Modern Community Building

In late May, Joel Spolsky, co-founder/CEO of our portfolio company Stack Exchange, wrote a great post called Modern Community Building.

Stack (as I like to call the company) is building out a large network of highly engaged communities (57 as of right now) all focused on knowledge sharing.

Joel described the basic problem:

There are an awful lot of technology companies, founded by programmers, who think they are building communities on the Internet, but they’re really just building software and wondering why the community doesn’t magically show up.

Joel points out an important truth. Online communities require both software and people. Sometimes the software part is the easier part. Curating communities is hard work and requires people to do it. It is an inherently social behavior. Joel describes the role of the "online community organizer":

This job will be sort of like being a community organizer at a non-profit. It combines elements of marketing, PR, and sales, but it’s really something different. I don’t expect that there are a lot of people out there who already kn0w how to do this well, so I’m going to train them, personally. Not that I know how to do this, but we’ll learn together. Every workday is going to start with a huddle at 9am and a plan for the day’s activities and an intensive six hours of work. Every workday is going to end with an hour of learning… reading Kawasaki and Godin and Ries and Trout, talking with invited experts, meeting with members of the community about what worked and what didn’t worked. Everyone who joins the program (and survives for a year) will come out with an almost supernatural ability to take a dead, lifeless site on the internet and make it into the hottest bar in town. That’s a skill worth learning for the 21st century.

Many of our companies need both community managers and community organizers. And I agree with Joel that this is a new job type that not many people have a ton of experience in. But as Joel says, those who develop these skills will be in high demand in the coming years.

If you are interested in joining Stack's community evangelist team, you can apply here. If you'd like to see all the open community manager positions in our portfolio, and there are a bunch of them all around the world, you can see them here.

Modern community building isn't easy but if there is one thing the Internet has taught me over the past 15 years, large engaged communities are incredible powerful things, both commercially and socially. Building them is important and ultimately very valuable work.


Comments (Archived):

  1. David Noël

    USV’s Christina recently posted what I found to be the best definition of a community manager I’ve read to date:An emphatic storyteller, who is the product’s external voice, users’ internal advocate, and find motivation in helping others.We’re looking for one in the US, too 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      That is great. Was that on her tumblr?

        1. paramendra

          Me too, I read that in the original. 

    2. kirklove

      I really liked that, too, David.

    3. karen_e

      I’m going to break this down, David. My credentials: I have nine or so years as a professional services marketer and I’ve never missed a week (barely a day) reading or contributing to Fred’s community since 2003.Sometimes I think of indoor marketing as the marketing I do at my desk. Writing, for example. Outdoor marketing is when I’m out in the field, at conferences, etc., advocating, preferably with one weak drink in hand per night. More than that is not a good idea.An emphatic storyteller (indoor and outdoor), who is the product’s external voice (outdoor), users’ internal advocate (I am the internal advocate for users *as a group,* the principals in my firm are the internal advocates for their particular clients), and find motivation in helping others (indoors and outdoors).

      1. David Noël

        Awesome, Karen! 



      1. David Noël

        Fredland milestone: my first Grimlock reply. Thank you, Grimlock!

        1. resume writers

          ME too right here!!! Anybody miss????

      2. raycote

        That was a good store and I will remember it !

      3. Matt A. Myers

        I miss you Mr. Dinosaur.I miss AVC too.

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    5. Carl J. Mistlebauer

      Well, if there is one thing I can do…is tell stories!  :)I think the key is “empathy” which is really critical…empathic communication involves not being concerned most about what to say but rather saying what you want the listener to hear, that means thinking first from the listeners position…..I spent 20 years building a company one story at a time….a joke, a story…it shows you relate, its the “clincher” in the fact that when everyone relates to a story then communication can begin because its puts everyone on the same page….Glad to find out that my “skill set” is still relevant in the world of innovation! So, someone hire me and get me out of the 19th century world of apparel!

      1. David Noël

        I like how Jack Dorsey defines his job as the CEO as being the editor for the company. Google it and you’ll find some videos of Jack explaining the concept. I highly recommend watching. 

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Interestingly, telling stories is a big part of the recruiting role. You could become a recruiter. ;-)While empathy helps in this role, it’s more in terms of thinking from the other person’s perspective but not necessarily telling them what they want to hear — often the opposite.  

        1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

          Donna,You are right…I type without thinking…The point I wanted to make, and did not finish…is that so many times people have to communicate, and they sit down and write things up, run it by a couple of people, in my work, that would include lawyers, and then out it goes…..then all hell breaks loose….they never thought to listen to their own words, nor did the think how it would be taken by the listener.One time I was reading someone’s personnel manual and they asked for my opinion….I told them I read alot about “sticks” but so far no “carrots.”  She said she wanted to “protect” the company…I told her it wouldn’t be a problem…because no one would want to work for them, and so no employees no problems, and the company is protected.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            I get a little nauseous when I hear things like the response you received about the manual.  Love the feedback you gave!

    6. Donna Brewington White

      That’s a great description.  The only thing I would add to that is that it seems that the community manager would be most effective if s/he truly enjoys the community.  

