Everyone is talking about community. Companies want to build them, consumers want to join them, and workers want to run them. Community is hot and it’s expanding.
When you hire these eager new community leaders to own and drive your community, you’ll need to know what you want each of them to do. You could just hire a bunch of people, call them all community managers, and let them get on with it.
But we know that’s not a well thought through strategy. Plenty of other companies have built thriving communities that add huge value to their customers and partners. In doing so, they’ve figured out a few things about how to approach this challenge and what kind of skills you need in different areas.
In this Orbit article, we’re going to explore the different roles you’d expect to see in communities of different sizes. We’ll also look at other roles you might already have across your company that can be supercharged by being community aligned.
The value of a community is too much to keep bottled up in one department!
All companies are different. They have varied cultures and needs and structures. There’s no one way to organize your team.
There are a few common themes which you can emulate, though. These are the community roles you would expect to see in a large community team - perhaps in a huge one!
All of these roles could have different names, but they roughly cover the various responsibilities one would expect to see in a community team. Further down the article, we’ll explore each in a little more detail.
Of course, not everyone needs all these roles straight away! Communities grow and gain extra people as each of these responsibilities becomes more time consuming and produces more value.
It would be tempting to think that the first hires for community would be junior - maybe as an extension of an existing social or content team - but that would be wrong.
According to the 2022 CMX Industry Report, “only 44% of organizations report that they had a dedicated community manager when they launched their community.”
This might be necessary for small firms but if you have the resources available to you, it could be a mistake to make your community just a side project of another team member.
A community is a project of its own which requires specialist knowledge, dedicated software, and a deep understanding of its future members’ needs and wants.
Think of the community as its own little startup. First, you need a founder.
Depending on your company’s hierarchy and structure, this could be a Head of Community, or a Director or VP, even. Or, you could go with Senior Community Manager. I don’t know how your company works.
What I do know, is you need someone who can do the planning, development, and execution. This person can then begin to bring in the more junior staff who can get the ball rolling.
Once the community is gaining traction and effectiveness, you might add an Operations person to that team - someone who can keep everyone organized and track metrics and achievements to show some of the value the community is providing.
Other roles happen naturally from there, kind of like mitosis. Is your content creation proving to be a really successful aspect of your community? Great - let’s grab another person for that and have two people driving it forward.
The challenge you will face as you look to scale the team is justifying extra spend to your boss. How do you demonstrate the value your community generates? We’ll there’s a few ways:
There are loads of different roles you might find in community departments or teams. Many of them overlap. Lots of them specialize. This graphic from the 2022 CMX report shows the kinds of duties community teams hire staff to undertake:
But in terms of what specific roles exist to execute on these duties, most of them will be some kind of variation on the 11 mentioned here:
A community manager is the person most of us think of when imagining who runs a community. That person probably deals with community members and reports upwards about the health of the community. They might create content, run events, or manage others. This is the Swiss army knife of community roles. They could be a one person community or part of a team of 20.
This person might specialize over time or they might be looking to move up the ladder and take on more leadership. They could be relatively junior or mid-career, so advancement or opportunities for growth are areas which can be important to them.
A community administrator likely makes sure stuff gets done, in some capacity. In some organizations this person might report in to Ops and be very admin focused. In other teams, this might describe the person who is actively engaging the community itself and helping community members when needed. In both situations they would be on the front lines of ensuring information is accurate, level 1 support is provided, and their manager is aware of day to day goings on in the community.
Your community operations manager is a bit of a different breed. The community operations manager, like Ops folk the world over, is probably a detail oriented specialist who feels at home with software. There’s a good chance that your community overlaps into different software or platforms, and that you’re trying to keep CRM-style records of your community members. Maybe you’re trying to connect community membership with data held by other departments like marketing, sales, or product.
It’s the community operations manager who will often oversee all this, along with your community software stack. They’re the people who love Orbit the most, as we make their lives and reporting easier - so we love them right back.
And - according to CMX - our lovely community ops folk are in high demand:
“One key trend is the growth of community operations as a function. 96% of community teams have a community operations function, and 35% have someone dedicated to community operations full-time, proof that this role is becoming a critical part of community teams.”
For too long, the community game was just vibes - now its the community operations managers who are showing the rest of the company the real business impact.
