Search any community manager job description and you will find requirements like “strong communication,” “social media skills,” “interpersonal skills,” or “project management.” Looking at these descriptions, it can be difficult to understand the difference between program management, product marketing, and community management roles. Ask someone in the trenches doing the work — and you likely will find that the day-to-day role varies greatly.

Community builders at their core need to create value for their community by engaging members and encouraging them to contribute more. There are lots of ways community managers create value via educational opportunities, connection, the elevation of ideas, and creating a sense of belonging. To do this effectively, community builders must understand their members’ motivations, challenges, and goals at an intimate level, which means working through those challenges together.

Gone are the days where community builders can effectively execute their daily duties on communication and interpersonal skills alone. In product communities, Community builders are the Swiss Army knives of product teams: they run events, write targeted messaging, and respond intelligently to member inquiries. But now more than ever, community managers are required to dig into the data and write scripts, or SQL queries, and using no-code tools to glue everything together and make sense of the trends. 

In essence, the role of the community builder has evolved to becoming ubiquitous within their organizations and the go-to customer-facing person for just about everyone from engineering and product teams to sales, talent, marketing and beyond. To understand how the community builder role will evolve in the next phase of community growth, we must first comprehend how they came to exist and consider if the role’s current trajectory is sustainable.

The history of community management

Community has always been important to business. Community building as we know it started in the 1990s as the internet reached the masses. The growth of online multiplayer computer games, chat rooms, and special interest groups grew exponentially, but with little management or oversight.  

“ Community builders at their core need to create value”

Companies quickly realized that by nurturing online communities, they could retain and better understand their most loyal customers. This became the foundation of some of our favorite brands like Amazon and Zappos (which was acquired by Amazon in 2009). It is not surprising that the rise of “online community managers” — the predecessors to community builders and advocates — became prominent in the English language after 1997, the same year as Amazon’s initial public offering. 

The original community builders did not have a template or a book for engaging online communities. The value of community was not fully understood. Most community responsibilities were pushed to junior employees and interns. As social media grew, many companies quickly snapped up account names, but did not actively engage with members and customers through them.

But as the number of social media users and channels grew from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to Reddit, GitHub, Discord, Twitch and more, the case for business presence on these platforms became difficult to ignore. Businesses needed to engage with their customers where they spend their time — in online communities.

From community presence to value creation

As community builders know, running a community is far more comprehensive than having a social media presence — it is about engaging and creating value for the community. For community builders, the benefits of community have became self-evident over time, but it continues to be a challenge to provide this to executives, who want to see immediate quarter-over-quarter return on investment. Nurturing and building a community takes time and concerted effort. 

Some of the first businesses to invest in community are some of the most successful names today. Think of Salesforce, Apple, and Microsoft’s Developer community. In fact, over 60% of Fortune 50 companies have community programs. (“How the World’s Top Brands Invest in Community,” Gather, 2019.)

In his book “The Business of Belonging,” David Spinks interviewed Erica Kuhl, who spent nearly 17 years building the Trailblazer Community at Salesforce. Erica struggled for years to explain what it meant to build a community and prove its value to Salesforce leadership. Whenever she took on a new community initiative, she made sure it had measurable outcomes she could tie back to ROI. Over time, she was able to show the Trailblazer Community reduced support costs, increased product adoption, customer spend, and retention. 

Community builders today must focus on activities and events that create measurable value for members, and then effectively communicate them to leadership and executives as well. That requires community builders to get their hands dirty, digging in to raw data, writing scripts, and putting themselves in the shoes of their members.

“ Modern-day community builders have two things in common: love for their community & difficulty finding time to keep up”

In other words, community builders have to cover a number of roles – playing data analyst one minute and full-stack developer the next. Some need technical know-how to run activities like hackathons and have more empathy for community challenges. It also means that community builders can quickly respond to technical questions instead of depending on IT or technical colleagues. This builds trust among community members because they know community builders are right there with them in the trenches. 

A day in the life of a full-stack community builder

Modern-day community builders have two things in common — love for their community and difficulty finding the time to keep up. Building a community team has become commonplace because of the invaluable insights they surface, but they often find it impossible to do everything they need to create value. Community builders spread their time filling roles such as thought leaders, content creators, technical support, developers, data scientists, social media managers (across a growing number of channels), event planners, and still find the time to learn and keep up with the latest trends and technology.