      1. David Noël

        Good point, Donna. I think that this one’s hidden behind “empathy”. You need to love people and you need to love what you do. It has to be part of your DNA, otherwise there’s no point trying. 

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Empathy.  That’s good.

    7. Dave W Baldwin

      Your words of wisdom are appreciated.Just remember the jpg(s) forming inside the user/viewer’s mind and those groupings of jpgs form into video.  The viewer will want to come back to either add to the video or find answer to disruption/unkown.

  2. Dave W Baldwin

    You know I give thumbs up.The dissolving of walls will be one of the biggest accomplishments the earlier half of this decade leading to an explosion of opportunity moving through 2013-16 into the latter half.At this time, language barriers (both foriegn and niche specific) will begin to disolve. Over the next few weeks, references will be made regarding the more ‘biological’ (not all x’s and o’s) which connects to the more 3D look at things. 

    1. Qiao Lian


      1. Qiao Lian


  3. Dan Lewis

    I’m going to be a big contrarian here:I think it’s a terrible idea for a startup to hire an online community manager.  Not because the role isn’t needed — if anything, it may be critical! PR doesn’t stand for “PRess.”  It stands for “public relations” and your community of users — who in many cases, aren’t your paying customers (e.g. Stack’s users don’t pay), are a big part of the relevant slice of the “public.”   Hiring someone to lead Marketing/PR/communications is going to be necessary at some point, and you’re probably better off — by a lot! — if that person can handle the day-to-day community management role.  With the CEO and/or founder, that person should become the public face of your organization. They understand the mission intensely, speak the language, know the pain points, etc.  They’re not $45,000/year hires who, in the words of Stack, are qualified by virtue of the fact that they can ” write a literate email at 50 wpm with zero mistakes, even if you didn’t have a spell checker.”I’d hope that the primary, first-hired person to accomplish this role is the A+ player who sees community management as a, if not the, fundamental part of marketing and communications.  A person who sees marketing through the world described by Seth Godin, not as one where you purchase ways to interrupt your target audience’s world.  I’d hope that the person has the PR chops to build a loyal audience of super-fans, and not beg and moan to get a TechCrunch article.   I’d also hope that this hire is seen, by the organization, as vital — and given the organizational freedom (and compensation) to reflect that.If anything, the entry-level $45k year jobs should be the ones sitting with your PR firm and/or ad agency when you get there, managing day to day operations.  They should be the ones pitching college newspapers etc. on stories.   You don’t want them becoming the primary point of contact for all of your users.

    1. David Noël

      I think every company should have a community manager, not only web companies or startups. Every company. While I agree that a community manager needs a deep understanding of PR and marketing, I don’t believe that it is the same role. In my case, I work closely with PR and marketing every day, however there is a genuine and deep understanding that the role of a community manager should be a dedicated one. In our company, this became apparent when the founders Alex and Eric hired a community role first; PR and marketing came later, all three being as equally important to the growth and success of the business.

      1. fredwilson

        you are a role model for community managers david

        1. kirklove

          I second that. He’s a giant machete whacking down the brush so I can follow more easily.

        2. David Noël

          That means a lot coming from you, Fred. Thanks.

          1. paramendra


        3. paramendra


        4. Ja Re

          If only Soundcloud could get the bugs out of its service, then focus on community.

          1. David Noël

            One doesn’t exclude the other. Can you specify what you mean and please send it to support at soundcloud dot com so we can best help you?

          2. Ja Re

            The problem with Soundcloud is that it often takes 3 or 4 clicks hitting play to get it to work. And sometimes you just can’t get into Soundcloud.Plus, it’s not very intuitive.I am not a software person, so don’t know how to fix Soundcloud’s issues.It’s like getting Myspace to actually work. Soundcloud has this problem of playing smoothly.

          3. David Noël

            Sorry to hear that! Best is to send Support an email with your browserconfiguration. Playback can often times be disturbed by outside factors likeoutdated browsers, Flash players, plugins, extensions like AdBlocker andthat’s hard for us to diagnose remotely.

      2. Carl J. Mistlebauer

        As I develop my business plan, the one task that I could not define was the one you have called “community manager.”  While Marketing and PR are important they are also “top down” while the community manager kind of works both the top and the bottom. I have watched two web 2.0 companies enjoy explosive growth but they are leveling now and I think its because while they enjoy huge “communities” they do not realize that their communities have become hierarchies of engagement and they have lost their ability to grow their communities because of the hierarchies that have developed.  I look at their markets and the penetration they have made and I realize that they have not even skimmed the surface of the potential community they could have.I could tell a story about dog shows and dog clubs to make my point but i won’t 🙂  All I will say is that the AKC is struggling and its own structure of breed communities is the cause.

      3. Prokofy

        Ultimately, community managers should not exist. They are a phenomenon for this age, where these communities are still corporate-controlled and collectivized, but it’s like the Komsomol and the Party, when you have more freedom, and people can democratically elect leaders and self-govern, those old Komsomol types disappear, they are not needed. You should work yourself out of a job, or at least step aside when the real social movements come.

        1. Elise

          Every community or a group always has a leader, there is someone who steps out, who takes the responsibility. I disagree that community managers disappear, they will become more important. But true community manager is like an excellent office manager, the office and the people in the office are happy, free and engaging, but how much office manager influences it, is not seen unless one day he is not there anymore.

