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How to build a community operations team
Mar 6th, 2023

How to build a community operations team

As a community leader, nurturing and growing your community is your number one priority.

You may start off on this journey alone, but as your community grows, you’ll want to build a team of community professionals who can extend your program to bring increased value to your members and organization.

As your community continues to scale, creating a dedicated role (or team!) for community operations will become imperative. This function works across the program, often behind the scenes, to ensure everything is running smoothly for your members and that you’re able to effectively communicate impact back to the business.

In this article, we reveal the qualities of a great community operations team, how to hire for it, and how to set your team up for success.

To compare notes with 1500+ community and DevRel leaders on how they’re growing their teams, join us in the Uncommon Community Slack.

Why operations are crucial to community growth

Community is a powerful growth driver for your business. Many top organizations are turning to community-led growth (CLG) as traditional go-to-market and product discovery methods are becoming less effective.

With all the shortcomings of old school marketing and sales methods, organizations are looking to community to fuel business growth. And while CLG is an effective strategy, it is not without its own challenges, particularly as a community scales. Some of these challenges include:

  • Making sense of an abundance of data
  • Driving membership AND engagement
  • Reporting on community impact

Making sense of an abundance of data

As your members grow in number, so too will the data around them and their activity within the community. It’s also likely you’ll need to build out and track new channels, like a new Discord server or Stack Overflow forum, but then you find yourself disorganized with information spread out all over multiple tools.

Without a person responsible for bringing these disparate views together, whether manually or using a community management platform—you’ll reach a point where you’re unable to keep up with your members to ensure they’re getting value from the community or effectively articulate the impact of community on the business.

Driving membership and engagement

Having a large membership is a nice metric, but it’s only beneficial to your community if your online space is engaging so members receive actual value or benefit from their participation.

Plus, without engagement, your company won’t be able to convert users to customers, or upsell in order to increase the lifetime value of each customer.

Reporting on community impact

The larger, more engaged, and more distributed a community, the harder the reporting—at least when intelligence and automation aren’t employed. Stakeholders and leadership will want to continually see metrics and analysis as they relate to community growth. And it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to deliver reporting at a regular cadence without a dedicated role managing this data and process.

Community operations supports the community program as a whole by setting goals, tracking top metrics, and making decisions about your community tech stack—as well as the execution of individual initiatives or events. Its purpose is to examine and optimize community functions and processes, allowing you to overcome challenges and meet your community objectives more effectively. In other words, community operations is the lubrication that allows your community to fire on all cylinders, free from the friction brought on by these pain points so you can hit your community and business goals

The responsibilities of community ops

To envision the role of community ops, think of a restaurant. In an analogy coined by Tiffany Oda, co-founder of Community OPServations, there’s the restaurant front of house (where customers eat) which is similar to the public facing part of your community where members engage. Then there’s the restaurant back of house (the kitchen) which is similar to where project management, data analysis, and technical stack evaluation takes place.

Community operations is like a restaurant general manager who goes back and forth between the front of house and back of house, making sure that everyone has what they need, remediating issues, and ensuring things are running as smoothly as possible.

Front of house community operations involves:

  • Member advocacy: Community operations play a part in customer support, ensuring community members' questions are responded to in a timely manner. While they may not be responding to queries themselves, they ensure the community’s internal and external knowledge bases (help articles, documentation, policies, guidelines, terms of use, etc.) are maintained and up-to-date. All of these assets help community members and the company reps supporting them find answers when they have questions or concerns.
  • Member empowerment: Ops professionals lend a hand in creating and managing community programs (nurture and champion programs), events, and growth initiatives. They’re responsible for working with community managers to set KPIs and then ensure everything is in place so that a community can meet its objectives.

Back of house community operations involves:

  • Project management: Community ops manage program timelines and action items. They also liaise between stakeholders and project owners, keeping everyone aligned and ensuring process execution.
  • Data processes and reporting: Ops track and report metrics and KPIs. The team analyzes data to identify trends and improve the community experience. They also create and develop responses to surveys about the community experience from an operational perspective.
  • Building the community tech stack: In today’s digital world, a community’s success often hinges on the technology that enables it to thrive. Community ops ensures that conversation platforms, integrations, and community building tools are performing as intended. The team is also responsible for scaling the tech stack as required in order to meet the evolving needs of the community.

What’s challenging about community ops?

Community ops individuals and teams are likely to face a few common internal challenges in the course of their job. Watch out for:

  • Limited or lack of resources: Nearly every department in an organization can relate to this challenge. Whether it’s too few personnel to meet the needs of the community, or not enough funding to execute on the community growth strategy (e.g., no budget to stage in-person events or run an ambassador program), a community ops manager will likely have to navigate a lack of desired resources. That is why a successful community ops manager is someone who is persuasive, and has the right tools and processes for articulating the impact of community to secure support and resources from stakeholders.
  • Overlapping job responsibilities: If it seems like some of the job responsibilities of a community ops manager overlaps with that of a community manager role, well, you’re not wrong. There are some shared responsibilities, which may cause friction, misunderstandings, and inefficiencies—but it doesn't have to be that way. An effective community ops manager is someone who can provide clarity around tasks and can ensure colleagues operate at maximum efficiency.
  • Unaligned objectives: Because community contributes to an organization in so many different ways, it’s common to find yourself with unaligned KPIs—both within your team and with the broader business. The front-facing community management team may not be totally in-sync with the DevRel, customer success, product, and marketing teams. Acting as the designated go-between, a community ops manager is someone who can liaise between the different parties to set expectations and balance the needs of the different stakeholders so everyone is rowing in the same direction.

