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Evolution of the Community Manager

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

I couldn’t let 2014’s Community Management Appreciation Day go by without offering some thoughts on this year’s theme, “Evolution of the Community Manager.”  Keep in mind that I’m talking specifically about managing a community created by a company for its customers, which is only one of many different types of communities that exist in the world.


  • One big change is that community managers today are a lot more visible than they used to be.  I know, you’re saying, “community management generally takes place in public, so how can it be *more* visible?”  What I mean is, community managers are more visible to decision-makers in the organization.  In most organizations, it’s hard (if not impossible) today to start a skunk-works community effort.  Social is more of a priority.  It’s also more of a bureaucracy. You have policies, governance, steering committees, etc.  We didn’t have those things back in our day, son. Nor did we have, by the way, budget, support, approval, resources, or anything you need to really do this thing right.  What this means for the future: You’re going to have to “go native” in corporate culture. No more  complaining that the suits don’t get it.  Build relationships and help the organization get to the next place, even if progress looks slow to you. 


  • Another change: community manager is becoming a real job, with responsibilities, skills, tools, etc.  You’re not starting from scratch anymore – or rather, you shouldn’t be.  You can now get a certification in community management.  As you may know, we offer a certification program here at Lithium, which we launched back in 2012.  We’ve certified more than 500 people over the last two years, in sessions held in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Australia.  You’ll see quite a few of our graduates if you come to LiNC, our annual conference, which happens this year in May.  There are other certifications as well, notably the one offered by WOMMA and the Community Roundtable. The discipline is becoming professionalized. Someday, when you tell people your job title, they might actually know what you do.  Ok … maybe not.


  • A third evolution: community managers are truly becoming managers.  This is true in the practical sense that companies have community teams, rather than just community managers, and the community manager runs that team.  It’s also true in the equally real sense that community managers help manage the voluntary effort that users contribute every single day to make the community functional and successful for themselves and their peers.   Finally, it’s true in the sense that community managers exist within the hierarchy of managers of their organization.  They need to manage their community, yes – but they also need to manage the informal community around their community, which exists inside the walls of the corporation.  If you can’t marshal the troops inside your organization to get things done, you won’t have credibility with customers in your community.  The reverse is also true – if you can’t manage your community, you’re not likely to get folks inside your organization to help you. Enterprise community management today is like playing 3D chess.  As community management evolves, managers will need the same leadership and managerial skills managers need elsewhere in the organization – and more.


I know – I’m not making it sound like too much fun, am I?  But in fact, when looking at how this practice has developed in the 15+ years I’ve been part of it, I’m incredibly excited. When I talk to the people who take part in our certification sessions – from all parts of the world, and from an incredible list of great brands – I’m kind of in awe of how far we’ve come.  How often does anyone in their career get the chance to create a new business process or function?  Community managers are doing that every day.


lithobadge-certified-CM.jpgSo if you’re a community manager, I hope you had a great Community Manager Appreciation Day.  If you’re not  a community manager, find one and thank them.  We’ll make it easy for you:  starting today on Lithium’s own online community, people who have successfully completed our Community Manager Certification course will be identified by a new badge on their profile.  We’ll be launching a full badging program next week, but we wanted community managers to be the first to receive a badge.


Congratulations to all!


Joe CothrelJoe Cothrel is Chief Community Officer at Lithium Technologies.  He is Lithium’s top expert on community and social best practices and has helped more than 300 companies execute successful social efforts.


He is active on Twitter @cothrel and is a regular contributor in the Lithosphere where he is JoeC


About the Author
Joe is Lithium's Chief Community Officer. An expert in business-oriented online communities, he's helped more than 300 companies create successful communities. Follow him on Twitter at @cothrel.
Honored Contributor

Great piece of insight here !!! It truely is amazing how much the role has and no doubt will eveolve over the coming years. Also Kudos on the badging scheme, really excited about this product going to market and being able to use on my own community 🙂 

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Thanks, Stephen! I'm excited about the new badging features too. Looks pretty good on your profile, I must say!