          1. Prokofy

            Oh, no. That’s not true at all. There might be people fighting to be leader, but there is usually competition. And we do what we like to call *voting* in a *democracy,* we don’t just let the strongest tribal muscleman win. And that’s not what happens here *at all*. What happens is that *the companies* *appoint* the community managers from the top down. There isn’t any “emergent leader” from the users!!! A community leader is a job that should not exist; it’s an artifact of the way the platforms are run now with oldfashioned software, but in the future, when socialware is more widespread, we will see more democracy.

    2. awaldstein

      I think that building community is what businesses do.The more you extract this from the process of building your market (and marketing) the farther down the drain you fall.That being said, I agree in spirit with what you are saying but in practicalmatters with what David Noel commented.I’m a big believer that community managers are essential, early on, even at an alpha rollout stage. Great ones are impossibly hard to find because they become the reasoned voice of interaction across the social channels.Your CEO or PM may write the blog but social is painfully resource intensive, under the lights 24/7 activity. Someone needs to own it.From my own experience, sometimes it’s easier to grow the position than find the perfect candidate outside. You want skills but being a pro on a resume doesn’t insure that you have that intersection of smarts and passion and poise that makes community managers golden.



  4. LIAD

    Back in 2006 when was peaking as a too-early standalone social gaming platform,  I mistakenly hired a couple of “expert community managers” from AOL.Their concept of, and expertise in community building, took the form of militant moderation and agressive filtering. Years of policing chat rooms and forums had turned them into stern enforcers  – the exact opposite of what’s needed to build vibrant exciting communities.The community managers needed for the people-centric open web can’t be the old guard. Their habits are too ingrained. They just don’t get it.For those interested, Rich Millington blogs a ton of insightful stuff on community building –

    1. ShanaC

      most people forget the ban hammer needs to be a credible weapon, which means careful use.

    2. JLM

      When you think you are a hammer, everything strangely enough begins to look like a nail.

    3. Elise

      Overmoderation kills the dynamic flow of the community and a community manager has to give the tools to make it better.It’s ok to send notice for some flamers, but online community is not like soviet union school where everybody have to be dressed the same and think the same. The value is sharing the same interests between different people.

  5. Harry DeMott

    Fred:I’d be really interested to know if you believed at the time of initial investment that the large winners in your portfolio already had the skills of building a large engaged community – or dod they just learn along the way?If I look at the obvious ones – did the Twitter guys already have this in their DNA? or was this a possible outcome of a path the company and its user community put it on?Did Pincus at Zynga?

    1. fredwilson

      pincus built tribe before zynga so he had itseveral of the twitter founders had built communities, blogger and xanga, so they had it too

  6. falicon

    So I think it’s an important role, but I also think that it’s an ‘everyone’ role…meaning everyone involved in the company should also actively be building and maintaining the community…To me, you start with a quality product/service that serves a real need or scratches a real itch…you remain active and engaged in the quality of the product and conversation of the community that does show up…and you go out to the other places that community hangs out and get actively engaged there too (and provide as much quality as you can there).AVC land is the perfect example…the posts and the reputation draw the readers in…and then Fred (and now the rest of the regulars) actively engage and help shape the quality of the community…which in turn makes it thrive and continue to grow.It takes time and it takes passion.

    1. fredwilson

      the CEO should be a community manager, at least part of their day. Joel’s point that he will personally train them is a great model for how it should be done.

      1. Nancy Xiao

        Other great examples are political campaigns.  They are selling promises, words, and reputations–not any sort of technology, but they build from the ground up.  In the Audacity to Win by David Plouffe, he spotlights how the 2008 political campaigns tackled the entire community of Iowa–with a community manager providing the kind of guidance Joel does…coupled with the energy of a lean startup.  At the University of Michigan, we’re trying to build an entrepreneurial community as well, facing many of the same issues–we have a hot new bar in town, but where are the people?Thanks for the thoughts, Fred!

    2. ShanaC

      I should say, having regulars who are not Fred has utterly changed the dynamic of this space. From just watching (forget as a participant) I can tell you that the way people respond to each other has become less combative in the way opinions are stated, and that posts are more likely to layer in response to each other rather than stack as people try to exclusively respond to Fred.

      1. andyidsinga

        thats one of the coolest things about the avc community and maybe the real ‘is it a community?’ test. You can tell you’re in a community when you rip through the comments looking for certain members take on things. Then you find new people and so on a so forth…:)

      2. Guest

        I have noticed that on here too @ShanaC:disqus I have not been visiting here but for the last few months. I did not know that it had not always been that way.

        1. karen_e

          I think it’s always been that way. My two cents as a longtime member.

          1. ShanaC

            there are posts that were definitely less conversation oriented.  Though I will defer to you on this one.



        1. Robert Thuston

          self-evident now that you mention it.  “reputation” as a driving force.  profound.  well said.

  7. Sebastian Wain

    Seems to me the kind of work that is Art and Science and it’s difficult to professionalize.

