someone who can distinguish between social media and community

Learn how the creator economy is transforming the marketing landscape, and how to cultivate partnerships to grow engaged communities at Social Media Week: The Creatorverse, May 16–18 in NY. Register now to secure your early bird pass.

It’s an all too common mistake to conflate social media management with community management, but since both of these roles are critical to your company, make sure you’ve got the right people on the bus. Because they require different skill sets (and mindsets!), it’s entirely possible that you’ll need to work with two different individuals or agencies to execute your strategic goals. You need to specifically define your vision of community and the ethos of your brand and steer clear of the assumption that your social media management spend, whether you’re hiring an individual or an outside agency, has you covered in the community management department. It probably doesn’t.

In a nutshell, here’s the difference between a social media manager and a community manager: the former’s job is to act as the voice of the brand, sharing content and driving engagement within brand-specific conversations; the latter’s is to be an empathetic listener and problem solver who thinks far less about amplification than about providing genuine value to the community, making each stakeholder feel like a member of a selective club. What the brand is about may be part of the conversation but should not be central to it. Think of social media management as speaking to the masses and community management as a more introspective, emotionally intelligent voice that speaks directly to individuals. Bottom line: Real community must not be about your brand; it must be more about the core needs of the people who matter most to it

You probably already know what makes a great social media manager but hiring a community manager or agency can be a little trickier. Here are three questions you should always ask when interviewing individual candidates, partners or agencies.

How would you define our company’s community?

Real community must not be about your brand; it must be more about the core needs of the people who matter most to it

Your candidate’s response to this question will tell you if they truly understand how people interact with your brand. An experienced community manager will think beyond your obvious customers and drill down to identify all the different types of stakeholders who touch your business and how you might deliver value to them. If you own a diner and your prospective community manager identifies your community as foodies, you’d better keep interviewing candidates. Community management isn’t about selling products or services nor is it about treating every patron of your business or social media follower the same; it’s about forging real-world, mutually beneficial relationships with individuals who have diverse needs. For instance, if your community manager has the right stuff, they might suggest reaching out to local high school coaches and offering your diner as post-game gathering place with special pricing for team members.

How have you handled a specific challenge for a community member?

Community management is all about listening with empathy, gathering context, identifying problems and coming up with solutions for people. Think of your perfect community manager as a Sherlock Holmes of discourse, peeling back layers of jargon and seeing through inconsistencies to determine the true value that can be unleashed with the right connection or resource. Has your candidate used data, made valuable introductions (with double opt-in, of course) or otherwise gone above and beyond to come to the aid of a community member? Here, you’re looking for critical thinking skills and gauging just how far your candidate is willing to go to be of service.

What would you do if asked to abruptly shift the focus of the community to support a new product launch?  

Here’s how you know if you’ve struck gold. The perfect community manager knows that their primary responsibility is to the community—not to the marketing team, not to the balance sheet, not to social media metrics.

To build long-term brand affinity, community members, whether they’re online or in the real world, cannot feel that they’re being sold to. If you make the mistake of marketing aggressively to your community, you’ll squander any good will you’ve managed to build up. When you doggedly consider what’s best for the community and constantly strive to deliver value, ROI will follow. Your community manager should be able to speak truth to power. New products and services will come and go, but the community should remain true to your company’s vision. How your candidate responds to this question will tell you whether they are focused on short-term ROI or long-term loyalty. Make sure it’s the latter.

Could the folks who handle your social media also handle your community management? Maybe. Just make you’re getting the right people on the bus, placing comparable emphasis on both roles and allocating resources accordingly.