Did you see the great post on this topic by Marshall Kirkpatrick on ReadWriteWeb? He covered many great points.

I get requests for this question as well as information on the position. Here are questions that may help guide you:

  • Do you feel like the product is ready to evolve but you’re not sure what the customers want?
  • Are you wondering to what extent customers are talking about your product?
  • Are you listening to your customers & finding:
    • you’re frustrated by lack of time to respond adequately
    • there is positive & negative responses
  • Are your customers creating content about your product that’s getting spread out on the net?
  • Red Alert – Are the customers asking for a community manager? (it’s time! hopefully you’ve hired someone before this question is posed)

Marshall did a great job of including perspectives from a number of people.These are my takeaways of how a Community Manager can provide some amazing value to any business:

Influence development – new outlook on the product & from the customer’s perspective

Andraz Tori, CTO at Zemanta answers this question diplomatically. “The [community manager] role can be played by one of the founders early on, but as the project grows you need a person that knows how to listen,” he told us. “Founders have a vision and might be a bit stubborn about what their product represents and offers (that’s why they are founders). Someone a bit more distanced might be much better community manager since he has a lot more empathy for users and their problems and can relay that to developers and managers. And vice versa.”

Connector & communicator – one of my favorite parts of the position is the ability to work with the customers & translate that information for development, marketing & PR efforts.

“Any opportunity to interact with the community forces one to think about the product/feature considerations and ramifications of one choice over another,” says Nagaraju Bandaru of SmartWebBlog. “In many ways, community manager is the evangelist for company’s products and the voice of the customer in internal discussions. It’s critical to react to online discussions with skill, consistency and aptitude; The role is hard to understand from outside but impossible to miss once a startup is in execution mode.”

Proactively turn the negative into feedback & positive endeavors

“The idea of a ‘community manager’ is a good one as long as that person has the freedom to discuss the negatives as well as the positives of the company’s efforts,” says Dave Allen of Nemo Design

Lead & organize the user generated content so that customers can utilize it

From semantic web researcher Yihong Ding “As we know, most of the Web 2.0 companies are built upon user generated content,” he told us. “Philosophically, User Generated Content is embodied human mind. This embodied mind is generally the fundamental asset for the company. Maintaining a proper community so that users may embody their mind with high quality is thus a central issue for the growth of the company. The duty of community managers is to supervise and maintain the high-quality production of the fundamental mind asset used by the company. Therefore, I would say that community manager is a critical job title for most of the Web 2.0 companies.”

Organize advocates & influentials – This is key if you want to encourage & nurture the growth of your community.

Ultimately you need to evaluate where your community is at online. Having a strategy is always necessary. I hope that the questions I proposed help you as you decide your needs. I encourage you to read all of Marshall Kirkpatrick‘s post at ReadWriteWeb.

*update* Jeremiah Owyang created a scorecard that helps quantify the questions. You should definitely read that!

What questions do you have?