Do Startups Need Community Managers?

One of the things I’ve been advising clients to do a lot lately is consider hiring a full or part-time community manager to communicate closely with their users online. I thought I’d write a post about why community managers are good to have, but then I thought that instead I’d ask it as a question. Do startups need community managers? If not, I’ll stop suggesting that so many of them make that type of hire!

That’s how I phrased a deliberately vague question on Twitter, and it got some great replies by email and on FriendFeed! Twenty people replied, many of whom are community managers, others of whom have hired community managers and a couple of others are cautionary or cynical. It’s a great discussion!

Most of these thoughts are unique and very worth considering – even if they don’t all agree. I’m going to turn these replies into a coherent (and weighty) post on ReadWriteWeb in the morning but I thought I would post them online first and let people knock them around a bit more first. Would you like to respond to any of these arguments in the finished post? If so, please leave a comment here and make sure you tell me where to link your name to.

The final post has been put up here, thanks to all who participated.

I was planning on putting these up on a wiki first and encouraging people to go over there and make edits for replies – I’ve done that before – but then I thought that sounded like a missed opportunity. So here’s a discussion that will turn into a blog post – your thoughts are formally requested…big thanks to the people who have already joined in. I’ll include my own thoughts in the final post.

PS. Big congrats to Drew Olanoff, who was just named Community Manager and Evangelist for today!

. . .

I do think that startups need community managers, but that being said it depends on the community and what needs to be managed. A lot of what I do at CubeSpace is function as a startup community management, but that is very different than the work that Dawn does. I think it depends on the style and distractability of the folks in the startup and how they like to collaborate with peers as well as how they define their peers. I am not trying to be cryptic, I have just worked with a range of startups who need different kind of support and community management.

I would be happy to have a longer conversation with you about this if you are interested. It might also be a good session for


Eva Sari Schweber
Chief Cat Herder
CubeSpace, Your WorkSpace Community

Read on for the rest of the discussion

Hutch Carpenter points to a blog post about how a good community manager saves money on PR and has other benefits.
interacting with bloggers saves money on PR

I firmly believe that the community manager should be one of the first hires – right after a solid engineering group and before you invest in corp. marketing people. I have my reasons and am happy to get into details.

John Mark Walker
Community Manager, CollabNet

Just saw your Twitter post about community managers. Pandora just created this position about 4 months ago and it’s been INVALUABLE to our company, in such a short time!

We are very active on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc. I’d be happy to have you speak to our Community Manager if you’d like. It’s opened a whole new world of communications for us!
Lucia Willow—she’s great and has a great, fun online voice.

With the iPhone/Pandora launch on Friday, the Twitter network and followers were making tons of buzz! It was very exicitng.. that we even posted a haiku contest for some free Pandora swag to the Twitters!

Kim Bardakian

Sr. Communications Manager

Someone else sent in a link to a slide deck regarding The Costs of community managers

Community management is essentially a public relationship issue, so whoever picks up that gauntlet is on point for representing their company to the rest of us. It doesn’t have to be a specific person or a full time job, but it is part of starting and running a business, almost by definition: if you’re in business, you’re doing community management whether you like it or not.
Peat Bakke

If by “community managers” you mean someone that keeps track of what is happening in a certain community, then yes, startups need a community manager. Especially if that company pays attention to social media. Social media is so important for many companies these days, but the sheer volume of information that is shared can be a problem for them. I think it takes at least one person in a startup to “keep an ear to the ground”. That person should be reading feeds all day and paying attention for appropriate information and content. That person should be writing a blog and listening to their other networks. A social network community manager should learn about what is happening in that company’s field every day and report it to their team.
Doug Coleman

I think it’s an important *function* to be filled, but it’s not necessary to have a position dedicated to it. I think it’s a matter of resources – I know some firms that have a full time head very early and some keep it to an intern after they’re 100+ people. But it is important to *do*.

I fill it in between the other things I do – vendor relationships, inbound inquiries, sales calls, balancing the books, etc. I do wish I had more time/resources to it, however – I’m much more reactive than I am proactive. dawdledotcom is our username on a variety of sites, from Twitter to CheapAssGamer to all sorts of sites in between.

I use Summize and Google Alerts to monitor what people are saying, and we have a board on GetSatisfaction (empty for now, but ready to be used). Our contact us page encourages people to ask each other and post on other sites before coming to us – we’re happy to help, but I’d wager that other users know how to get the most out of our site better than even we do.

Hope that helps!


Sachin Agarwal

I put down a lot of thoughts about community building last week on Rick’s blog:

My opinion on community managers is that they are OK when you’ve established a community. Not for just launched startups. You need to be in the thick of it managing your own community in the early days.



