Community Managers: Don’t Try To Do It All On Your Own

In true community spirit, this post was written by Maria Ogneva and Bryony Cole of Yammer, with participation from our customer community.

Pop quiz: a community manager needs to answer every question – true or false?

If you answered “true,” you may want to read the rest of this post. If you answered “false,” you should consider writing a post for this blog. Seriously.

There are a few reasons why a community manager shouldn’t do everything.

  1. It’s not healthy – for the community or for you as a community manager. If you do everything all the time, you will burn out, quit your job and move to a small coastal town in Costa Rica – good for you (eventually), but not good for the community. Jokes aside, any community that’s overly dependent on any one person is not healthy and will suffer if that person is not available.
  2. You won’t create a participatory environment. If you want the community to be an environment where people come to co-create something bigger than themselves, you need to model these behaviors as a community manager. When people can’t get in a word edgewise, they eventually disengage, and you can kiss your community mission goodbye. The community can derive far better outcomes through a participatory environment than any one person ever could.
  3. People don’t scale. By being way too dependent on one person from the beginning, you are reducing your chances of successful scaling. What happens when the community manager gets sick, goes on vacation, or moves jobs?

Community management is less about managing and more about enabling others. It’s about building a community that self-sustains through the right dynamics, and a huge part of that dynamic are a group of power-user ambassadors who act in the interest of the community, educate others and model healthy community behaviors. Our customer community has coined the term Yambassador.

Getting budget for a community manager is oftentimes a challenge; the perception of the role is often misunderstood and the intense ‘always on’ workload unnoticed by others in the organization. While employing an extra set of hands may seem like a fantasy, there are already many potential community manager clones lurking on your network today. 

Yambassadors are typically power-users who adopted the platform early and/or easily. Being highly engaged on Yammer isn’t part of their job description; they do it because they love it – either for what they get out of it, for the connections they make, or the difference they can make in their organization.

Let’s take a look at how an active network of Yambassadors can help propel a community to the next level.

Find your Yambassadors

You must be thinking to yourself, “These Yambassadors sound great! But how do I find them?” Don’t worry; they will choose you before you can choose them – all you have to do is listen. Observe the top contributors and conversation starters. Who is sparking the most conversation? Who is helping others out? Is someone using the platform in a more sophisticated way than others? Reach out to these users and invite them to be part of the Yambassador program.

Mark Allotey, Intranet Manager from Telefonica O2 UK, says “I asked a group of people to help me with some of the community management aspects of Yammer. I looked in the ‘leaderboards’ to find the people who use Yammer the most, and messaged them to sound them out about being a Yambassador.”

In her previous role at Tyco, Phoebe Venkat, Director of Digital and Social Communications for ADT, informally recruited Yambassadors and set them up in a private group after the formal launch. “They are helping me and my communications team with greeting people, providing tips, sharing resources, etc. They also serve as informal monitors – pointing out and addressing inappropriate content, etc.”

Manhattan Associates calls its Yambassadors “The Lone Nuts,” which comes from Derek Sivers’ “How to start a movement.” Lone Nuts drive questions & posts to the appropriate groups so new users aren’t overwhelmed by Yammer. Former community manager Kathleen Rouse shared once: “Don’t overlook the importance of the first follower–without them, you’re just a “Lone Nut.” Acknowledge & nurture those first followers because they are essential to starting a movement & leadership.”

Recruit from across the business

Ideally, these Yambassadors are spread throughout the community, representing various companies (in external communities) and various business units (in internal communities).  Phoebe Venkat recommends that “you surface likeminded champions of employees across the business to help guide others. It’s good to have a cross mix of functions, titles, etc. This is especially important in huge, highly matrixed organization.”

Stuart Campbell, Governance and Portfolio Coordinator from VicRoads, has found that using Yambassadors to help promote Yammer within business areas with specific use cases has been the most successful.

Yambassadors help a community scale by providing support where it may fall through time zones or simply escape the eyes of the official community managers. Having a support network when you are managing a real-time 24/7 network is particularly important in global organizations with multiple languages, cultural sensitivities and office hours.

Learn to let go and trust

Community managers tend to be deeply invested in their communities and feel an unhealthy need to be always on. It’s much like a parent diligently watching over the network, making sure everything is going well, everyone is happy and there aren’t fires to put out. And just like a newborn baby, you can’t turn the network off – it needs attention, a lot of attention, no matter the time or the day. The mistake most make is feeling alone in nurturing their network. To feel less alone, you have to surround yourself with the right people who can help and inspire them to rise to the challenge. You must trust and nurture them.

