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Guide to community operations
Jan 17th, 2023

Guide to community operations

If your community has been around for a while or has recently scaled, you likely understand the value of community operations.

Community operations (aka community ops) includes activities that a community operations manager or strategist performs—mostly (but not only) behind the scenes—to ensure a community runs smoothly and efficiently.

In this blog post on community operations, you’ll learn:

  • What is community operations?
  • The difference between community operations and community management
  • The role of a community operations manager
  • The responsibilities of community operations
  • The benefits of community operations
  • The Common Room approach to community operations

What is community operations?

Community operations is a key function of a community team that supports the program as a whole—including setting goals, tracking top metrics, and making decisions about the community tech stack—as well as the execution of individual initiatives and events.

Community operations can be part of the responsibilities of a one-person community team or someone's full-time role on a larger team.

Tiffany Oda, co-founder of Community OPServations, likens the role to being the general manager of a restaurant. She said, “They know all the kitchen people they’re talking to, they’re working in the line, and then at the same time, they go out front of the restaurant and talk with the customers to see how their meals are going.”

As Tiffany described it, community operations covers a vast array of activities, including:

  • Setting strong goals to ensure a community runs efficiently and smoothly
  • Creating a roadmap and timeline to achieve and measure internal and external community goals
  • Tracking community in correlation to business impact

The difference between community operations and community management

Community operations and community management roles overlap, but they aren’t interchangeable.

Think of community operations as the glue that holds everything together. Community operations professionals are often in the technical and logistical weeds, paying attention to details while simultaneously zooming out to see the bigger picture of how a community’s technical and logistical choices enable the community’s success.

Community managers, on the other hand, are focused on the day-to-day practices of engaging and monitoring a community, including facilitating member interaction, responding to user inquiries and requests, co-creating content, sending welcome messages, member surveys, and check-ins, planning and hosting events, and more.

The role of community operations management

Ideally, a community operations manager and a community manager work together to develop strategies to engage, grow, and support the community.

The operations manager is a critical part of your community team and, even though a community manager often performs dual tasks—that of a community manager and that of a community operations manager—we recommend hiring someone that specializes in operations.

The added focus and attention on creating and maintaining the structures and processes needed to achieve long-term community sustainability are critical to earning continued investment that ensures a healthy and successful community for both members and the business.

Hiring a community operations manager is also a valuable step for those pursuing a community-led growth strategy. Community-led growth requires planning, thoughtfulness, consistency, and reliability. Whether it’s an operations manager or a community manager, having someone behind the scenes to implement technology, processes, and frameworks for driving a community-led growth strategy forward is imperative.

Front of house vs. back of house community operations

Your community operations manager runs things back of house so that community managers can focus on their core role of managing the community. While mostly back of house, community ops people also keep a finger on the pulse of what's happening in the front of the “restaurant,” so to speak.

The front of house and back of house community operations responsibilities look like this:

Front of house
Member advocacyEnsuring up-to-date documentation, FAQ pages, etc.
Customer support, such as ensuring community members' questions are responded to in a timely manner
Member empowermentDeveloping and tracking programming, such as nurture and champions programs
Back of house
Project managementManaging program timelines and action items
Bringing stakeholders and owners together for various line items
Ensuring community members know what steps they need to follow to participate in a program
Data processesAnalyzing data to identify trends and improve the community experience
Creating and responding to surveys about the community experience from an operational point of view
Tracking and reporting on metrics and KPIs
Technical stackEnsuring that platforms are functioning as intended, independently and with one another
Scaling the stack to make sure community needs are met at any size

For smaller teams, community operations are often part of the community leader’s role, but there are concrete benefits to having someone dedicated to the role of community operations.

Responsibilities of community operations

Community operations don't happen in a silo. They touch every aspect of your community and seek to improve processes, reporting, and performance, along with anything else the community team and members might need.

Five major elements make up the core responsibilities of community operations:

  1. Documentation
  2. Community timelines and program management
  3. Process efficiency
  4. Tech stack design
  5. Metrics tracking and reporting

1. Documentation

While customer advocacy and support fall under the daily work of community management, community operations professionals ensure that the community’s internal and external knowledge bases (help articles, documentation, policies, guidelines, terms of use, etc.) are maintained and kept up to date.

  • Internally, this means community managers have up-to-date information to reference when speaking to members and answering questions
  • Externally, this ensures community members can access a knowledge base that is accurate and reliable

2. Community timelines and program management

Creating community timelines and managing programs involves working across the community team to ensure everyone knows what steps to follow to implement a community program, event, or initiative.

From nurture and champions programs to community growth initiatives, community ops professionals often structure and manage the goals, action items, and owners to create a timeline and roadmap for overall program success.

Think about community managers and developer advocates as the quarterbacks of the team and community ops professionals as the coach in the quarterback’s earpiece. Community managers are the hosts of the community who solicit feedback, share community reports, and route requests and questions to the right teams as necessary. As coaches, community ops people often partner with community managers to define community strategies and KPIs, creating and overseeing the plays while managing the players into the endzone.

