No matter the size, here’s what every community (including yours) needs in order to grow 🌱
So you want to build your community? We want you to build it, too! In effective and authentic ways, and through data, analytics, and empathy. Yes, you heard me right—empathy (keep this in your back pocket, it’s a key community-building ingredient we’ll return to a number of times throughout this little guide). However, first, you must understand how to staff your community for success.
No matter its size—small (0-1k), medium (1k-10k), or large (10k+)—there are a few things every community needs in order to grow. This includes your community, whether it’s currently made up of just you high-fiving yourself throughout the day, or thousands of members.
When staffing your community, one of the most important things is to establish distributed leadership. Whether through one of our own articles on distributed leadership, Mobilize strategy sessions on the topic, or elsewhere, chances are you’ve heard this term by now.
Even so, perhaps you find yourself in the small hours of the morning wondering about the meaning of life and distributed leadership? How does the latter apply to my small/medium/large community? How do I implement it? How do I ask these questions without sounding like a complete newb?
Well, we may not know the meaning of life. But when it comes to distributed leadership and how it applies to community staffing and growth, we’ve got you.
What is distributed leadership and how do I use it to staff (& grow) my community?
To reiterate, no matter the size of your community, it’s essential to establish distributed leadership from day one. When you do this, as your community continues to grow and expand, you’ll already have the designated roles and systems in place to grow and expand with it.
As needed, you’ll also be able to staff each role with more than one person. Which helps keep the overall workload of community management dispersed (ahem, distributed) and creates a behind-the-scenes space where cross-functionality can exist among different roles.
In other words, your staff members can and should wear more than one hat at once, and support one another across specific roles.
At its core, distributed leadership is about (earned) autonomy, capacity and accountability. Though the term and the theory behind it were developed and are primarily used in education research, there’s a reason why distributed leadership has been borrowed and applied to so many other sectors—including online community building!
Don’t delegate me. Nope.
As a “best practices article” from The Voice for Secondary Education states:
“Distributed leadership is not delegating… The purpose of distributed leadership is to increase the leadership capacity… It allows [businesses] to genuinely become more effective… as a result of leaders within it collectively pulling in the same direction, guided by the same vision and values towards a common set of goals.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Now that we’ve established a working definition of what distributed leadership is and isn’t, let’s get to the roles that make up your distributed leadership team. The what and who of your community staff.
Role call for distributed leadership roles
Essential roles to staff your community for success
Role 1 – Central point of contact (community manager)
The central point of contact for your community, which can definitely roll into a kind of program manager role, is someone whose primary responsibility is to think about community management. This person should be inherently empathetic, as they will need to be able to see things from the perspectives of others and engage in an understanding and human way.
Role 2 – Content creator (copywriter, like moi)
The content creator/s for your community are the people who write useful, authoritative, engaging content to share with your members. Without good content, there is no community. By having a writer or multiple writers whose job it is to come up with solid content on a regular basis (think: dependable), your community will both look to you as a dependable resource and as “someone” they can depend on to be consistent.
In any kind of online community, consistency is key. It helps create a connection through ritual.
As humans, our days, weeks, months, years are full of rituals (coffee, mealtime, celebrations, cultural customs, etc). They’re familiar to us whether we recognize it or not, and so creating ritual through consistent content in turn generates a sense of comfort and familiarity for people within your community space.
When you designate (not delegate, remember) one or a handful of people to write good content that then gets shared with your community, you give your community members a really good reason to keep coming back. And when your content creator posts regularly, members will want to keep checking in to see what’s new.
Which ties us into the GOLDEN rule for all communication (and which you can read more about in a recent article written by our very own VP of Marketing, Matt Cannell—The rules of email for online community growth): GIVE VALUE FOR FREE.
Role 3 – Techie, can you hear me? I need you.
Every community needs a tech person or a tech resource. This does not necessarily need to be someone who knows C#, Java, Python, or Ruby. But they do need to know how to connect things, digitally speaking. Think: DNS settings, what else?
