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Community Strategy: A foundation for community leaders, hosts, and managers

Launching an online community takes time, energy, and organization. 

Someone must take ownership of the project. 

A strategy is defined as a plan of action to obtain a specific goal or result. 

Without setting the stage for a community strategy, a launch can tend to be postponed due to a lack of clarity, leadership, and goal setting.

To better understand the roles and responsibilities of community leaders, hosts, and managers,  it is helpful to understand the difference in their roles and responsibilities. 

One of my favorite community strategy quotes comes from David Spinks, the cofounder of CMX, a network of over 20,000 community professionals that we support with training, research, events, and community.

In his book, The Business of Belonging he shares good frameworks and actionable steps for new community leaders and hosts. 

“Building community as a hobby is nice. But if you want to build a community sustainably, at scale, and expand way beyond your own abilities and resources, you need to look at it as a business.”

You can read a review of this book on the findcalmhere.com/blog page 

Below I share my understanding of each role and how they differ from each other. The key is to know who you are, where you fit, and what teammates you’ll need to help you on this community journey. 

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Community Hosts sets the vision, purpose, and values

The host sets the vision for the future of the online community, gives guidance and support to the community manager, and directs how content is created. 

The host would also decide on the structure of an online community and the strategy for which the community would be led to include a marketing plan, creation of an ambassador program, securing sponsorships, developing educational materials, reporting to investors, reporting to grant funding authorities, or developing a crowdfunding campaign. 

The host may decide to hire professionals who offer services to support them or delegate aspects of the community launch, marketing, education, building, or funding to the community leader or the community manager.

Some could say that a CEO of an organization could be considered the ‘host” as they are in charge of steering the company towards success while ensuring a positive community culture that aligns with the business and revenue goals.

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Community leaders orchestrate, communicate, and guide the community culture

A community leader could be an advocate, ambassador, facilitator, mentor, or volunteer who takes an active authority within the community. The leader can be a person who works closely with the community host and may also be the “go-between” for community hosts and managers. 

Community leaders could be instructors in a course, co-hosts, partners, coaches, ambassadors, stakeholders, investors, or advocates. 

As a host may bring a community leader to help with marketing, creating a content plan, project management, or overseeing the progress, growth, and health of an online community. 

The leader could be tasked with creating the overall operations manual or training manual for a community manager to implement. 

These could be documents like a marketing plan, writing a playbook for a community manager to provide the processes and systems that the person would use in daily operations. 

Additionally, a community leader may be assigned to write community guidelines, community onboarding manuals, or to create onboarding videos, to support the members.

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Community Managers implement, coordinate, and operate the community

A Community Manager puts the community host’s vision, purpose, and mission into actionable steps, and implements these steps. 

Communities managers are usually partners of the host, volunteers, or working part-time for an organization such as a non-profit, a startup, or an online community led by a business owner. 

It has been traditional to seek volunteers to manage an online community when a budget does not allow for a paid staff member to oversee an online community. 

Depending on the size, scale, and purpose of an online community, a CM may also be responsible for content planning, event facilitation, leadership development, marketing and promoting the community, member onboarding, and dealing with problems or challenges that the community faces on an ongoing basis. 

Knowing the difference between a community leader, host, and manager is the key to identifying the community strategy, and who will take ownership of each step in the community-building process, and it will help to establish a timeline with benchmarks, goals, and outcomes.

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