All the roles toward the top of the command chain start to get a little complicated, as they’ll mean different things in different sized organizations. We’ll go through them in ascending order of superiority.
A senior community manager implies the existence of a non or less senior community manager. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
The senior community manager role often exists in environments where the community is large and successful - particularly in communities that visibility contribute to ROI.
However, there does tend to be a limit to the size of a community team and the level we see them grow to in many organizations. So individual growth and career progression requires both upward trajectory and specialization. The CMX 2022 report highlights variations of the senior community manager role, and its synonyms:
What kinds of titles you’ll see around this level of the hierarchy is often dependent on where community lives within the main organization. Is it its own department or is it a branch of marketing, or customer success?
A senior community manager likely takes on more people management responsibilities as well as their own area of professional specialism. Doing this frees up time for the…
A head of community role is most of the time the top dog in a given community team. It might be called Director, or sometimes the senior manager title above. Whatever you call it, the head of community takes ownership over the successes and failures of the team and its community.
This person cares about top-line metrics, growing their staff, and how the strategic direction of the community aligns with the broader company objectives.
They may also be the direct line manager for the rest of the community team - or, in a bigger team, the managers’ manager. The average US pay range for this role is ~$140k, but varies in line with local wage-markets.
The most senior possible community role is Chief Community Officer - caps for emphasis/deference.
According to TechCrunch, “Chief community officer is the new CMO” and tech companies, in particular, appear to be heeding that advice. For companies where the community has added significant value and been a key growth lever, appointing a CCO makes a lot of sense.
But - as things stand - not a great deal is known about the chief community officers of the world. These are an emerging strata of community professionals, though, and a likely staple of the future.
A community content creator is kind of what it says on the tin. They create content… for the community.
It’s easy to envision this role when we look at the mirrored position in the world of social. No one ever asks any more what a social media manager or creator does all day. The concept of content creator has broken free of the emerging-tech-trend bubble and is now used in common parlance.
The community content creator fits neatly into that mold. You’re looking for someone creative with a range of adaptable skills. It’s useful if this person is as comfortable in front of camera as behind it, as video content is a hugely engaging and information-dense means of communicating with your community.
The role itself could be junior, as a multi-skilled entry level position for a passionate person, or it could go in the direction of a brand representative - bringing in someone with a bit more seniority to be one of the faces of the community, contributing to thought leadership efforts in the process…
Another kind of community content you may want to explore is courses. And for this you may want to hire a community course manager, or some similar title.
This person might have a background which is more education-aligned or they might have significant experience in their field as a professional. It’s the type of role where someone might be hired full-time for an ongoing relationship building out course after course, or it could be a shorter engagement where a specialist comes in to create and setup, and then hands it back to other staff.
Courses can be a huge source of added value in a community, so having a dedicated person with the right skillset to execute the strategy properly is really valuable for a company which can find space for it in its budget.
Another angle from which to approach community as it appears in the wild is DevRel - or developer relations. This is basically when you have a community of developers of some kind. It’s the kind of community which big tech companies or smaller tech platforms have.
Developer relations earned its own name and series of approaches. Sometimes job titles in this field will stick to the conventional generic titles we see in this thread, other times they can get quite specific.
A developer relations associate would be a more junior role - akin to a community manager or community administrator, but specialized in this type of community. Their duties would tend to involve traditional community management work but also involve a high level of interaction with the developers where they would need specialized knowledge.
The path into being a developer relations associate would typically involve being a developer first. This means these roles often start at a higher pay grade than more community-generic positions in the list.
The developer relations executive takes this position one step further. This person is likely very experienced in the services and software the developers are using, and they are often more public and prominent in the functioning of those communities.
We’ve discussed previously how community often overlaps with marketing or customer success, sometimes starting out as a branch of one of these departments. While developer relations activities could be grouped into these categories too, the devrel mode of operating straddles another department: Product.
In their role as developer relations executive, this lucky individual will be gathering a huge amount of knowledge about the customer and how they use the product. They’ll learn painpoints and challenges, a-ha moments and highlights. In doing so, they become a great resource for improving the product and delighting developers even further.
