Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

Can you manage a community of users?

Is Community Management an oxymoron? — Check out Jeremiah’s recent post on the 4 tenets of community manager — There seems to be some debate on the four tenets themselvesLet’s ask the “community managers” themselves — Leave a comment.

Source: Not So Good Photography

Jeremiah had contacted me and a bunch of other community managers in companies ranging from Microsoft, Yahoo! and Disney to aggregate what he calls are the four tenets of a community manager. Now, it’s a given that the term community manager is not the perfect job title, and for purposes of this post let’s just call them community folk.

So, Jeremiah’s four tenets cover Community Advocate, Brand Evangelist, Effective Communicator, Product Feedback provider. Now, let’s look at the community evangelist roles in terms of what we do:

1. Listen: to users and internal teams

2. Converse: with users and internal teams

3. Build: “practices directed toward the creation or enhancement of community between individuals with a common interest.”

I think this is a good time to check out my earlier definition of the role of a community guy/gal using Hugh Macleod’s post of a Porous Membrane:

(Source: Hugh Macleod’s Gaping Void; May 9, 2005)

1. The Community/Customer (B)

Hugh calls B the customers. I’d like to take it one step further and see them as the community, esp. since we’re talking about a product/service that is “common, public, shared by all or many”. Now, there are some products that may not have as active a community (Enterprise servers, anyone) as the consumer oriented ones (iPods). Irrespective of that, the community manager will firstly have to be a customer evangelist thereby being able to identify with the community and its needs.

2. The Membrane (x)

Quoting Hugh:

6. So each market from a corporate point of view has an internal and external conversation. What separates the two is a membrane, otherwise known as “x”.

7. Every company’s membrane is different, and controlled by a host of different technical and cultural factors.

I’d like to think of the Community Evangelist as the one who connects the two entities A & B. They are the individuals entrusted with the task of pushing that membrane, aligning A and B.

3. The Troops (A)

This is the seemingly less important but critical component whose participation in the conversation is imperative. This would include your product, engineering, and customer support teams as Jeremiah elucidates. The more aligned the two groups, A and B are, the easier it’d be for the evangelist to start & keep a smart conversation going.


As you may have read in my earlier posts, customer evangelism is practiced by every passionate user within an organization. And, I see the role of every community evangelist facilitating easier communication between groups of users and the company.

Since this discussion will be incomplete without the thoughts of those individuals who practice what we’re discussing here – the community folk, I’m soliciting their response to this important discussion: Damon, Michael, Jeremy, Robyn, Chris, Scott, Alex, Betsy, Will, Craig, Thomas, Josh, Colin, Jeff, Dan and those peers of mine (community evangelism), I’d enumerated in an earlier post of mine. And, to you I ask:

What does a “community manager” do? Leave a comment.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

4 Responses

  1. […] Blog wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt … since we’re talking about a product/service that is “common, public, shared by all or many”. … 7. Every company’s membrane is different, and controlled by a host of different technical and cultural factors…. […]


  2. tomob says:

    Hi Mario:

    Great post – and I am going to chime in here as a longtime community participant, and now someone who makes their living listening to and analyzing community conversations.

    For a company like LinkedIn, (of which I am a long time member) it may make sense to put the company (A) in the center with customers (B) gathered around for information. I would argue that this is the exception – not the rule.

    Most categories we have done work in the most influential communities are NOT gathered around the companies. (See cellphones, pharma or automotive.) I think most communities are self-organizing for their own purposes. That is NOT to say that companies don’t have a role, because they do. An important one.

    I am going to put up my own diagram on my blog when I get a minute.




  3. Mario Sundar says:

    My good friend, Scott Wilder (Group Manager, Intuit – Small Business Division), responded to my question:

    “There are many different flavors of Community managers. Depends on a few factors:
    – size of the community
    – size of the community’s parent company resources
    – how integrated the community is with the rest of the company
    – the segment you are targeting
    – the technographics
    – etc.

    A community manager could be a one man show (similar to a start up joe or jane), wearing many hats — marketing, moderating, manager the tech guy, or the community manager could focus more on strategy and on integrating the community into other parts of the organization, such as product management, customer service and marketing. BUT at the end of the day, the Community manager is responsible for making sure the infrastructure and the day-to-day operations are meeting the needs of his/her citizens. If the site’s visitors (not all of them have to be ‘logged in’ are happy and sharing and learning, then at the end of the day that’s a NET GAIN.”

    Thanks, Scott for your comment.


  4. I think it really depends on what the company does and/or the expertise of the Community Manager. I do/have done about 5 different major roles at various companies, so I would say it really depends on what the organization expects from you & what you can do. I tend to be involved in CS, Marketing & Product fairly heavily & also have some basic SEO/SMO skills that help the company get better positioning on the web.

    The most important thing for a community person to do is identify key problems & try to address them internally (product issues, product wants, etc.) Communication is also important for when there are problems.


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