If your community has been around for a while or has recently scaled, you likely understand the value of community operations.
Community operations, also often referred to as community ops, are 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 guide to community operations, you’ll learn:
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 your community tech stack—as well as the execution of individual initiatives or 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 says, “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 Oda describes it, community operations cover a vast array of activities including:
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 restaurant, so to speak.
The front of house and back of house community operations responsibilities look like this:
|FRONT OF HOUSE|
|MEMBER ADVOCACY||Ensuring up-to-date documentation, FAQ pages etc.|
|Customer support, like ensuring community members' questions are responded to in a timely manner|
|MEMBER EMPOWERMENT||Developing and tracking programming, such as nurture and champion programs|
|BACK OF HOUSE|
|PROJECT MANAGEMENT||Managing 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 PROCESSES||Analyzing data to identify trends and improve the community experience|
|Creating and reacting to surveys about the community experience from an operational point of view|
|Tracking and reporting on metrics and KPIs|
|TECHNICAL STACK||Ensuring 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 that we cover in this post.
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 astute attention to detail 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.
Community operations do not happen in a silo. They touch every aspect of your community and seek to improve processes, reporting, and the general running of the community, along with anything else the community team and members might need.
Five major elements make up the core responsibilities of community operations:
Creating community timelines and managing programs involves working across the community team to ensure they know what steps to follow to implement a community program, event, or initiative.
From nurture and champion 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.
On 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:
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, owning 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 like 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 like 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.
Community operations professionals are responsible using community analytics to measure growth and overall business impact. They’re constantly tracking trends, looking for areas in need of improvement, and finding ways to be more effective and efficient by:
Perhaps the greatest obstacles for community operations are:
You can overcome the first obstacle with simple 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.
The second obstacle requires an understanding of 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 facilitate and collect relevant product feedback via active and engaged users in the community.
Marketing leaders have product messaging on their mind more often than product development. They’re likely more interested in gathering customer testimonials and producing content that empowers other prospects and customers to achieve their goals with their offerings.
Community operations professionals would 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 require—everything from program planning and delivery to community channel selection, metrics reporting, and documentation follow-ups.
Ideally, a COM (community operations manager) and a CM (community manager) work together to develop strategies to engage, grow, and support the community.
The COM is a critical part of your community team and, even though a CM often performs dual tasks today—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 is critical for earning continued community investment that ensures a healthy and successful community for both members and the business.
Hiring a COM 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 a COM or a CM, having someone behind the scenes to implement technology, processes, and frameworks for driving a community-led growth strategy forward is imperative.
Before hiring a COM, you need to understand what a community operations manager does (as described in this piece by Tiffany Oda) and if the time is right for your team and organization.
It’s a good time to hire a community operations manager when your community has moved beyond the seed stage and needs additional technology and processes to make it run smoothly for its members and deliver business impact for its stakeholders by doing things like 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:
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 functionality, 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:
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 1500+ community and DevRel professionals in the Uncommon community Slack.