At the heart of every great virtual community is a community builder who can organise and motivate members. This person inspires members to take action and get involved in specific projects. Think of virtual community builders as the glue that binds a group of people together and keeps them energised and connected around common goals and activities.
About the values: Community builder values
A virtual community’s core values will impact how members interact with each other. Values also guide activities and discussions among community members.
When designing your virtual community’s core values, include your members in the co-creation process and ask for their input. This helps increase member buy-in and ensures members see themselves reflected in the virtual community values. During times of conflict or disagreement, the clearly stated core values of your virtual community will remind members of their goals as well as the group’s code of conduct.
As the community manager, your own personal values can shape the broader values of your virtual community. It is important for you to clearly articulate your personally held values and to make sure they are aligned with those of your virtual community. Ask yourself: are these the right values for our community as a whole? Am I transferring harmful or unnecessary values to the group?
Motivate and inspire others by bringing your authentic self to your role as a community builder. Lead by example by opening up and being transparent with members about your views and values.
Example: Climate KIC Alumni Association: “We revised our values and realised that we didn’t actually fulfill them, which is why we redesigned these core principles to represent our community. We sat down and examined what we really are (members, capabilities, potential etc.) and what our members had shared about our values in a previous survey. This is the result:”
Essential community builder skills
While all successful virtual community builders are different, they do share some common skills and traits. Here are a few that can help you in your work.
It is often the community builder’s job to curate the information shared with members. A savvy curator will select and share relevant content and interactions happening in the community and make effective choices about how to respond, what to share, how to share, and when to share.
Knowing your members’ personalities, preferences, and values will help you engage your community in meaningful conversations. As Tim McDonald, Community Manager for HuffPost Live said, “You’re dealing with a bunch of different personalities. If you’re not empathetic, you’re never going to be able to put yourself in their shoes, which means you won’t be able to communicate a message to them.”
Adaptability and flexibility are critical for success as a community builder. This means serving your members by changing plans, adding projects, and responding to multiple issues with agility. According to Dave Kerpen, Chairman of Likeable Media, “Adaptability is important because the community manager wears a lot of hats.”
Conflicts and disagreements will occur within your virtual community, often on a daily basis. As the community builder, it is your job to take an inclusive, solution-oriented approach when members raise conflicts or difficulties arise. Focus on resolving the situation not intensifying it.
Speak and write appropriately to everyone in your community. Use a warm and energetic tone, listen carefully to what members are saying, communicate ideas clearly and concisely, and always keep your diverse group of members in mind.
Community builders often manage many groups on multiple platforms. Tracking feedback and sharing information with members can be overwhelming. Find systems, technology, strategies, and processes that help you work efficiently. Being organised also demonstrates that you are reliable.
Project management is always happening within a virtual community. All the steps in the research process are the same (from briefing through to design and even reporting) but it all happens in hours or days instead of weeks and months.
Community builders are ambassadors and negotiators for their virtual community. They take care of public relations, business development, and sales. They must negotiate with outside partners and stakeholders to ensure budget renewals and project continuation over the long-term.
Understands metrics and analytics
Understanding and analysing your community’s social and website metrics and analytics data is critical. Community builders must have training and experience with analytics and metrics so they can understand how members are responding and engaging within the virtual community’s digital spaces.
Community Roundtable created the community skills framework, a great tool to give an overview of the different skills of community builders –
separated in engagement, technical, strategic, business, content.
The community builder, also known as community manager, community lead, community host, community catalyst, or virtual host, is responsible for creating a healthy environment where community members can interact and develop as a group.
Think of the community builder as the catalyst that brings people together for the common good while making the community more resilient through relationship building.
From a practical perspective, the community builder is:
- A manager (goal-oriented, focus on operations, run the community).
- A convener (lead the community by holding the space for members, co-creating, empowering, connecting).
- Serving both functions simultaneously to help the community thrive.
Your activities must include:
- Business development.
- Marketing and communication.
- Identifying opportunities and creating connections between members.
- Identifying opportunities and creating connections between groups of members.
All of these activities should be captured, mapped, and measured so they can be reviewed and improved.
But it can be hard to know where to start? Below are three of the first steps you can take as a community builder.
Step One: Planning and Setup
“Go slow to move fast. When first starting a community, do your research, talk to members, and take the time to talk to your internal leadership about where they see the community going. Ensure that everyone you interact with is on the same page about your goals. If you have any trouble doing those two things, find other community builders. They’re some of the most helpful people in the world and are almost always happy to be of service in mentoring others.”Carrie Melissa Jones, founder of Gather Community Consulting.
Before you reach out to a virtual community, you must clearly identify your own goals as a community manager and create a clear plan detailing how those goals will be achieved. Write a detailed plan that includes:
- Your community’s goals.
- Who you want to reach.
- What your community offers to members.
- What activities your community will undertake.
- Technical and operational needs.
- Your annual budget.
If you’re building a virtual community from scratch, approach the first 10 potential members and build a relationship with them before the community is launched. Learn more here.
Once the technology developers have created your platform, or you have chosen your online platform, it’s time to start adding content. Use your member research (personas) and set an appropriate tone for your community.
Interacting with members individually
Unless your community is very large (100,000+), it is reasonable to communicate with each member individually at some point. Reaching out to new members using a welcome list and asking them a few questions will open up dialogue and make them feel welcome.
Expanding your reach
Once your community is up and running, it’s time to reach out to potential new members. In a closed virtual community, it is important to show potential new members what makes your community valuable and attractive. In an open virtual community, current members are likely to spread the word and invite others to join.