  8. Aaron Klein

    The interesting part is figuring out when to make that hire.So far, 90% of my job is split between shaping the product and building a community around it. (I’m good enough at writing code to be dangerous, but I’m not as good as a real engineer.)I’ll never give up an active piece of being the product’s external voice and the user’s internal voice, but I am trying to figure out exactly when I need to scale that capability and clone myself in that regard.It’s definitely our #1 non-engineering hire, even if I don’t know where in the sequence it falls just yet.

    1. Cam MacRae

      OT: Just had a cursory look at Riskalyze – if I’ve understood it, you’re aiming to help mom and dad investors construct a portfolio along an efficient frontier? I think that’s fantastic.

      1. Aaron Klein

        Pretty much! The technology at the core of our product can capture your risk tolerance as a mathematical function, and one of the many great things we can do with that data is establish exactly where to place you on the efficient frontier for an optimal financial portfolio.Sign up for a backstage pass at and I’ll get yours issued today. I’d love to have your feedback even though less than 1/10th of the planned product is in our current beta.

        1. Cam MacRae

          Done. Very interested to have a look.

        2. Donna Brewington White

          I owe you a “review.”  Things have become quite busy.It was fun to go through the exercise — enlightening because it forces you to choose — which I found uncomfortable in a good way.  Felt like I was getting at truth.Sort of like the “Honestly Now” for one’s investment persona.But then I wanted my recommendations!  I know that’s coming.This is not the review BTW.  😉

          1. Aaron Klein

            Thanks, Donna!I have to tell you, we do think we’ve hit something magical with this iteration of the Risk Fingerprint capture process. To have it be simultaneously “fun but hard” is a difficult balance to achieve but I think we’re there.Looking forward to blowing your socks off with the rest of the product…and can’t wait to hear your detailed feedback!AVCers rock. 🙂

          2. Donna Brewington White

            “AVCers rock.”+1

  9. Janet Aronica

    *waving hi*  (community/marketing chick at a tech startup here…)People get really fired up about this new role of the community manager like it’s this new sexy thing… but at the end of the day building community isn’t about technology or tools or anything. It’s about connecting people and making them feel like they’re a part of something unique and special. This isn’t modern or new. It’s just about *people.* CM’s who approach their content creation and engagement like this are the successful ones.

    1. ShanaC

      true that. though to be honest, I think one of the questions that should be asked is why you are connecting any given group of people.

      1. Janet Aronica


        1. ShanaC

          *waves high back*

          1. Squ


          2. Kjhsd


          3. ShanaC

            you passed!

      2. raycote

        So true!Community is about enabling collaboration around shared needs.



  10. RichardF

    Maybe Community Management is going to become a new Social Sciences subject taught at university/college.A pretty good introduction to the subject is Jono Bacon’s “The Art of Community”  which is available from Amazon through O’Reilly.  There’s no need to buy a Kindle edition (unless you want to) because Jono has made the book available for free in pdf format here http://www.artofcommunityon… so you just need to email a copy to your kindle account and let Amazon convert it.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Richard! Great timing for me to come across this.

      1. RichardF

         you are welcome, hope you find it useful

    2. Donna Brewington White

      “Maybe Community Management is going to become a new Social Sciences subject taught at university/college.”Maybe that’s one of the courses Fred’s going to teach.  😉

  11. ShanaC

    lessons learned from being a gabbai:1) Embrace technology that allows said community to resolve its own problems organically. it is draining to fix others problems, especially if they are a kind where they can and should be solved by the community.2) Isolate negativity early on. If the negativity is caused by a real problem, fix the problem. if it just someone being negative Nancy, create a wall of positive as a firebreaker before negativity spreads.3) Make sure you have a backup plan when community members fail. and don’t blame them when they do- you don’t know what the internal issue is (ask about it when appropriate).4) Have a playbook, especially when it comes to showing honors to people and calling people out for inappropriate behavior. it allows you to have reasons for your actions, especially when you have to say no or make unpopular decisions.5) Love what you do.

    1. Erich Wood

      All great and articulates what I’ve learned to do as well. I love reading about things like this because even though the thoughts might be swimming around in my head, others are more able to articulate and clarify what it is we’re dealing with. 

      1. ShanaC

        I realized I forgot to say as as an adjunct after this Offer training and/or community get togethers (but skip bagels west of the hudson, unless you are in montreal), especially for your core.Then I realized that 1 is google’s playbook for its helpdesk and 2 is apple’s when it comes to fanpeople.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      You ever thought about being a community manager?

      1. ShanaC

        Actually, I haven’t.  I’ve thought about Gabbai’ing again (I enjoyed it). Why?

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I don’t have a specific job in mind to present to you — wish I did!  I ask because your description above shows insight into the role — and being a Gabbai is similar, right?  You are already quite social on the web and in a way that makes a contribution. In fact, it seems that you already do a number of things that a community manager would do — and you are doing it just for fun.  I think that one of the ways to figure out what to do for work is to look at the things we do “just for fun” and ask whether there is a way to monetize this.  Maybe this wouldn’t be the long term avenue for the depth of your intellectual capabilities, but you are young enough to have several careers in your lifetime.Anyway, just a thought.  And not the first time I’ve had it.

