What makes an effective community manager and why should you care?

What makes an effective community manager and why should you care?

By Diana McLaren and Caroline McLaren

Diana McLaren is the Community Catalyst at Hub Sydney
Caroline McLaren is Principal at CoActiv8, an organisation that establishes and operates collaborative shared workspaces. 

We’re in the business of workspaces not communities. So why is a community so important in a workspace?

In today’s hyper-competitive market of shared offices to choose from, you need to have something to differentiate you from the others. Call it the ‘special sauce’, ‘the vibe’ or the ‘x factor’ it doesn’t really matter; it’s the feel of the space as you walk in that not only is something bigger happening, but also that you’re a part of it. And only a community can provide this. As much as we would all like to think some funky couches and cool-meeting rooms can cover it.

The first rule of achieving proficiency at anything is to understand the philosophy behind it, and then it’s just ‘practice, practice, practice’ as the old adage goes. So let’s start with the theory.

Building a community is not a new concept. Anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists have long since studied the rules of bonding in a community, but what is new is the environment in which we do it.

Shared offices uniquely lie in the position of straddling the three identities of a community. We have location, identity and organizational community structures in place. Each of these three ways of bonding a community needs a different approaches.

Location is easy, or at least the easiest, so let’s start there. You already share the physical building as a coworking facility. The main things for a community manager to be aware of is how to make sure that every member feels that they have access to the facility and all it has to offer. And to make sure your breakout zones or shared zones are a place where people can genuinely come together for practical reasons.

Identity is more about the common purpose, which naturally exists in a coworking space when people identify themselves as entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business people. These identities have shared struggles and shared principles and ideas behind them that we can relate with. Over time they even begin to identify themselves through a shared identity of the space, for instance our Hub members calling themselves Hubbers.

The third is organizational and that is where the facilitators in a coworking space really come to play. This is when we organize activities; lunches, drinks, meditation, shared learning and whatever else your space has come up with.
This is what will create the four pillars for a ‘sense of community’: membership, influence, integration and emotion.

First you need membership. That’s not too hard; any one in your space is a member. But have you ever noticed how some are more involved then others? To make every member feel a part of the community you need to offer influence. A member induction given to every new person that outlines how they can get involved, how they can give feedback and how there presence in space will be a unique and appreciated is a sure fire way to allow all members to feel their influence in the space.

This also contributes to integration and the fulfillment of needs as it allows them to know how to get involved, how to network and use the perks of a coworking space to seek what they need. Which also takes some of the pressure off community managers.

The last step to creating a ‘sense of community’ is the only one you can have a direct influence on, and that is the shared emotional connection. But assuming you provide avenues for meaningful engagement for all of your members this will develop naturally of it’s own accord.

At the end of the day though, we are in the business of shared workspace and not the business of community, but aren’t they one and the same? You community will create a network of supportive people who naturally help each other grow their companies by creating networks, referring business, and hand holding during the difficult times or being facilitators for each other. And when this true community occurs all the businesses grow and so does yours.

Remember the success of building your community will mean that you can step back from the role of facilitator and let your community flourish far beyond your reach.

5 Practical Tips for Facilitating Community:

  1. Have a regularly scheduled program of weekly events that are consistent to allow members to know how to engage easily. Consistency is key.
  2. Run inductions for every single member that comes through the door. Not only does this help them connect but you can tick of that pesky OHS conversation.
  3. Check in! And not just in a ‘hey how you doing?’ kind of way. Program regular sit down conversations with you members to find out what they like and what they still need.
  4. Have systems for feedback. Even if it’s not what you want to hear you still need to hear it so have plenty of formal and informal ways of giving feedback.
  5. Set up your space with meeting points. Water cooler gossip is actually a great way of bonding people and as well as the water cooler it can occur around coffee, food or at the end of your meditation session.What makes an effective community manager and why should you care?
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