Step Two: Content and Structure
It is important to write good content. Use a mix of newsworthy and relevant topics about what your community has to offer and shine a spotlight on existing members using guest posts or interviews. Learn more here. If writing is difficult for you, it may help to hire a content creator.
Engage catalysts or ambassadors from within your virtual community who want to contribute to your project or content. This can help your community become more self-sustaining and more likely to run itself. Learn more here.
Create a structure
Create structured roles of significance for members within your community so they can help to support and sustain ongoing activities.
Keep members connected
It is the community builder’s job to reduce the virtual and physical gaps between members. Arrange both in-person and virtual events like webinars, a 24-hours idea blitz, or conversations with a special guest speaker.
Promote the Community
Once your community is stable, plan an official launch event to generate excitement among your members, recruit potential members from outside of your community, and to promote your activities to the public.
Step Three: Activation and Empowerment
Be a community member
Community builders can be a visible and regular contributor to the community itself by:
- Browsing comments and engagements.
- Listening to others.
- Posting, commenting, liking.
- Welcoming and engaging new members.
- Sending direct messages with ideas to popular members.
- Engaging with specific groups and projects.
- Disseminating valuable content to members.
- Attending calls with members or meeting in person.
Plant seeds and create momentum
Empower and encourage members to take actions that align with the virtual community’s mission. Share stories about people doing amazing things. Create a positive environment for people who want to leverage the benefits of the community to achieve a goal. Learn more here.
Let others take over
Eventually, your community members will take over the community by leading specific activities or by supporting you in community management. This is great!
Ask members to take over certain tasks or to invite the community to nominate someone to take over.
“Community builder should emphasise not only the content but also encourage the friendship and social support aspects as well . This will increase the success of your virtual community.”Impact Hub
Develope a participation reward ladder
Knowing which community members are motivated to participate at a high level will help you show appreciation using customized thank yous or rewards like discounts on certain activities. String this participation ladder out as far as possible so that the more people participate, the greater their rewards.
Not everyone is going to get along. Community managers must be great moderators and develop their ability to resolve disputes.
Include the press
Once the community has reached a significant size, begin reaching media outlets who can promote your activities. If your community is open, focus on inviting individual journalists to join and enjoy your community and to write about their experiences.
Your role as a community builder is to create the space, opportunities, and an atmosphere where members can connect and engage in the community. The more members engage and take on tasks and responsibilities within the group, the more successful the community will be.
Identify the members, vendors, and staff who will be responsible for various tasks and activities. These assignments can be defined freely based on your capacity and needs, the current situation of the market, and your community preferences. To help you get started, check out this of daily/weekly activities.
- Make connections and stimulate conversations to expand your reach.
- Initiate and host high-quality conversations on local stream also with challenging or harvesting questions.
- Encourage decentralised ownership of content, events.
- Connect to find out what is emerging.
- Facilitate virtual connection events.
- Provide guidance to the community based on their needs and activities and give feedback.
- Listen to the negative feedback and respond thoughtfully.
- Be agile in responding to emerging themes and requests from members.
- Be the link to your team if the community is embedded into an external organisation.
- Identify and optimise community members who are leaders and detractors.
- Solicit collaboration success stories and feature them in your communications.
- Collect, evaluate, and analyse engagement metrics (learn more here).
- Reflect on your activities and frequently consider the need for strategy evolution.
- Support technical improvements that serve your community.
- Look outside your community to find changes and new ideas that are useful to you.
“Being a community builder can be exhausting. Ironically, the work we do to care for others often takes a toll on us as individuals. Take care of yourself (whatever that means to you) and be sure to invest in your relationships outside of work: family/chosen family, friends, non-work communities. Community care is just as important as self-care!”Carrie Melissa Jones, founder of Gather Community Consulting
Why being a community builder is the best job in the world?
Why being a community builder is the worst job ever?
You get to connect with everyone in your unique community.
Every person in your community has an opinion —co-creation can be exhausting, after all.
You provide something fundamental to human happiness: a place where people feel trust and belonging.
No matter what you do, you might piss someone off, even when you’re to find middle ground and compromise during times of stress and conflict.
You have an opportunity to change people’s lives by fostering new connections to co-founders, collaborators, friends.
You might never see the impact of your work because your effort and its impact may happen years apart
You can make lifelong friends.
It’s a surprisingly lonely job when you have no team, few resources, and are responsible for filling many roles.
You have the perfect excuse to talk to anyone within and outside of the community.
You’re the police and peacekeeper all in one and must ensure rules are followed and conflicts are resolved.
Experience from Fabian Pfortmüller, Community Canvas
While you’re dealing with other people’s issues, who is there to empathise with you?
Self-care is very important for a community manager. You are pulled into various directions and it is not always possible to please everyone. To cope, build your own personal mental and emotional support system. This is critical to your success and wellbeing as a community builder. Identify your supporters inside or outside of the community. While an outside person has a neutral opinion they may not always understand the complexity of your work. A member with insider knowledge can be helpful, but their own bias can cloud their ability to support you. When facing and managing stress it is important to remember, a burned-out community builder cannot serve the community at all. So take care of yourself!
For Ariadne, the key was to combine a community platform with multiple, local communities driven by individuals with what they call “a networking mindset”. Running a community over the long-term meant that challenges like, fast-moving technology, changes in the community coordinators, and financial sustainability had to be overcome. Many elements must come together to build a healthy community: leadership, funding, membership, trust.