Nurture and pay it forward

The only way that a community manager can scale is to invest in Yambassadors today who can then turn around and invest in the next crop of Yambassadors, and so on and so forth. With the right Yambassador base, your community can scale infinitely. However, this will only happen in the future if you pay it forward today – with education and helping align the rewards of Yambassadorship to individual motivations. Your primary job as a community manager is to give the resources to the people who will serve as a resource to everyone else.

 Set up a private workspace

Set up a private group for the Yambassadors to discuss the network, community management best practices, share tips and generate ideas. Be sure to include lots of informational resources, and encourage the team to share and problem-solve together. Think through the “new Yambassador orientation,” including easy access to resources in a Welcome Note. Welcoming new Yambassadors helps them feel special and well-resourced to take the next step.

Phoebe Venkat says: “I like having the Yambassadors group as private instead of public. We don’t have anything to hide, but sometimes we discuss information that may be confidential or simply not reasonable to share with the wider network.”

Joe Robens, IT Strategy Manager at Aristocrat, shared: “Support groups pop up now and again too, which is a great sign that the user base gets the tool a bit more. Support specifically is peer based with no formal training. I have set up a group with videos and docs for people to use.”

Be open and engage early

If you want to motivate your Yambassadors to truly shine, share your plans with them early on and make it easy to contribute. This gives people “skin in the game,” and increases the quality of your ideas. Co-create the charter and Yambassador role definition together. With 20 Yamassadors, Phoebe Venkat held a planning call to establish how to serve an ever-growing population. This meeting yielded a one-page description of roles and responsibilities and WIIFMs (what’s in it for me) for Yambassadors.

Mark Allotey says: “It’s a purely voluntary role, but they’re already people who are demonstrating some of the Yambassador behaviors and are big Yammer advocates. I’ve created a written overview to explain the details of the role (which I shared prior to them signing up) and why the role of a Yambassador is so important. I’ve asked the Yambassadors to help me refine and shape this role further.”

Win hearts and minds

Make sure your strategy for engaging your Yambassadors also engages them! Make being a Yambassador fun, exciting and prestigious. How can you help them? What do they want to hear about? If they love the platform, perhaps show them an advanced sneak peak at new features, before others see them. A plan for engaging your Yambassadors should include regular communication and recognition. Because different people are excited by different things, remember that one reward doesn’t fit all – it can come in the way of Yambassador status, public recognition and praise on yammer network, messages from and access to executives, and with physical gifts when appropriate.

Build culture together

Christoffer Christie, Business Readiness Lead at NAB, shared: “Yammer is a great tool to support your culture. People co-create culture; technology enables. Try exploring your culture using Yammer. Get a group of 5-10 Yambassadors from different levels who will commit to supporting the exploration. Use a Yammer group to come up with seed questions about culture for your main company feed. Ask your Yam Champs to commit to 5×3: to spend at least 5 minutes 3 different times a day contributing to these culture discussions. Perhaps identify some key behaviors the Yambassadors will model.”

Work together to engage the C-suite

Joe Robens advises: “You need a C-level champ to step up and start using it. I started with direct reports to the CEO and started a bit of a competition by telling them who was in the lead. This way when I did speak to the CEO about Yammer, he was well aware and jumped on board. I had to pitch it; but he got it and now sends regular Yams with his thoughts.”

Go multi-platform

A meet-up in person or a phone call is a nice way to supplement all the digital activity. Host a Yam-up session with your Yambassadors – off the network. It’s a great opportunity to really get to know people, share your plans and vision, and also to listen. Excited users have plenty of suggestions for how to use Yammer – many you may never have thought of.

Divide and conquer

Don’t try to do it all yourself; share the responsibility! Giving an enthusiastic user a specific area of responsibility increases their sense of ownership over Yammer and stimulates more positive behavior. This may include owning a specific task like welcoming new users to the network or running a poll of the week.

Yambassadors help stimulate conversation, train other users, moderate the network and continue to find new and useful ways to use the platform. In turn, reward them with status as part of the Yambassador group, recognition, and a sense of co-ownership. The effort of a team to pull a sled will ensure you slide a lot faster toward your goals, and frees you up to do even more. You might even get a good night’s sleep.

Photo source: Rammy Storm