Community managers play an essential and exciting role for any brand. They promote the company name, build relationships, and lead the online conversation about the business. It’s a position that requires long hours, boundless energy, and lots of passion. But does it require time in the office? And if so, how much?
Most of a community manager’s duties are centered on social media and online interactions. On the surface, it seems like this is a job that could easily be done from home. We chatted with a few of the top community managers about the job and the times when working remotely really does work.
Jenn Pedde is an experienced community manager and is the co-founder of the #CmgrChat for @TheCMgr. Leigh Dow is the president of Dow Media Group and previously served as director of online communities for Toolbox.com. Steph Parker is currently the community manager at advertising agency Neiman. Here’s what they had to say.
When to Be in the Office
The experts agreed that for day-to-day business, working at an agency or an office was the standard practice for community managers. One of the top reasons for this is the need for working alongside other teams. “Community team members interface with a lot of other departments: marketing, PR, product, customer service,” Pedde said. “I do know that it’s best for the community manager to be onsite more often than not, if only because they have to be present for so many discussions.”
Dow seconded work with business development and product management as essential tasks best done in the office. Parker also highlighted the importance of face-to-face collaboration. “Having a team of people to bounce ideas off of has been crucial to my success in an office environment,” she said. “It’s helpful to bring in new minds to think around a problem, and to help me see possibilities I may not have explored on my own.”
There are other practical business reasons for community managers to spend the majority of their time in the office. “Often, community managers are not senior employees,” noted Dow. “Some companies don’t have the sense of trust that the person is ready to have that much autonomy.” Considering the community manager represents a brand online, it makes sense that company leaders would want an employee to earn the right to be turned loose on his or her own.
Dow also offered her managerial perspective on why being in the office is essential. Although she noted the perks of flexibility and work/life balance that remote working offers, Dow said that there can be serious downsides to having a virtual team. In-person meetings and conversations often yield changes in social approach and strategy, and she said, “If your developers work in the Agile and/or SCRUM models of product development, remote work makes that more difficult.” Overseeing remote workers also can place extra administrative duties on the team.
When to Be at Home
For all the important collaborative efforts and strategizing that community managers may want to do in the presence of their coworkers, our experts agreed that some duties are best suited to a remote workplace. Dow gave a long list of responsibilities, mostly focused on member liaisons, such as “developing a core group of members, answering member questions, persuading members to visit, encouraging relationships between members, and moderating and resolving conflict in the community.” She also opined that content creation and social media engagement could be accomplished easily at home.
“I’d say I work from home one to three times per month,” Pedde said. “Every now and again I need a day at home to focus on writing or strategy.” She also noted that office environment can impact how well community managers can do some of their essential work. “Community managers spend a lot of time writing content and/or having to speak with community members,” she said. “Being on the phone at home to have those important one-on-one calls is great if your office is open.”
If you do work from home, even on occasion, make sure that both the company and the employee have the necessary infrastructure in place. “Over-communicate to your team and your leadership,” suggests Dow. “Building online communities requires a lot of uphill boulder pushing, so make sure people know what your day-to-day activities are and why they are still important to the success of the team.” Parker gave the same advice: “I think setting up regular status calls is key so that everyone knows what’s going on with every piece of work.”
The tools for facilitating that easy communication don’t have to be complicated. Our experts cited commonplace platforms such as Google Hangouts, Skype, and instant messaging for conducting their meetings. Pedde relies on Dropbox for her work, while Dow suggested making specialized tools for tracking timesheets, client tickets, and analytics available to remote workers.
Parker highlighted one of the final key reasons that a community manager should have the option to work from home. “As community managers, we are expected to be connected to social media and what’s happening around the clock, no matter where we are,” she said. The position often involves hours outside the traditional 9 to 5, so freeing up a community manager to do his or her job at home removes the time spent commuting and can let the person focus on the tasks at hand. “I think the nature of social media itself helps lend the job to working from anywhere,” Parker said. “As long as there’s an internet connection, community managers can monitor, craft content, and interact with their communities.”
Conclusions and Tips
Dow’s earlier comment about Agile and SCRUM workplace models highlights the most important facet to the question of whether your community managers should be able to work from home. The subject falls under the broad umbrella of company culture, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to those questions. Whether your community managers work from home depends on the broader structure and culture of your organization. Your brand will need to consider your choices about structure, leadership, and character to determine whether having remote employees is a help or a hindrance.
When you’re hiring a community manager, be sure to talk about whether working remotely is an option that you encourage in your company culture. Be clear about when working from home is allowed and when your employees are expected to put in face time. Also, try to be frank about the time commitment you’ll want from your manager; if you want him or her on call 24/7, it may be easier for him or her to have some work-from-home flexibility.
For those of you pursuing work as community managers, know whether or not you’re able to work well from home. It takes extra discipline to stay on task. Not everyone has that discipline, but others flourish when they’re allowed more flexibility with their location or hours. Do a little self-analysis before suggesting an alternative work situation. You’re not served at all by an arrangement that doesn’t play to your strengths.
Our experts had some final advice for community managers who want to work remotely, either some or all of the time. Parker suggested staying involved in the local community. “I think one of the benefits of working from an office is that you’re naturally staying current with things because you’re having conversations,” she said. “If you’re working remotely, make sure you’re having those same conversations elsewhere so you can trade experiences and validate that you’re on track with what you’re doing!”
Dow again emphasized that arranging a Skype or phone meeting can help strengthen a relationship with distance. “Often as online workers, we forget people still like to hear a voice, see your face — it helps build stronger teams.”
Do you have a community manager working from home? Share your experiences in the comments below!