To better understand a day in the life of a modern-day community builder, I reached out to my fellow Orbit colleague Bryan Robinson, Orbit’s Senior Developer Advocate, to better understand his day-to-day work.


“First thing every morning, I make the rounds of our community to get an idea of where my unplanned time will go today. I start with a quick pass on our Discord server and make note of any conversations I can quickly respond to and add value. I then log into Orbit which lets me consolidate all our other community surfaces into one flow.”


“After I’ve made my first pass through the community, it’s time to engage our members! This takes many forms. Most days, answering questions in our Help channel is where I provide value. These questions range from theoretical ‘How do I build the best community?’ to highly technical questions about scripts or automation. Beyond being reactive, I also want to make sure I share any relevant articles, videos, or other helpful content to my community.”


“After I’ve made my first pass through the community, it’s time to engage our members! This takes many forms. Most days, answering questions in our Help channel is where I provide value. These questions range from theoretical ‘How do I build the best community?’ to highly technical questions about scripts or automation. Beyond being reactive, I also want to make sure I share any relevant articles, videos, or other helpful content to my community.”


“When it comes to product communities, education is key. Whether it’s helping new members get up and running or teaching experienced members advanced topics, often the best way to do this is to create content: help articles, how-to videos, educational Discord posts, or Twitter threads.”


“It could be argued that events are just another type of content, but planning and running them takes a distinct skill set. At Orbit, we try to average 5-6 community-focused events a month. Events are a great way to get feedback from the community, help clear their blockers, and — much like content — help educate members on the best way to build communities. We run weekly ‘office hours’ to help with questions, twice-monthly ‘study groups’ to talk about high-level community topics, and monthly product feature-focused events to showcase new and upcoming features within Orbit itself.”


“As a Community Advocate for developer communities, I’ve got to keep up with the ever-growing landscape of developer knowledge. For that, I’m active in many developer communities and forums and am always seeking new information, frameworks, and judging the pulse of where the community is headed.”

The community builders of the future

Bryan’s skill-set as a developer has set him up for success as a community advocate for the developer community. His technical skills bring him closer to his community and make it easier to collectively solve problems. 

But we do not know for certain if that will become a requirement for the community profession as a whole. As with most things — it will depend on the type of community you manage. However, by understanding the past and present evolution of the community builder role, we can make some predictions based on the current trajectory. 


Programming and data analysis have become important skills in almost every aspect of business, but that does not mean community managers need to know every programming language or data analysis tool. It means they must have knowledge of the subject, understand current trends and know-how to support developers and data scientists if they cannot resolve the questions themselves. 


Bringing in community builder with a breadth of skills and backgrounds is critical to growing the community space. Community is about celebrating the differences in one another and using different learning and communication styles to engage members and make everyone feel welcome and included. Here, it is curiosity about a breadth of topics that will make it easier to learn and engage the community. 


We know we are just tapping the surface of the community’s full potential. In CMX’s 2022 Community Industry Report, only 10% of respondents said they could financially quantify the value of their community. Community services like Orbit will make it easier to quantify community value and report community impact to executives. I predict this will increase funding to community programs over time. 


Community cannot be everything to everyone, nor should they be forced to try. As the number of community professionals grows, community roles will become more specialized. Think of how marketing has many specific roles including GTM marketing, content marketing, analyst relations, digital marketing, sales enablement, and more. This will empower community leaders to focus on leveraging their strengths to maximize value add to the community.


Community is an ever-growing and evolving field. No single community builder is the same and nor should efforts be made to standardize the role. In fact — here at Orbit we have started initiatives to help further provide clarity in the role through specialized job titles, retiring the commonplace “community manager” title. But we do know one thing – the pressure for community builders to be the Swiss Army knife of product, marketing, and community teams is not sustainable. Yes, technical skills are an asset for any technology role, but it should not be the end-all be-all requirement for a community builder. 

Community builders, just like other types of professionals, should rely on their strengths while working on growing other skill sets. As community grows as a function of every product-led organization, community builders should work in teams to strategize and divide tasks. It is the breadth of knowledge and background that is important, not the specific skillset of an individual Community. In the era of employee burnout and exhaustion, it is simply not sustainable to be everything to everyone all at once. Like all things work related – it is about how you work as a team that gets the job done.