          1. ShanaC

            I realize on some level I do community management here (I mean I even spend the time flagging spam posts….)OTOH, I just found my tech partner in crime (yay).  And I do this for fun/intellectual/social enjoyment.  I sometimes wonder about it as a job, but I always come back to the idea that I probably would enjoy it less if I were paid.As to what gabbais do:Actually, when I was gabbai, the minyan I was in was sort of unique and I was sort of unique in that role.  it was a college orthodox minyan* (prayer group), and I took over the position from the person elected in because he was doing a terrible job. Because I was female, I couldn’t do certain things (like arrange honors, because that was done ad hoc during prayers), and I could do other things better (getting people to assume reading duties*).  I ended up implementing technological solutions to some of my problems in order to offload work and get less excuses from people I had to bother.Other issues I just observed from how do you get 10-30 to agree on how to run a prayer group that was also a social club. Especially very feisty people who are very smart.If I were to do it again though, I can’t guarantee it would be the same sort of “community organizing” that I was doing at the time.  Larger synagogues tend to offload some of these duties into their staff (unless their charters specify otherwise) and some things, like high precision torah reading tracking, I just can’t do, I don’t have the training.And I just realized that I sound exactly like a community manager….*Prayers are just gender segregated…women don’t get to do a lot of public activities that sort of way.

  12. howard

    Anyone interested in this subject should check out the podcast hosted by Heather Gold, Deborah Schultz & Kevin Marks “about the art and science of engaging and collaborating in a networked age. Each week we explore how to connect and create a world that *puts people at the centre* of business, technology and culture with the smart folks creating this new world.”(Tummler is a Yiddish word used to describe a person who catalyzes others to action.)

    1. Dan J Mckee

      Thanks for the recommendation Howard 

    2. kevinmarks

      Thanks Howard – my original post on this that explains why Debs, Heather and myself think this is important might be useful for Fred and his readers here: Comes Everybody – Tummlers, Geishas, Animateurs and Chief Conversation Officers help us listen

  13. Jon Birdsong

    We have a very interesting scenario at OpenStudy. We divide communities into topic-based groups and have reached critical mass in our math subject (over 25,000 questions asked a month and growing). As our user base grows and we focus building out other subjects, the balancing act will be how to ‘specialize’ the group without sacrificing the established network of helpers. Regardless, we are having an awesome time trying to crack the code down in the ATDC ( on Georgia Tech’s campus. Best,JonOpenStudy Marketing/Community Manager

    1. ShanaC

      Though: See how topics network together – ie philosophy of economics with the math of economics should both be leaning on math people and philosophy people…

  14. Derek

    The echo chamber buzz around the idea of building or managing communities online has been really frustrating for about the last two years, with the excitement about it’s importance couched in the dirty little secret that there wasn’t a discernable lightening bolt to do it extremely well. Many of the folks doing it well are essentially being themselves…which is exactly what you often see in the non-profit/community organizer roles of the traditional sense.There are skills, though, that should be taught. It’s more than the tools…it’s the finesse and the blue-collar use of email and the willingness to admit fault. It’s the realization that it’s hard god damn work. Often it’s also thankless.I’m really excited to see the field emerging and the leaders giving back with insight and training. Joel’s program is a huge opportunity for young potentials. just took about 40 into their bootcamp, run by @RyanPaugh:twitter , founder of BrazenCareerist. There are other examples.We’ve made Community an executive level position from the get-go at @Foodtree:disqus .- Derek Shanahan, Chief Community Office at Foodtree 

  15. S. Pandya

    A few years back I heard a guest speaker proclaim that community managers were the next generation of leaders – facilitators who encouraged collaborative problem solving and interaction rather than taking a stand and propagating their philosophy.This article seems to confirm what I heard back then… that in politics and business, community managers are often the most in demand.

  16. bruno boutot

    Being a great community manager doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to transmit your knowledge.From my experience as a member, an admin and a builder of communities, I have found that Rich Millington is probably the best on the Web (I don’t know him other than reading his blog). can’t recommend him enough, especially about the crucial distinction between customer service and communities, and between social media and communities.

  17. Evan

    Calling it a “community organizer” means that they’re probably not going to get as many Republicans applying.  Not a good thing for cultural diversity.

    1. Aaron Klein

      +1 Had to laugh at this one!

  18. Steve Hallock

    I find Community Manager to be one of the most important and most persistant parts of my job.  For any product that is not absolutely necessary, I believe upper management has to lead the community building – tell the story and inspire people to be a part, interact one-one with customers at times and provide that extra bit of customer service, etc.In an industry where many are stuck in the past, this is a point where some are proficient and some are comically bad.  I believe it will be a major weakness for them as time goes on.

  19. Drew Meyers

    I think part of the challenge with community building w/ stack exchange is that there are 57 different sites in need of curation. From my experience, successful community builders need to have passion for their community — and splitting community builders among multiple properties on a daily basis means they will be less successful as a result of them not spending all their time with a community they are passionate about.

  20. Dan J Mckee

    @davidnoel:disqus hit the nail on the head. Every company needs community management. What we’re now seeing is a waking up period. Community management should no longer be regarded as an afterthought or simply delegated to an intern. Put it in the business plan and give it the attention it deserves. Invest in community management just like you would sales, marketing, and customer service. It’s that important. 

