Swedish Startup Space

Startup community manager: The good, the bad and the ugly

Written by on January 6

The startup scene is brimming with the word “community”. Inspired by the success stories of Instagram, SoundCloud and AirBnb, whose communities have been playing a crucial role in companies’ breakthroughs, more and more startups are employing community managers at an early stage.

When compared to US, UK and Australia, Sweden is still lagging behind in this respect, but things are changing with the speed of light.

When compared to US, UK and Australia, Sweden is still lagging behind in this respect, but things are changing with the speed of light. When I moved from Berlin to Stockholm 2 years ago, there were hardly any community jobs out there, if one doesn’t count gaming companies where communities have always been at the core of the business model.

Nowadays there are a bunch of community openings popping up every month, and the gang of swedish community managers is growing. It has become a hip and sexy job, with many a man looking to get it as their title, because it, seemingly, doesn’t require much education and implies a lot of exposure. However, there are certain challenges connected to the position of a community manager in a typical startup, and in this article I’ve tried to tackle the most common ones.

#1 Lack of understanding

The job is relatively new to the mainstream, so there is definitely a big knowledge gap. Entrepreneurs want to tap into that community thing everyone is talking about, but plenty of them, more than you might think, don’t understand what a community really is and why exactly they need someone to “manage” it. (Often, they can not evaluate the need of a community for that particular company at all – sometimes it’d be wiser to spend resources on marketing or improving the product, instead of bringing in a community manager.)

Entrepreneurs want to tap into that community thing everyone is talking about, but plenty of them, more than you might think, don’t understand what a community really is and why exactly they need someone to “manage” it

As a result, you see very different community manager job ads – hiring managers and HR people have a vague understanding what they’re looking for and how to evaluate candidates. Since there are not that many people with proper community experience (yet), the jobs are often given to a junior person with active social media presence and an extravert personality. This person, in lack of a proper mentor, often struggles with establishing correct KPIs and providing real business value. The community most likely fails, or is struggling, unless you have a one-in-a-million product, like Minecraft where the community basically manages itself.

#2 Too much and too different

As mentioned, a community manager’s job is still mostly perceived as a very junior one. Together with executives not having a clear view on what a person is actually supposed to do, this often results in the situation where the community manager has too much of too different things on their shoulders, often not even community related. There are always loose ends and things to pick up in a startup, and way too often a community manager has on their plate bits and pieces of marketing, support, PR, project management, events and even business analytics.

This might not be such a bad thing, as long as things get done; plus the community manager learns heaps about the company which helps them to become, in the long run, an extremely valuable employee. But juggling different roles doesn’t leave much time to the real community job: building long sustaining relationships with customers, getting them to interact with each other, collecting and escalating feedback, generating content, measuring, analyzing and optimizing the community. This really is a full time job when properly done, don’t be mistaken.

Being a Community Manager is a full time job when done correctly, don’t be mistaken.

Another scenario we hear about all too often are community managers’ burnouts, which is inevitable when you try to constantly score in different areas. It can also happen, that some of the job tasks become more important for the company, so the community manager basically becomes a communication-, customer support- or online marketing manager.

#3 Power shortage

Because of the general perception of the role as a junior one and suited for someone who can get audience excited in 140 characters, community managers are often given very low strategic powers. Which is a major mistake. Customers come to the community manager to get themselves heard and their problems solved.

If they constantly hear “Thanks for your feedback, I’ll forward it to our product team”, and then nothing happens, they will soon understand that the community manager does not have any influence and it’s a waste of time to talk to them. And they stop.

If a community manager doesn’t have the community’s respect, they are never going to be able to do their job well. For them to succeed, they must be empowered and given the right tools. It’s not enough to just listen, it’s a give-and-take relationship a company must have with its community, with the community manager being the one owning it.

If you are a community manager going through these challenges, a startup building a community, or just have a strong interest in the topic – do say so in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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