3. Process efficiency

At the most basic level, community ops professionals set strong goals to verify the efficiency of the community and its processes.Some of their responsibilities include:

  • Developing strategies and tactics for community programs to scale as the community grows
  • Automating repetitive and manual tasks for community teams without losing the personal touches and rapport that make communities welcoming

4. Community tech stack

Process efficiency relies a lot on your tech stack, the defining of which is another crucial function of community operations. Community operations professionals determine and oversee a company’s tech stack for community initiatives, making decisions about the company’s community tooling, integrations, tracking, and management technologies.

They assess and implement new tech platforms based on the needs of the community team. The tools in your community technology stack enable you to build and engage your community at each phase of the community maturity curve.

In the seed phase, you’ll need community integrations like Slack at its free tier, Discourse (which is open source), or services such as GitHub, Stack Overflow, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, which are free to use.

As your community scales, you’ll need to automate tasks and begin measuring community impact on business outcomes. This often means getting started with purpose-built intelligent community tools such as Common Room, and ultimately integrating them with business data and CRM platforms like Snowflake, HubSpot, and Salesforce.

Community operations leaders are charged with investing in the right combination of tools to both support the community and achieve business goals at each stage along the maturity curve.

5. Tracking and reporting impact

Community operations professionals are responsible for using community analytics to measure growth and overall business impact. They’re constantly tracking trends, looking for areas that need improvement, and finding ways to be more effective and efficient by:

  • Ensuring community metrics align with business goals
  • Tracking outcomes like qualified leads, closed deals, retention, upsells, and ticket deflection
  • Demonstrating success through benchmark growth in both qualitative and quantitative terms for stakeholders and executives
  • Maintaining quality of community resources (documentation, tech stack, roadmaps, etc.) and measuring usage to meet community needs

Benefits of community operations

Some of the benefits of community operations include:

Increasing process efficiency

You can overcome process inefficiencies using metrics—the current size of your community, the number of surfaces it interacts across, and the rough amount of time it takes your community team to perform processes and tasks required for its maintenance and growth.

With that data on hand, calculate how long it takes to complete a specific process once and multiply that by the number of community members you have. Repeat those calculations across surfaces and you’ll end up with a good quantification of how community operations can help streamline processes, save time and resources, and empower the community team to focus on initiatives that grow and engage members and contribute to business outcomes.

Demonstrating community value

You can prove the business impact of community by understanding what each stakeholder is trying to accomplish. A VP of product, for example, may be focused on innovation, feature delivery, designing a better user experience, and accelerating product development timelines. A community ops professional would help surface the right community members for a particular product team request, connect the dots, and collect relevant product feedback via active and engaged users in the community.

Community operations professionals can show the value of community and their role in it by reporting on community programs—and the contributions of the members within them—whose success relies on the smooth operations of the technology and logistics that they provide, including program planning and delivery, community channel selection, metrics reporting, documentation follow-ups, and more.

Hiring a community operations manager

It’s a good time to hire a community operations manager if your community has moved beyond the seed stage and needs additional technology and processes to make it run smoothly for members and deliver business impact for stakeholders, such as driving new customer acquisition, increasing the reach of your company’s brand, accelerating feedback loops, and improving retention.

Your ideal candidate will be able to:

  • Define strong goals.
  • Create a community roadmap and manage timelines.
  • Deliver business impact.

The Common Room approach to community operations

Your digital community is everywhere. It's important to choose the right technologies and processes that enable you to build, engage, support, and operate your community in a way that delivers value both to its members and to the business.

Common Room facilitates community operations by giving community professionals greater visibility into members’ wants and needs, topics that are top of mind for them, and the features, product functionalities, and resources that are working (or not working) for them. Common Room makes it easy to set strong goals, create, manage, and collaborate on community programs and roadmaps across teams, and measure impact.

As an intelligent growth platform, Common Room:

  • Provides a unified view of each member across every channel, connecting insights from member activity to product usage and customer data
  • Surfaces insights and trends so that you can better understand essential community health indicators, like what members are saying and sharing, how members are feeling, and how they’re engaging with others across every channel where they interact
  • Enables automated workflows to eliminate manual work, like setting up welcome messages, member surveys, and timely check-ins
  • Sends real-time team alerts so cross-organizational teams can understand what a member is asking, sharing, or needing in the community, exactly when they need it
  • Offers community program management features that enable operations managers and community managers to build, manage, track, and report on community initiatives from start to finish

With Common Room, community operations managers and community leaders can spend time building with and for their members and their businesses rather than repeating manual work, getting lost in spreadsheets, and struggling to demonstrate the true value of their communities.

If you’re ready to get started with Common Room, try the platform for free today or request a demo. You can also learn more about how to make your community a growth engine and how to understand, activate, and scale your community in a thoughtful, human way.

Ready to join the community? You can connect with 1,500+ community and DevRel professionals in the Uncommon Community Slack.