Guest post: Managing a community, before the community

This is a guest post by Suzy Griffin, based in Dublin, Ireland, who is Community Manager for Weedle, “The World’s Trusted Network of People With Skills”. Weedle, founded in 2009, went live in April and already has users in 160 countries.

‘If you build it, they will come.’

Field of Dreams, Phil Alden Robinson, Gordon Company, 1989,

A couple thinking about starting a family will bear this in mind when they’re looking for a place to call home. They will think about what location will suit their unborn children, what amenities are available nearby for children and how the area will cater for their children. You can’t expect a community or family to grow and flourish naturally unless you’re fully prepared for their arrival. If users don’t feel you’re ready for them, that you haven’t put the effort, time or money into taking care of them, they’ll be gone as quick as they arrived.

Some believe that Community Management should be the responsibility of the believer – the founder. That way the founders are closer to their community and they can really get to know what their community wants. Marshall Kirkpatrick discusses this view in his ReadWriteWeb article ‘Do Startup Companies Need Community Managers’:

Darius A Monsef IV, Executive Editor & Creator, told us he thinks that in the early days founders need to be in the thick of managing their own communities.

He does correct this view later on, Andraz Tori, CTO at Zemanta answers this question diplomatically. “The [community manager] role can be played by one of the founders early on, but…Founders have a vision and might be a bit stubborn about what their product represents and offers (that’s why they are founders).”

I see the Community Manager role as a representative, a guardian of the Community and their ideas. As the notoriety of your start-up grows on the web, you will attract a lot of very web savvy, social networking kings and queens. These users will have lots of suggestions and ideas relating to how you can do things better. They’re also very quick to point out any issues/bugs or elements of the site that are not working to absolute perfection. Great! This is just what you need to improve, grow and succeed. However, it can be a little soul destroying for a founder/developer who has spent months on an app, only to listen to several sources say that it’s not user-friendly.

This is where a Community Manager can provide a link between the Community and the founders, developers and designers. The Community Manager is the one team member whose priority is not the development of the site but the community – their thoughts, problems, ideas and questions. It’s vital these are all dealt with because you never know who it is sending the feedback mail, especially in the early days of a start-up.

In terms of work-flow and time-management any founder/developer of a start-up will tell you that it’s pretty intense. The idea for a start-up is one thing, executing it effectively is another issue. If there is a definite gap in the market for your start-up then you have to do it right and get it out before somebody with more money and more credibility takes your idea and executes it better.

When it comes to replying to feedback mails, responding to enquiries/ideas, monitoring how the community is using the site and weeding out bad apples, there simply isn’t the time. That’s not to say to these tasks are not a priority, they are crucial in growing you user base, which is crucial in making your start-up a success.

Finally, let’s think about visiting somebody at their home. Whatever home you visit the ultimate welcome involves preparation and thought. Isn’t it nice when somebody finds out what your favourite food is and is interested in what you have to say, your news and thoughts? A Community Manager is a really nice welcome to anybody who wanders in to your start-up. It shows they are ready and waiting for your arrival and looking forward to engaging with you. If you make your start-up a friendly, engaging place to visit and give your community somebody who is devoted just to them, then you are making your start-up a nice place to visit. After all, you must feather the nest before your chickens hatch.