They’ll work closely with the product team to deliver feedback, communicate roadmaps, and organize beta testing, along with demo-ing new features and functionalities. When you hire a developer relations executive, you’re not just hiring someone with a great community-aligned skillset but someone who is a real product person and can understand how products evolve toward success.
This all makes this role a little more strategic than other community positions.
Finally, we jump right into the marketing department and look at the social community manager.
The distinction in this role is that it could - could - be more about the social and less about the community. After all, social is a huge part of any community but it is its own distinct thing too.
In a larger company you’re more likely to see this role as being the member of the community team responsible for social. Whereas, in a company with a smaller community set up, it’s common for this person to be a social media manager who understands they’re responsible for engaging, entertaining, and providing value to customers and other more peripheral community members.
There’s a small distinction and little consistency in it, but it can tell you something about the company’s overall approach to community.
There are far too many potential community roles to go through all of them. Specialization, in particular, means countless variations. Most of them will look broadly like the above.
However, you don’t have to be in a community team to be in a community team. Yes.
Communities, internally, are like octopodes (octopusses?) in that they stretch their tentacles into all the other teams and departments around them. So, which other functions might community team members expect to be interacting with the most?
Tech guru and Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham has a pretty blunt but probably fairly useful view on hiring in general in his essay How to Start a Startup:
“The most important way to not spend money is by not hiring people. I may be an extremist, but I think hiring people is the worst thing a company can do. To start with, people are a recurring expense, which is the worst kind. They also tend to cause you to grow out of your space, and perhaps even move to the sort of uncool office building that will make your software worse. But worst of all, they slow you down: instead of sticking your head in someone's office and checking out an idea with them, eight people have to have a meeting about it. So the fewer people you can hire, the better.”
Now that quote has set the tone, the answer to when you might need more people on your community team is either a) when you’re too busy to cope, b) when you need to add specialisms you don’t currently have and can’t efficiently source internally, or c) when you’re demonstrating significant value and hiring is seen to be the optimal route to scaling that generation of value.
The first option of hiring when you’re busy regardless of circumstances is risky but rapid growth is very often a valuable thing and if the chart is going up and to the right, sometimes you should just feed it and let it work.
The second option of hiring to source specialism might apply to bringing in an expert to build course materials. You can lean on that person’s personal brand and domain-specific knowledge while they provide something other team members cannot.
But the third option is probably the optimal place to be. You’re making hiring decisions in the context not of how your team can function the way you want it to, but around the idea of how it is contributing to business objectives and outcomes.
This kind of mentality encourages you to think about your operations in a more systematic way, and uncover real business value - or lack of - in different activities.
The primary obstacle you’ll face is identifying that business value, and exactly how your community is generating it…
Which brings you to Orbit.
Where previously measuring community impact was based on intuition and superficial metrics, now community impact is clearly measured by growth metrics that matter to every team.
Instead of relying on spreadsheets to keep community members organized and track metrics that don’t fit into a CRM, everyone is part of the community, not just prospects and customers, and metrics are easily tracked in Orbit’s platform.
Orbit is a community growth platform that scales the impact of your company’s most valuable resource—its community of users, advocates, and contributors. Increase revenue and retention, accelerate product adoption, and give each department a holistic view of the member activity they care about.
The Orbit model measures and increases gravity, the force that binds community members and incentivizes them to take action that leads to revenue. Get notified automatically when a member joins, interacts with your product or community, or is at risk of becoming inactive, then recognize them with rewards according to their Orbit level (their proximity to the most active base of your community) or provide incentives to re-engage.
You can draw a line from community to revenue and retention by measuring members’ love and reach, two key metrics that show how community activity impacts company growth metrics. Orbit tracks activities that increase love and add value to the community, like providing valuable advice, chatting in your Discord, praising you on Twitter—anything you deem a positive interaction. Orbit makes it easy to visualize this data using integrations to attribute conversions, deals, and renewals to the work of internal community professionals.
In other words, Orbit helps you prove the ROI of your community. And crucially, prove the ROI of your team members and their activity - so you can do more of what works and make informed decisions about what doesn’t.
This means that when your team grows it scales rather than bloats - and you can bring in the community roles that are right for your organization; the right roles at the right times.
Book a demo and find out what Orbit can do to revolutionize your community!