In looking for a community manager, you want to find someone who will encourage relationships amongst members, advocate on their behalf internally, and increase engagement. Finding someone who understands how important that role is, is no easy feat. Carrie Melissa Jones is an expert in everything revolving around community including logistics, organization, and building so we asked her to share more about herself and her years of experience. In learning more about Carrie, we wanted to understand hat a member of your community team should be focused on and care about.
1. How did you get started in community management and why do you continue community consulting today?
I’ve been building and participating in online communities since I was about 15 years old. I first discovered online forums as an awkward teen struggling with depression and anxiety. Having an online home away from the complexity of the rest of my life gave me an outlet to discover who I really was and build my confidence.
At the end of high school, I stopped spending so much time online as I took the skills I learned and applied them to real-world interactions. But as I’ve moved through different transitions and stages of my life, I’ve always returned to online communities.
Online communities can be powerful sparks toward positive change. As leaders, we have a responsibility to build communities that can have that kind of powerful impact on our members if they need it. Online communities should not be built just to drive profit for our organizations (though I don’t think they always have to be in opposition to profit). That is why I run my consulting business today and why I’m so dedicated to this work.
I’ve built community full-time at startups like Chegg and Scribd, helped build CMX (acquired by Bevy Labs in 2019) as Founding Partner and COO, and consulted with organizations like Coursera, Buffer, NerdWallet, Google, and one of the 2020 presidential campaign candidates.
Communities like the ones I’ve built and been part of don’t just happen. They take care, leadership, and constant nurturing. I want community leaders to understand that they can and do save lives and jobs and people’s days. They may need help translating that to their teams and getting set up, and that’s where I step in to help.
2. What KPIs/goals do you think are most important to track when you’re first building a community?
I appreciate how you made the distinction in asking “when you’re first building a community” because your community KPIs should evolve over time!
When getting started, I always recommend tracking growth and meaningful engagement metrics (what meaningful engagement means varies from community to community). Growth and engagement will always be relevant, so you’ll need them as a benchmark.
Other than this basic advice that applies to any community, all KPIs should be customized to your programs’ goals.
Are you building a community to spark a movement? Great. Track how the community is helping that movement progress. Are you building a community to gather insight and fuel innovation? Amazing. Track KPIs like ideas submitted, product features influenced, and adoption of new features influenced by community.
Define your strategic objectives before you arbitrarily choose KPIs.
Leave figuring out social media algorithms to the marketing team and go and build real connections and real community elsewhere. It doesn’t matter what tools you use, just make sure you can protect your members’ data, control the experience when members are visiting the community (and aren’t distracted by a million meaningless notifications), and create safety inside of the space.Carrie Melissa Jones
3. Do you remember any interactions amongst community members that made you feel proud of yourself and the work you do?
Absolutely. I take immense pride in the interactions I see among members in communities I advise. For instance, one of my clients just started a formal handwritten note campaign to their members, and seeing their members share these handwritten letters on social media and say how much membership means to them has made me feel very proud.
At CMX, any time I saw a CMXer find a new job through the network, I’d swell with pride. I recall that one member told me she discovered her job through the community job board, met with their executive team at our conference, and negotiated the job offer the next week. There were so many of these stories through the years, but I almost always had to find out about them by asking directly. Finding people a job through the community was never a KPI we tracked because it wasn’t core to the business model (and tracking it would have been unreliable anyway), but each time someone would tell me a story like this, I knew we were doing something valuable.
4. In your opinion are there any specific types of businesses that should really focus on building a community of customers for long-term success?
I’m agnostic about the type of businesses that should build communities of customers. There is always value to be had in connecting customers because communities don’t just look and feel like forums — they’re also forged through product feedback councils, events, ambassador communities, dinners, and small-group gatherings at industry conferences.
The question is: what are you going to do with what you learn from your customers interacting with one another? Is leadership ready to make changes based on what they see? Are they ready to invest in tools to make the community grow stronger? These are the question I always ask.
5. Are there any brands with communities you admire? What do they do really well above others in their industry?
Absolutely. From a strategic perspective, one of my clients just launched to the public and coached hundreds of leaders in the days before the launch so that they would be prepared to hit the ground running on day one. I was so proud when they shared that their members, after meeting online, were already self-organizing local coffee shop gatherings and taking all these wonderful photos together as their relationships cemented. When you have a resonant shared purpose, these things come together almost organically as long as you steward a space for members to organize.
About Carrie Melissa Jones:
Carrie is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. Over the course of her career, she’s trained, advised, presented to, and shared ideas with leaders of thousands of the world’s leading online communities.
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