    1. Drew Meyers

      community management encompasses sales, marketing, and customer service in one. Which is why it’s so challenging…not many people have a skillset that spans all three areas.

  21. Erich Wood

    Douglass Rushkoff is making more and more sense to me every day. “Content was never king. Contact is king.” 

    1. awaldstein

      I think ‘context’ more than ‘contact’ as that is the key to community.

      1. Erich Wood

        I’d love to read more. How do you mean? 

        1. awaldstein

          This may help explain where I’m coming from:Context not content is king @

          1. raycote

            Yes!Contacts amplified by context.Waiting for the emergence of Macro Assemblers that enable the rest of us to construct small passion-driven non-profit communities?True community may not be very amenable to large scale monetization but then again true-community is a subjective term.

          2. Dave W Baldwin

            Arnold, keep pushing.  That will match with my pushing for folks to start thinking biological… context represents abstract that is an image in the brain, offer back the most current info related to that abstract and the person will probably take in headline which after a time period will not be so much focused on who wrote the headline.Then it becomes 3, the viewer is accustomed with the first being a known (to viewer) authority, related known, followed by more off the wall.In that period of 5 seconds, the viewer will take that in, decide if needed to save and move on with whichever issue/problem they’re really needing to take care of.@fredwilson:disqus 

  22. Jack Repenning

    There’s a crucially important thing going on in this post, and it deserves focused attention in its own right. I’m talking about drawing the distinction between those who manage the mechanics of the community (from login help to troll squelching), and those who manage the society of the community (setting the tone, making introductions, encouraging the onlookers to participate, encouraging participants to contribute, and making connections with related communities). I’ve found that the title “Community Manager” is sometimes used for the former, sometimes for the latter, and mostly obscures the fact that people don’t realize that these are two completely different jobs, skill-sets, and personalities. We should allow “Community Manger” to take on the mechanical meaning, and hail “Community Organizer” as the long-needed title for the social meaning.

  23. Earth Tangle

    God points on creating an online community

    1. raycote

      Who’s God has the best pointers on community development?Just kidding :-))

  24. Karthik

    Incredibly eye opening post and super valuable comments. I am experiencing this pain first hand in my startup. 

  25. andyswan

    If I got the job, I’d immediately request a new title “online small-town mayor”….you know, a lot like an “online community organizer”, except with actual responsibilities.  Course then I’d have to watch the online community organizer become online president.  But then I’d realize that job is a can’t-win horrible position and it’s way more fun to be online guest-speaker banking massive coin while sending otherwise normal people into fits of rage and sarcasm…..just by having my name mentioned at dinner!

    1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

      Think Andy Griffith as the sheriff of Mayberry…..Should be “good ol boy on line small-town mayor….”

    2. Matt A. Myers

      I think I’m starting to understand your humour more and more.. This is humour right? 😉

  26. Jeff Radov

    A couple of quick thoughts from someone who started doing this 15+ years ago.I would make a distinction between organizations that make a business from communities and organizations that make communities from their business.  We created (1996) as the former.  We labored hard to convice companies like Citibank to pursue the latter.  Time proved us prescient, but, more importantly, it proved that an entity’s relationship with its constituents is enhanced exceptionally by their participation in a community experience.  Relationships build social glue. Relationships foster emotional engagement.  Relationships create long term value.

  27. Eric Brooke

    OK Fred, I disagree with the following statement:“And I agree with Joel that this is a new job type that not many people have a ton of experience in.”You are just looking in the wrong place..How about all those people who work in non-profits and government agencies that already do this every day?How about learning/listening how to from community leaders, local politicians, community liaisons, and stakeholder managers. It’s their jobs! Why not talk to a non-profits community liaison, or listen to the brave souls who mediate between gangs (the government paid ones).  They will teach so much about engagement and interaction.Even in the corporate world, there are public relations people who subvert communities to, whoops encourage/inspire a new way of thinking.  OK OK the good ones listen and help the corporate adapt to needs of the community.Community is has it has always being, founded on the deep need for humans to belong.  It has being studied furiously by philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists for decades. Find one to mentor your team or become an adviser to your board.Another channel for knowledge.. why not go talk to an architect who build spaces to improve interaction, or non-interaction. Who create spaces that make you feel warm and/or safe? Good architecture has a massive impact on our emotions and yes our behaviours. Listen to why they do what they do and fuse it with your knowledge of digital space to create something new..Personally I would rather someone who understand the psychology of the subject and teach them the technology. I believe that knowledge before tool helps on this one.On this point, of course the way we interact digitally is different, we tend to be:·     more assertive, ·     more efficient, ·     sexier, ·     bolder.From Virtually You by Elias Aboujaoude, MD…Your big issue of recruiting from non-profit or government maybe real impact and values, is your community going to make a difference, no not to yours or VCs pocket, the human race.. but than community is all about human interaction..

    1. Elise

      I agree with most of your points, those people you mentioned have the experience… but… online community is different from the permanent and public perspective. When in real life communities you often deal with small groups of people together. Then in online community your answers to single person are often viewed by many others at the same time. Therefore the magic how to use words together with empathy and giving the listener what (s)he needs to hear, is essential. In online world everything you posted will remain there forever and written things have more influence than verbal words. What I want to say is that, when dealing with online community there is a strong trick on knowing exactly what you say with the right words for many stakeholders.

