Tips for getting started in Community Management

I got my start in Community Management by building forums and fansites in the early 2000’s. By 2010 I started organizing in-person meetups and events. In 2015, my hobby became my career when I joined GoDaddy as a full-time Community Manager.

Until that point I had never thought of community as a profession. Little did I know that an entire industry already existed, and was about to accelerate to warp speed.

Community Management is evolving

Community Management has its roots in Customer Experience teams, encompassing customer support, service, and success. Goals were usually aligned to things like reducing support costs, reducing churn, or increasing customer value.

Community teams are starting to break out of that silo, taking on responsibilities across the entire customer journey, from brand awareness through customer acquisition.

My team sits within the Marketing org at GoDaddy, for example, and while we work closely with our friends in Customer Care, our KPIs aren’t the same.

So… all of that’s to say, if you’re interested in doing this whole Community Manager thing, now’s a great time for it!

What’s the best way to get started in Community Management?

In my opinion, the best way to get started is to dive right in. There’s nothing better than learning by doing, and you don’t need permission to start a community group of your own.

Figure out what kind of group you’d like to be part of, then go and make it happen!

If you’re reluctant to go all-in on starting a group of your own, you could instead find a group that already exists, become an active participant, and look for opportunities to help out.

That’s how I found my way into organizing meetups. I joined a local group, I kept showing up, I got to know the members, and eventually I volunteered to help organize.

That said, if you’d like to jump right in and start a group of your own, you should go in with at least a rough plan. Which takes us to the fun, actionable bit of this post:

Six easy questions for planning a community group

There’s no shortage of resources for planning a community. Check out Community Club, In Before The Lock, and The Community Canvas. If, however, you just want a quick-and-dirty starting point, try answering the following:

  1. Who is this for?
  2. Why are you doing it? / Why should they care?
  3. What will you do?
  4. When will you do it?
  5. Where will you do it?
  6. How will you motivate members to show up, participate, and stick around?

Let’s dig into each question.

Who is this for?

A community is a connected group of people with something in common. What’s that “something” for your group? Is it for people who live in a certain location? Who have a shared interest? Who have similar jobs? Figure that out first.

Why are you doing it? Why should they (potential members) care?

You know who the group is for, but why does it exist? What need(s) are you addressing by bringing these people together? This is the hook – the thing that scratches the itch. In other words, know your why.

What will you do?

What sort of activities or experiences are you facilitating? Do some brainstorming, and after you get the group going, solicit ideas from other members. Some common ones: presentations; panel discussions; Q&As with experts; collaborative projects; even recreational activities, like party games.

When will you do it?

The sense of belonging within a group grows through shared experiences over time. Having a schedule makes things better for everyone. As an organizer, you can prepare will in advance; your members will know what’s coming up. Predictability is important here. You want these activities to feel like routine habits.

Where will you do it?

What’s the venue? Online? Offline? Both? This depends entirely on your group, your activities, and your schedule. I enjoyed running local user groups in-person because it got us all out from behind our screens for a couple hours each month, and those who couldn’t join us in person could still connect remotely via Zoom or livestream.

The choice of venue = the choice of platform for online activities. Zoom is a great standard, but there are a ton of other options. Check out my side project, Community Stacks, for a list.

How will you motivate members to show up, participate, and stick around?

I like to talk about having a steady drumbeat of community activity. That drumbeat is punctuated by regular experiences, with persistent channels sustaining the rhythm between experiences.

In other words, you have your recurring activities like meetups. Between those activities you have regular communications, like social media, YouTube uploads, blog articles, and newsletters. Beyond that, you have your persistent channels for members to reach each other, like a Facebook group, Slack team, Discord server, or dedicated website/forum/app.

How do these all work together? By anchoring on the recurring activities.

Visualizing the “steady drumbeat”. Activities built on persistent backchannels.

Before the activity, you’re getting the word out. You’re building hype and anticipation. Squeeze as much as you can out of the activity. Are you hosting a panel discussion? Interview the panelists, turn those interviews into blog articles, slice n’ dice those blog articles into social content. Drive people to RSVP for the activity and join your community.

During the activity, you’re capturing the moment. Streaming. Videos. Photos. Screenshots. Audio. Transcripts and testimonials from participants. These are all content “artifacts” of the experience.

After the activity, you’re sharing the experience. Use what you’ve captured to publish a recap of the experience and fuel upcoming communications. This keeps existing members informed about what they missed, and builds the anticipation FOMO for potential members. Drive people to RSVP for your next activity and join your community.

That may all sound like a lot, but it’s pretty straightforward once you get it documented, and the actual hands-on work becomes a standard routine for you as an organizer.

Example of using Google Sheets to plan activities. Grab the template.

Have fun with it.

Community Management can be stressful, but it can also be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling… heck, even fun. You’ll meet all kinds of people, learn a lot, and discover new things about yourself. including leadership skills you never knew you had.

I started in Community Management as a hobby. I’m grateful that it’s become a core part of my career. If you’re interested in trying it out, now’s the time. Go for it. And remember: you have a global community of community professionals here to help you.

Have a great week!