Shared hats & many hands make light work—other (potential) community roles & reminders
Other potential roles to think about as your community experiences growth are designated moderators and graphic designers. Like all the other roles we’ve mentioned here, moderators and graphic designers don’t necessarily need to be solely moderators and graphic designers.
Shared hats and many hands make light work. They also ensure that success and failure are attributed to teams, as opposed to just one or two people.
Each person or people within a role will most likely wear more than one hat and contribute to other roles (this is the cross-functionality aspect of roles we touched on earlier). Keep in mind that, regardless of the starting size of your community, individuals will probably need to allot ~10-15% of their weekly/monthly time to their specific role.
Want a tangible example? Here’s a look behind the curtain at how we distribute community leadership among our staff at Mobilize.
Back to content, because she is QUEEN
When your writers produce good content, you’ll want to make sure they (or you) don’t have to reinvent the content wheel across every digital platform. Good content not only informs and engages, it also helps you create an economy of scale by being usable across multiple platforms (basically, the inverse of e pluribus unum).
To back up a tiny bit, you’ll first need to get together with your writers and marketing team and create a content strategy for your community. Doing this will help you form an overall vision (this ties into the “north star” of your business and your community, something we’ll touch on in another post) and then use that vision to share content cohesively across platforms.
You’ll be able to take one piece of quality content, and post it (in different forms and in different ways) across different digital platforms in a way that continually draws your audience back into engagement and conversation inside your community.
To help you get started, here’s a useful post from Harrison Wieder about community content calendars (it even includes a nifty content calendar template for you to download and use!), as well as a few words from him that we feel offer some solid insight into the impetus behind content calendar creation.
“A great way to keep the consistency in your group alive and well is to use a cyclical calendar. A great idea is using the Agile method of planning topical ‘Sprints’. These sprints help ease the community manager’s job, create stability, and spur engagement amongst members.”
If nothing else, remember…
Distributed leadership + thoughtful content strategy = steep increase in activity and engagement
You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers (& data).
In order to give you an insider perspective at what it looks like to staff your community for success, we thought we’d turn to one of the communities we know best—ours. A few paragraphs back we linked to a breakdown of how we distribute community leadership among our staff at Mobilize. Now, we’ll dive a little deeper.
As Wes Goldestein points out in our Mobilize Academy lesson, How to Staff Your Community, building a community is like building a house. If there’s just one person building the house, it will take a long time to get it done (and get it done well, without burnout). But if you have a general contractor, who then employs others with specialized skills to work in their specific areas of expertise, then the house will get built faster.
Taking this simple house-building model, let’s zoom in on the we staff our community for success.
What did it look like to build the Mobilize Community?
Mobilize started with a community base of roughly 4K members (which is on the low end of the range for a medium-sized community). With this initial membership, it took 5 people over 3 months of work to put everything together—staffing via distributed leadership, content strategy, mission and vision (there’s that north star), etc.
Now, between Alexis (Director of Network Strategy) and Wes (VP of Service), the overall task of managing the Mobilize community involves about 20 hours of work a week, split between the two of them. There’s also the marketing folks, who work on customer stories, emails, and more. And then customer service comes in to help with intro/welcome posts. Roles are specified and distributed and, when it makes the most sense, hats are swapped and shared.
The key takeaways, and we cannot emphasize these enough, are that:
- Many hands make light work.
- The bigger the house you build the more people you need working on it. Building a smaller house? No problem, you can totally do it with just a few people (plus you get to engage with your community on a more intimate level).
- You need team members who possess the right kind of skills for their specific leadership roles, but who can also extend themselves confidently into other roles, at least to some extent. Together, all of these individuals give you what you need to create a cohesive cross-functional system (annnd we circle back to takeaway #1), and prevent you from trying to build the entire house yourself.
For more tips on how to staff your community for success, join the Mobilizers community!