      1. Eric Brooke

        Thanks for your comments Elise :-)Your right our words are becoming more transparent, and more permanent. Regarding influence it depends (doesn’t everything) on the eloquence and either logic or the rhetoric.  If I have a choice to receive a message about something important to me I would still rate being there (face to face) higher, if I was online I would rate video, than audio, and than text. That said this is me a dyslexic , Eric’s preference and thank er god or evolution that we are not all me.Regarding your magic you are dead right.  And you see this in good stakeholder managers, or community relations people or even the occasional politician, whose words even if spoken end up in the online realm, due for the need of accountability, transparency and yes promotion.Just to be clear I rate good community managers as essential to the success of an online community as in a lot of ways they are your Brand and Values in action. They are people to be valued and given opportunities to grow.

  28. William Mougayar

    I think it goes back to some basics: Content–>Community–>Collaboration. The Community part is that critical bridge which allows you to reach a Collaborative stage where the system is self-sustainable (that’s the goal). A big part of the success of any community is not the technology, but the motivation of the community members for “wanting” that community. These premises have been around since the beginning of online content. I’d like to better understand where does the “modern” part come in? What’s different about online community building/management now except for the advent of social media boosted by curation capabilities? 



  30. Robert Thuston

    I watched an interview with Joel by Mark Suster.  You could tell Joel was a whiz, and would be great to work with in the capacity mentioned above (genuine, intelligent, humorous, and humble).  As a side note, Mark always does a great job building rapport with those he interviews.It’s amazing Joel lead the successful development of 1 Q&A site, and now has 56 others in areas he’s not an expert in for the most part, like cooking, physics, photography, etc.  Shift from product to process management?  Beforehand, Joel and his cofounder were the influencers for StackOverflow that took it through the incubation stage.  It seems the role of the community managers may be to focus on the influencers of the network as a means of following the 100/10/1 rule Fred talks about with (1% generate, 10% engage, 100% consume).  Influencers, like with Joel and his cofounder, generate content but also often bring an audience with them.  Also, it is going to be interesting to see what behaviors, values, and network effects change across communities.  Sounds like a wonderful learning experience.Developing a process for incubating something like this is of interest to me (Joel, are you out there?), because I have this insatiable itch for creating an intuitive learning network and could learn a lot from Joel in the meantime.  Sounds like a great experience, and damn if I wouldn’t be passionate, hard working, open-minded, and come into work with a big damn smile on my face every morning for an entire year.

  31. Rand Fishkin

    Couldn’t agree with this more. At Moz, we have a full time community manager who’s done tremendous things to help our traffic, our brand and the general atmosphere of our core values pervade through the comments on post, user-submitted content, a Q+A section, and our social presences on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn.I suspect many more companies that aren’t even “community” builders will start to have roles and tasks around this. Hope more folks invest in building great software and tools for these people – I suspect that’s a big market opportunity over the next few years.

  32. TanyaMonteiro

    so love it when I read something that resonates deeply and is well articulated – community building roles of the future! 

  33. Donna Brewington White

    Great post, and Joel’s too.I missed AVC this morning for an early staff meeting and one of the things we talked about was creating online communities — which is a key part of our strategy.  Not the part I am directly involved in but one I am intensely interested in and one of the many reasons I joined my current company.  So, of course, found it interesting that once again I come to AVC and today’s discussion is a continuation of the thoughts that have been running through my head all day.BTW, I still think that AVC is one of the best case studies around on creating an online community. Undeniably, the tone that Fred sets as “community manager” — the space he creates — is a huge part of the draw and the experience. Anyone wanting to learn about this topic should hang out here for a while.  “The hottest bar in town” rings true too.  Funny, I met some AVCers at a bar once and it felt very much like a continuation of the online experience.  I’ve been thinking about the physical spaces and situations that help cultivate community, thinking that the online version can borrow from this to some extent.  Maybe this will prove to be wrong — haven’t fully figured it out. Yet, I think about a previous client, a founder/CEO, who created spaces in the company’s offices that were conducive to clustering.  He thought this would not only help cultivate community (an important cultural value for this company) but would also promote sharing of ideas and creativity.  It was not only one of the most creative companies I’ve ever experienced but also one of the most fun!  Interestingly, this same company was effectively creating an online community when online communities were still relatively new — and this CEO was at the center of making this happen.  I can’t help but wonder if the emphasis on community inside a company is one of the factors that contributes to its effectiveness in creating an online community.

    1. RichardF

      really great to hear that the offline experience reflected the online one re meeting AVC community

  34. dissertation writing service

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  35. howardlindzon

    We are learning many of the same things at Stocktwits. Great post.  Phil and I have hd so many daily discussions bout the right way to scale community so that every customer feels like they are walking into Cheers and getting ‘Normed’…almost impossible but thats the perfect world you work towards in community.  If they feel warm and comfortable, you can get great ideas and conversations going.

