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Community managers need business skills

You’re Incredibly Busy – But You Need to Make Time for the Business Skills that Will Keep Your Community Going

The State of Community Management Report shows that online community managers need to focus on learning business skills – their communities depend on it.


I’ll be honest—I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a couple of weeks, but I’ve just been so busy. So is everyone else on my community team; from launching new initiatives, checking in with subject matter experts, running reports, and putting out fires, the community management department here at Higher Logic keeps hustling.

And we’re not alone. In The State of Community Management 2018 Report (SOCM 2018) nearly half of the community professionals surveyed reported “significant stress or burnout.” Community has exploded over the past few years and community managers who have historically been siloed off, multitasking in our little contained worlds, are increasingly finding ourselves at the big table. Here, we need the business skills to advocate for our community and get the resources, support, and development that we need in order to sustain community success long-term. No wonder we’re exhausted!

Only 23 percent of communities surveyed for the SOCM 2018 actually calculate ROI and from there, only 6.3 percent use that number to help secure resources. Which is a shame, because those who calculate ROI reported an average ROI of 2,374% (no, that’s not a typo). This is a huge opportunity for community managers: if you can develop the skills to present that kind of value, you can not only validate the existence of your community program; you can secure more resources to grow your team, your resources, and, hopefully, your salary.

And yet, as our communities become more successful, we have less and less time to devote to acquiring and refining those business skills. With more success comes more meetings, more requests for assistance, and more involvement in other business units.

In response to the pressure, we “prioritize the core community skills that make communities successful to begin with: engagement and content. Community teams spend 30% of their time on engagement and 27% of their time on content tasks. Important, but less urgent, tasks like measuring value, program management, and internal advocacy remain under-addressed as a result.” (SOCM 2018).

So how do we break this feedback loop?

Here are 3 ways to make time for these essential business skills:

1. Set aside time in advance.

The first thing I do is designate a time in my calendar where I can work on the tasks that will help big picture goals or pursue individual professional development. I pick a block of an hour or two, mark it as busy, and either find a quiet corner of the office or work remotely. Most importantly, I exit out of email, chat apps, and anything else that could put me back in the whirlwind of the day-to-day. Start small, with just an hour a week, and you’ll be surprised at how effective it can be!

As for what skills you should pursue, this can be somewhat person-dependent. You may need to go your own way in order to identify and work out the skills you need. In my case, I realized that although I have a good grasp on mathematics and statistics, I’m woefully out of practice in working with raw data to find meaningful signal in the noise. So instead of going to a conference this year, I’m spending my professional development budget on classes from Coursera that will help me analyze community data more effectively and efficiently.

At some point, you’ll come out of that high-focus time slot and find a crisis or time-sensitive task that will make you wish you hadn’t logged off. But before you swear off your high-focus time, there are ways to lessen that load.

2. Train other people to provide community support. 

For example, can your community assist someone else in your organization with their goals? Empower that person (or their department) to become part of the community and not only will you distribute some of your tasks and decision-making; you’ll also be able to create more value in the community for your organization. One client I work with has trained all of their support staff on the community, and now they distribute critical information about their product in a more effective way. After all, community is about collaboration, isn’t it?

However, in talking with other community professionals about this topic, I’ve found that many of them are already doing both of those things, and they still find themselves overwhelmed. So my last recommendation is the toughest of all: ask for help.

3. Ask for help.

As community managers, we’re used to making do with scarce resources, being a team of one, and living the grind. But it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the most heartening statistics from the SOCM 2018 is this: 54% of the community managers surveyed said that their executive team is “All In” or “Supportive” of the community initiative.

If you’re in this lucky contingent, approach your management/executive stakeholders and explain to them the situation you’re in: you know they appreciate the community already, but you want to make it as effective as possible, and for that you need ___. Ask for guidance, but come with ideas and a plan: “if we can get someone from each department working with me to develop community content, I will have X time to work on Y skill.” If they’re skeptical, sharing the SOCM 2018 (and that incredible ROI number from above) should convince them. I tend to find that just saying “I want to dig deep and find the true ROI on this community” makes their ears prick up.

Once you’ve freed up some time and acquired a small budget increase, go back to my first item and carve out part of your calendar for working on those business skills. For many of you, the executives or managers you spoke to above might have suggestions or even offer their own resources on where to go, in addition to the suggestions I provided above. Ask them questions!

If you still don’t know where to start, talk to other community professionals, whether online or in a local meetup. Ask them if they spend time on strategy, ROI calculation, or a community roadmap, and what resources they have found helpful. Ask what their KPIs are and how they measure them over time.

Of course, just as I said at the beginning, sometimes you can’t help but be busy, and that’s OK. We all will have crazy weeks, even crazy months. But if every day is a struggle, you need help before you burn out completely. You (and your community) are worth it.

Get the latest insights for community leaders in The Community Roundtable’s State of Community Management 2020 report.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Lindsay Starke

Lindsay is the community manager at Conservify. Prior to that, she was the Lead Strategist for the IBM Community at Higher Logic. Before she worked with the IBM Community, she managed the Higher Logic Users Group and was the first provider of Community Management Services to Higher Logic customers who wanted to get the most out of their online communities. Previously, she herself was a Higher Logic client while at Professional Photographers of America, where the community she managed was awarded “Community of the Year” in 2014 for its high level of engagement.