How to grow a community operations team

While each community team will be different based on your organization and its needs, we’ve seen a typical pattern in how teams grow to add a distinct community ops role.

Team growth will generally start with a set of community managers who also perform the job of community ops with part of their time. As membership scales, community leaders will be in a position to advocate for more headcount which will then include a dedicated community ops hire.

Skills to look for in community ops candidates

If you’ve gotten the green light to hire a dedicated community operations manager—congrats! This is an exciting milestone and your community program is about to level up.

When hiring for a community ops, teams should look for candidates with the following essential skills and expertise:

  • Project management: Much of the responsibilities of a community operations professional involves managing multiple tasks and projects. The ideal candidate is someone capable of juggling multiple projects and keeping track of important information and metrics.
  • Strong communication: Community ops professionals must liaise between many parties from peers on the community team all the way up to your executives, so it’s very important they have strong and persuasive written and verbal communication skills.
  • Community management experience: In order to understand the needs of the community and their CM counterparts, the ideal candidate will have community management experience allowing them to find solutions to problems they may have encountered in their previous role.
  • Data analysis and reporting: Community ops professionals should have experience with analyzing data and metrics. They must be comfortable crunching numbers as they’ll have to generate data-backed reports on community engagement and activity to inform decision-making.
  • Knowledge of community tooling: While community ops professionals often aren’t directly managing communities, they should still possess knowledge of community tooling including forums, chat, and social media platforms to succeed in their role. They’ll be responsible for sourcing and leading the purchase of these products to create the best tech stack for the community, and, as such, should have experience with them.
  • Problem-solving: Problems will continually arise both in front of house and back of house, so candidates need to be able to quickly identify and solve these issues to ensure sustained community and business growth.

Setting criteria for new hires

But it’s not just skills and expertise, you want to ensure your new community ops hire will embody and amplify your company’s values. Be sure you’re evaluating with this important criteria in mind as well.

When staffing our community operations team at Common Room, we prioritize candidates who are customer-centric, strive for simplicity, make it happen, and remember that we’re all in this together. In time and with persistence we were able to fill out a team that fit the bill in both skills and values.

A three-pronged hiring process for community operations

Ready to staff your community operations team, but not sure if you’ve developed an effective hiring process to land the perfect hires? We’ve got some experience in the area and have modeled a three-pronged approach that you can use or adapt to your needs.

At Common Room, our hiring process consists of:

  1. A take-home exercise: An exercise related to the position where candidates have time and space to deliberate on the material and deliver something they feel confident about.
  2. A cross-functional panel presentation: Community ops roles require speaking with all types of people across departments, so a presentation provides candidates with the opportunity to show their talents in this area.
  3. A values interview: In this stage of the interview, interviewers ask direct questions to gauge whether the candidate shares our company values.

The three-pronged approach gives candidates different opportunities to shine, and hiring teams a way to better evaluate candidates to gauge whether they have what it takes to succeed in the role.

Setting up community ops for success

After you’ve made your community ops hire (or hires, if you’re especially lucky), be sure to set them up for success by equipping them with the right tools. These will empower your new hire to deliver their best work.

You’ll likely have many of these tools embedded in your team already, but consider:

  • Communication tools: These chat platforms (like Slack or Discord) will span both your team and community, so teammates can communicate and collaborate effectively, as well as respond quickly to community members' inquiries and concerns to create more delightful experiences.
  • Project management tools: These internal-only tools (Asana, are designed to track tasks, deadlines, and progress on community-related projects. They enable the team to effectively manage and prioritize community-related initiatives, ensuring timely and successful completion.
  • Analytics and metrics tools: These include community management platforms (like Common Room) designed to track and measure engagement, sentiment, and other metrics related to community health and impact. These tools provide valuable insights and help community ops make data-driven decisions about community growth and engagement strategies.
  • Customer relationship management tools: CRMs (Salesforce, HubSpot) are designed to help you manage interactions with prospects and customers so that they enjoy a positive experience with your company. When integrated with a community management platform, you can extend these insights to track interactions with community members to give them a more seamless community and customer experience.

How Common Room helps community ops succeed

Common Room helps community ops professionals tackle many of the common challenges captured above.

Integrations with a wide range of tools, like Slack, Twitter, Reddit, Salesforce, and more, provide comprehensive visibility into your community. With Common Room, a community ops pro can easily access and leverage data from all community channels, providing a single source of truth for everything happening within the community. This visibility helps the team better manage programs, coordinate member outreach, and nurture relationships.

With robust metrics and reporting, Common Room helps you prove the ROI of your community and tie community impact to business outcomes. The platform automates repetitive (and often unreliable) manual tasks such as data collection, analysis, and reporting so community ops pros can spend more time devising and executing strategies to hit KPIs rather than on data foraging and number crunching.

Contact us to learn more about how we can enable your team to better support your community and unlock it as a growth engine for your organization.

If you want to learn more about community operations, check out our guide What does a community operations manager do? Or hear directly from community leaders who have hired community ops team members (or from the ops pros themselves!) in the Uncommon Community Slack.