  36. Douglas P. Smith

    We at Anaplan live in the Enterprise Software world dominated by IBM, Oracle and SAP.  Communities are antithetical to the opaque culture they have fostered over the years.  We believe that community “organizing” and enablement is essential to adoption and value creation for the customer.  We further believe that community organizing must become a core competency at next generation enterprise SW companies providing customers with complete transparency to other users and those that may be considering your software.  It is the best way to overwhelm the self perpetuating payoff scheme that have been set up the the Big 3, the consultants that feed off of the rigidity and complexity of their software products and the analysts that publish “magic quadrants” keeping the incumbents in their entrenched positions in exchange for “fees”. 

  37. Prokofy

    AVC has a vibrant community because of two important things that not every company or platform or blogger can do:o frequent and interesting posts that get comments and debates goingo a blogger/manager willing to answer many of the posts personallyThe wear and tear on Fred doing that sort of personalized answering is great — he doesn’t feel it yet, and he does it seemingly joyfully now, but I wonder if it will persist — and scale.What would be best if he had sort of captains or liaisons or something who ran topics or could sort of sub for him in doing that personalized answering and keeping the convo going. Maybe that’s what he’ll have to do eventually. A big part of the glue of AVC is Fred, but if people found talking to each other or a lieutenant of Fred’s just as compelling, that would be great, too.I don’t care for the “community organizers” in RL because they come as a deliberate, manipulative political strategy that is not always honest about its agenda. Of course, our Community-Organizer-in-Chief comes from this past, and as it happened, I attended the same Socialist Scholar Conferences in the 1980s that he did, and I know the drill: smuggle in the more complex socialist agenda with “single issues”; get into various social movements, unions, non-profits, and hawk the line in some form, even if you can’t in its full-blown form. It always created a feeling of stealth and deceit — and continues to do so today.In the same way, the “community organizer” online is an artifice, not a democratically elected or  or acclaimed leader, but someone inserted into a society online by companies, software engineers, with an agenda, and sometimes a smuggled-in one — not merely selling software, but “making a Better World” — Betterworldism, by their lights, always seems to involve these few engineers and their funders managing millions of people without their say, with a trade-off, usually involving forking over personal data in exchange for the use of some free widget or platform. Community organizers suppress dissent; they guide discussions away from what they see as “negatives” (legitimate criticism of companies); they are like hall monitors or dorm RAs — the kind of people you see throughout live put in charge of other people in various collective situations, not by their choice, but by the necessity of governance.Governance is really important online, and few platform owners really put the attention and staffing they need into this. In almost no situation online do you see democratic elections, with the exception of a limited form of this in Eve Online, a MMORPG in space. Second Life has various company-created communities and various themed communities that residents made, but they staff them with Lindens who do the same kind of managed democracy that the Kremlin does — having office hours or round tables where people talk, but favouring some, suppressing others, manipulating community conflicts to their advantage, etc. etc. There’s an insidious template in the software world that bleeds into the bad governance of communities, and that is the “beta test” phenomenon where the devs invite their friends and their likeminded folks and shape the software their way, with the input of those insiders. And then there is the favoured power users, the prosumers that the devs give inside information to, or early editions of the software, or extra perks or freebies. These two practices run against the practices of so many other mainstream, non-Internet businesses — my vacuum cleaner salesman doesn’t beta-test his product, nor does he create an in-group of fanboyz who get extra parts I don’t get.It would be one thing if the perniciousness of online life in these forms, which hark back to the faux-hippie democracy of the Well (which was ruthless with dissenters not in the in-group), would just “stay on the Internet”, and if you didn’t like this one, you’d migrate to the other. But it doesn’t just stay there. It bleeds into real life and its works. It becomes a way of doing things everywhere — the Gov 2.0 people are trying to institutionalize wikification, “community organizing” and software evangelism in the body politic.What Shana says below about isolating (or in many instances, even banning) the “negative Nancy” is what I mean by that modern manipulative “community manager” role that really has got to go. People should be free to be negative if they need to be. Let the members of the community answer them or not. Software companies are scared of their customers electing their own representatives. But this old oppressive model is eroding and will have to go eventually. People can’t live in such restrictive systems. They will want online to be like real life. The future is socialware, a different kind of software where people get to shape it, not just coders.

  38. Lexilienmarc

    I have been working with a hard headed community for quite sometime, but it is not easy to think that the community will change overnight. I have been writen Two books for the haitians community, those book are about change, the first book is A NATION WITHOUT A COUNTRY, SECOND ONE “THE HAITIANS LIFE”. I believe that the software is much easier to transform into a community then the words. Those people are sometime do not read.

  39. JLM

    Hmmm, “community organizer”, why does that grate on my ear so shrilly?

  40. markslater

    maybe for the same reason “WMD” grates on mine…. 😉

  41. Todd_Andelin


  42. raycote

    Given the right substrate.Real community is self organizing!It’ s nature’s way of building out the great novelty engine we all live in. 

  43. JLM

    I was drawn to Paul’s comment: “…and so hacks will try to hide out there.”Seems quite apropos, no?  Perhaps painfully truthful?Just a bit of comic relief in the otherwise blazing heat. 

  44. markslater

    absolutely. presidential perpetrators run amock – whether its invading countries or organizing communities.