What does a community manager do?

A common approach when designing learning experiences with the 70:20:10 framework is thinking about using online communities, learner communities or communities of practice to support learners, generate new knowledge or share knowledge. But these types of learning experiences are actually hard to make work. The short but complex statement is ‘they need leadership’ to make them work. This post focuses on what that leadership looks like.

Before talking about what a community manager does it's important to think about the function of community in a learning model. The usage of ‘learning communities’ is underpinned by Lev Vygotsky’s social constructivism theories that emphasise the collaborative nature of much of our learning.

There are three core functions that a community has in a learning model.

1. Providing support
Learners – particularly online learners – are often isolated from their peers. Online communities can provide a learner with social connections and peer learning opportunities. In a research project on peer learning in GP training undertaken a few years ago, our consultant Kirsty Sharp found that registrars (doctors in training) were more likely to ask a question of a peer than they were to ask it of their supervisor. A community provides a place to ask questions and solve problems with peers.

2. Sharing knowledge
Communities of practice are often one of the first things people think about when it comes to the ‘20’ part of the 70:20:10 learning model. Communities of practice are great for sharing knowledge within an organisation or within a network.

3. Innovation and building knowledge
Communities can also be used to explore new ideas and collaboratively generate new practices in organisations. These types of communities are often made up of experts.

When I'm designing a learning model I often talk about learning communities and communities of practice. Learning communities are about gaining an initial understanding of an area, and are often part of a structured blended-learning program, for example a discussion topic. Communities of practice are typically made of up experts and are more focused on sharing and generating new knowledge. They are often less structured. 

What some of Sprout Labs’ clients think a community manager does

Over the years we have explored the perception of a ‘community manager’ by asking our clients what they think.

How would you define a community manager? What is the single most important activity you think a community manager might do? What is the most important skill for a community manager to have?
Person responsible for maintaining the focus (purpose) of the community, encouraging community participation and managing any issues that arise in the community
Someone who facilitates learning and interchange of knowledge while managing group-forming process and maintaining engagement
A coordinator of learners and learning
Make the participant feel like they are not only welcome but also accountable to the group
Ensure great learning opportunities are provided
Identify and work with community champions who are strong influencers with a following to be active in the community
Be interesting, relevant and keep communication going


There is no right or wrong answers to these questions. For me a strong theme concerning a community manager is that they play an active role in supporting and encouraging the learners and keeping communication going.

One metaphor I personally like is the idea of a community manager being a gardener.

Community manager as gardner

Planting seeds The seeds that a community manager plants are conversation starters or resources that they share.
Watering A community manager grows a community by being positive about community members’ involvement and encouraging interaction. The most important way a community manager grows a community is through asking questions.
Weeding A community manager looks after the health of the community by making sure the tone is positive. Community members should be able to challenge each other, but this needs to be done in a professional manner.
Harvesting A community manager is able to summarise a conversation and celebrate great contributions.

community manager text

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