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A Community Manager must be REAL

Community happens to any business. People become emotionally connected to a product, and the value it provides. And this will lead to more business. In 2011 I led the charge to build the Sphero community and I quickly found out that ‘community’ as a job was an ambiguous role. I would frequently find myself in conversations like:

“What do you do?”

“Community” I said

“Oh, so, like social media?”

“Well, that’s part of it, but there’s more” I said

“So what do you do?”

I didn’t fully understand what I was doing (hell, I still don’t). But I remember having an intense drive to connect people to the Sphero brand mission and each other. Fast forward five years to today: there are tons of resources like this, this and this (heck, just go follow David Spinks on twitter) that can help a community manager, manage their community. In this post I want to talk about the four most-important pillars a community manager should possess to make an impact. REAL stands for relations, evangelism, advocacy, and leadership.


Relations — As a community manager it is of utmost importance to build relationships with the individuals that make up the community you represent. And I don’t mean a spreadsheet of influencers you pay to promote your business. I mean real people. This can be the needy customer that emails the support team once a week. Or it’s the new-hire that joined the engineering team (employees are part of the community, too). Building relations to create ground level connections with fans, influencers, industry partners, employees, and other communities so you can empathise with them.

Evangelism — The next trait is evangelism, specifically: creating programs and a culture that enables evangelists. As a community manager it is your mission to build programs that enable and encourage followers of the brand. I’m not talking about referral programs. It’s worth to note that creating evangelism can come from anywhere. A job-well-done in customer support. Or interactions with brand reps at trade shows. Even building an amazing product… all contribute to creating evangelism. Friends telling friends and creating conversations and engagement around your product and mission.

Advocacy — Now it’s time to go to bat for your community. The product people are busy building products, the marketing people are busy selling products. Advocacy is fighting for your users internally, functioning as a shield for them. You are intimately tied to the people you represent. It is up to you to keep people informed on the status of the community, internally and externally. Additionally, you can use this omnipresence to do things like suggest new product features, feedback, or visualise a new business opportunity. An example of a new business opportunity is SPRK, Sphero’s education program. Early on we saw teachers and parents could use the robot to learn how to code. So, we created activities and, over time SPRK turned into a whole new product line and business for Sphero.

Leadership — Leadership is not control, but the willingness to lead. And not everyone can be a leader. In the book Tribes by Seth Godin, he describes leadership as “the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work”. There are many quotes about leadership in Tribes, just go read it. To me, leadership is creating a change you believe in. You may not know all the models, frameworks, or have the experience. Those things don’t matter. It doesn’t take a college degree to lead. All it takes is a willingness to make something happen, giving the community a vision to believe in and something to do.