Darius A Monsef IV

Executive Editor & Creator

It depends on the startup. For startups where community is a critical element of the product or service (Twitter, open source product, etc.), I think that a community manager should be an early hire. Having someone in place and responsible for managing the community helps make sure that the company is responding to the needs of the community. Without a community manager, the frantic pace of the startup environment can mean that the community gets neglected simply because no single person is tasked with being responsible for it. This neglect could result in failure for the startup if the community is critical. In many startups, the community manager can wear another hat, too. I worked at one startup where I was the Director of Community and Partner Programs, since partners were a big part of the community. Other logical combinations include some marketing roles, social media (blogging / podcasting), developer relations (for developer communities) or website development depending on the skills of the person in the role.

I think that each startup needs to decide exactly how critical the community is to their particular business and use that information to decide when to hire a community manager.

My 2 cents.

Take care,

Visit my blog at

Marshall, that’s a story I’d like to read! Great benefits could be gained by establishing links between a startup and it’s followers, early. However, the community voice needs to be free The community manager would need the suport of the community. There is a danger that a community voice in management would have split loyalties. Maybe even tied by NDA’s. This would make him/her more of a hostage (worse case). If these fears, as well as the benefits, can be voiced and talked about there is great merit to your idea.

Best wishes

Jonas Anderson

Start ups and all companies that exist online need to be looking at a community manager as a salaried position. We have been working with big brands and it kills me when they just give “social media” to someone that already has 10 other roles.

As a “start up” ourselves, or at least always in our minds as one, we watch and participate in the online communities a lot. We have someone on our team in the marketing dept that gathers all of the mentions and
conversations RE eROI and reacts to some as well. This of course is also beneficial to us as an agency to know and understand how to listen, measure, and use this service to helping our clients get the word out on campaigns that launch.

At Omma Social last month in NYC that topic came up asking all the people in the room from Big brands if they had a community manager. 90% of them did not and are still trying to find out how to spec out a job description in order to hire it.

So yes if a start up wants to gain traction they either need to hire someone or dedicate someone to the tasks.

two cent rant over

Dylan T. Boyd | VP Sales & Strategy | Inc. 500 Company

There are certain startups needing community managers – those addressing consumer bases with products that need their constant engagement, feedback and course correction.

This role can be played by one of the founders early on, but as the project grows you need a person that knows how to listen. Founders have a vision and might be a bit stubborn about what their product represents
and offers (that’s why they are founders). Someone a bit more distanced might be much better community manager since he has a lot more empathy for users and their problems and knows how to rely that to developers
and managers. And vice versa.

Andraz Tori, CTO
Zemanta Ltd, London, Ljubljana

A startup community manager would probably have the title Marketing Manager
or VP Marketing…or maybe they raised a little bit too much money.

N: Mark Grimes

an internet company these days should have three legs:

1.) the money backers + revenue focus
2.) the rockstar tech devs
3.) the community advocate + social media expert

It’s my opinion that the money backers alone want build old-skool products not suited for the new web (b/c they see it as too much risk). The tech guys want to build all this fun stuff, but tend to allow feature creep, don’t think of revenue front-of-mind and often don’t actively participate in the mediascape. I couldn’t do anything without the former two, but I feel as though my input is highly valuable as to user interface, industry trends and community feedback.

I’ve got more if you want it.

Mark* (@povertyjetset)

Mark Schoneveld
Community Manager

From FriendFeed

I think it depends on the launch strategy, either to open it up and build community from the start (in which case you definitely would need one) or if you’re going for the super secret beta aspect (in which case you would still need one but would probably call them something else). – Matt Dickman via twhirl

We’re building an Independent Business Platform with a community element, but we’re not sure how that piece will take off. So, for now, each person on the team owns a piece of the product and we’re essentially the community manager for that piece. So far I love it – it’s a great way to get the honest feedback I need on BizUnite. – Sonciary Honnoll

Can someone provide a link to an explanation RE how “community management” is different than “customer service” if the latter is done properly? Or are we talking about the same thing? If so, then yes, every company–no matter the size–needs a community manager/customer service manager/customer advocate of some sort. – Ken Sheppardson

Marshall — We thought it about for a while at Twine and definitely had the need in the beginning stages, but ultimately decided to hold off. Why? It’s actually pretty amazing, but the community started self-regulating, in a very mature and consistent way that we were pleasantly surprised by. We still check in constantly and our team is obviously very active in Twine, but I am curious what other startups are doing. The community is running smoothly now, but we have to see what the future holds… – candice nobles

I think a startup should put a developer in the community as opposed to a “community manager”
. Even though the developer may not be as good of a communicator as a marketing guy, there is a different type of understanding of what people want. – Rob Diana

  • Thanks for sharing! Like Pandora, the CM role has been invaluable for us at Foodsworth.