When to Hire a Community Manager

Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with founders looking for advice on when to bring on a community manager.  People are increasingly hiring for the role, but the question of when (and whether) it fits into the company is often still a mystery. To help everyone figure out what they want and end up happier, I’d like to shed some light for founders and potential candidates.

Hire a community manager if and when:

* You have users

It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this isn’t the case. There are lots of companies who hire someone with the community manager title to get users when they don’t yet have them. I believe that’s turning the wrong dial. Your initial users will come, or not, based on your product and if user adoption at the early stages is less than expected, you need to tweak and reflect on your product. Throwing another person into the mix will likely add to the confusion. Make sure you’ve got a healthy engaged user base to start with, before you consider hiring a community manager.

* Your interaction with your users has gotten to be more than you can handle

Having a sizable engaged user base on its own is key, but it isn’t enough. There needs to be an element of critical mass. What do I mean by this? In the best cases, a founder manages all interaction with users at the beginning. Support, customer feedback, and just being there until you know the key players by name. If the pieces are in place, these interactions will increase in depth and number. There’s going to be a certain point where the relationships are both too valuable not to nurture, but too numerous to keep up while also fulfilling other duties as a founder. This is when you might seriously want to consider bringing someone else on, but you need to think about one more important piece. 

* You’re ready to put your customers at the center of your business for the long-term 

This requires some self reflection. Building and scaling a people-centered business is both hard and insanely rewarding. I wrote a bit about in a previous post (Are You Ready to Run a Customer Centered Business?). Hiring a community manager is the single biggest step you can take towards investing in your users.  If you want to make user happiness a core business competency, and create an ecosystem in which people can impact each other’s lives, go you! 

I simply urge you to consider what you’re taking on preemptively and make this choice deliberately. There’s nothing worse than when the community manager is the only person in the company who really cares about the community. Think a few steps out and save yourself the internal strife later by deciding how much this matters to you now. 

Just running through these bullet points giving a simple yes/no will provide visibility into whether it’s right to hire a community manager (or whether the company you’re interviewing with has it right). My hope is that this framework can help founders and candidates get more out of their efforts by providing a little more rigor, and setting expectations more effectively.