#1 Mastermind: Defining the role of a Community Manager
Introducing the first Co-Liv Community Manager Mastermind powered by Sowebuild
For the first time this year, a large group of 35 global coliving professionals came together to discuss all things coliving, working and modern community management. The goal of the Co-Liv Community Manager Mastermind Series, organized by Co-Liv in cooperation with Sowebuild, is to connect, interact, share and discuss coliving, working and community management:
“With the Mastermind Series we want to do what we love to do: building communities, creating (cultural) exchange and a safe place where everyone feels welcome. In this case, we’ve created a community of coliving experts, to help each other grow, transform, tackle issues and questions within the industry that so far haven’t been answered.” Rick Schols (Co-Founder Sowebuild, Co-Liv Ambassador NL)
The first Mastermind Series session focussed on the significance of the role of the community manager within the whole coliving construct. While there have been several approaches to define the role of a Community Manager, there still isn’t a satisfying explanation. The Mastermind participants discussed their experiences with the role itself, but also spoke about common misunderstandings and issues of what a Community Manager should be like in the eyes of community members, operators, real estate owners and facilitators. To break it down, we’ve focused on the following 3 topics:
The Mastermind Series wants to try shaping the industry and the different definitions of a Community Manager throughout the perspectives of Colivers and Coliving operators. The most important part here is to negotiate about meaning and definition rather than just put another label on it.
Coming together to give recognition to the Community Manager
“At the end of the day what I truly care about is human transformation and that can only happen if we have great cultures within coliving and that is why it all comes down to the role of the community manager.” Gui Perdrix (Director, Co-Liv / Art of Co)
One thing the panel quickly agreed on is that Community Managers (CMs) are usually overworking, underpaid and not appreciated enough. Why so? They hold a very important role, especially because they are often experienced as an intermediary between colivers and operators (building owners / managers) while technically being a part of their community as well. Speaking of overwork and underpayment: especially in the early stages of building a coliving community, the CMs / CFs often find several additional roles assigned to them due to a lack of budget and time, such as Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, problem solver, mediator etc. Sometimes these roles are voluntarily.
The Community manager can be seen as the glue that holds a community together:
“The role of the CM/CF is a link between the community and the business and linking the business to the wellbeing of residents” Gaetan de Dietrich (Head of Community & Sales Hmlet).
Problems and conflict arise once the Community Managers find themselves to be less and less sticky, because the ends just won’t meet.
“A problem is when the business model is not created to [financially] support the role of the community manager.” — Jon Hormaetxe (General Manager Sun and Co. Coliving).
The main conflict lies to say the least in the duality of the role of a Community Manager. To paint a better picture: both their ends are pulled, continuously, sometimes without a break. And while they inherit all these different roles, usually there is too little appreciation for their work, since they are rather made responsible for conflicts or issues within their communities from both sides instead of being acknowledged for all the energy they put in. This especially shows in situations such as the ongoing global pandemic: so called ‘soft skill jobs’ are the first to be cut out or short in order to save budget. And while for the job as a CM/CF at least a basic set of soft skills are required, the label just won’t fit well. The Community Manager is so much more than a replaceable function.
But how do we create room for more appreciation? Well, it’s important to make people aware of the significance, impact and benefits of a talented Community Manager / Facilitator.
Defining the role of the Community Manager
“Community is an emotional connection between people and the role of a community manager is to make that happen” — Gui Perdrix.
While this is a statement all participants of the Mastermind could quickly agree on, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation as well. So let’s dive a little deeper into the different aspects that are currently perceived in the CM role:
- connector of things and beings
- mediator and conflict solver
- also: facility managers, marketing and sales managers
- basically their community’s best cheerleader
Referring to the metaphor about the glue I used earlier, I think that is how the community managers often perceive themselves. They are seen as the center of a community, the connection between the operators and residents’ needs and wishes, while also being their communities most active ambassadors. As they’re the ones holding the ropes, they’re also often made responsible for any kind of conflict and are easily confronted with accusations or problems they shouldn’t be solving (both due to their own urge to take responsibility, but also due to the expectations of stakeholders and colivers). Basically they’re trying to hold up several balls without even flinching. No wonder a lot of community managers lose themselves during the process of community building or face hardships, such as negativity, exhaustion, overwork and underpayment.
But to what extent can a community and can people be truly “managed”? This question is answered by Art of Co and Conscious Coliving in their recently published Community Facilitation Handbook through approaching the definition of the community manager from the perspective of community facilitation:
Introducing the Community Facilitator — an approach for a clearer definition of the role of the Community Manager
“We believe that organic community and human relationships cannot be managed, but rather facilitated in their creation and maintenance. This is why the main focus will be on a crucial role: the one of the community facilitator (CF)” — Extract from The Community Facilitation Handbook.
The word management usually implies the idea of being in control of something or someone. We would lie to ourselves if we would think it to be true that a community, that people are — controllable. But what makes Naima Ritter, Matt Lesniak and Gui Perdrix’s approach so different from the management one?
“The main difference lies in the mindset of community building. Whilst historically, the hospitality industry has tried to create engagement and entertainment with a top-down mindset, meaning having absolute control over the experience that residents and guests go through, community building requires the involvement of its members. The more members are involved and engaged, the stronger the community will be.” The Community Facilitation Handbook.
Once a community manager is seen as a community facilitator, the appreciation and expectations for their work might change as well, as it makes it easier to approach them from a different angle: they involve, agitate, promote, empower and shape a common group identity within the community together with both the residents and operators, rather than obnoxiously try to force ideals and utopian wishes upon the community and/or the operators. Instead of being made responsible all the time, they might be seen for what they are: a very active part of their community that wants nothing more than to create great interactions and a feeling of belonging and home between the residents. Also there is hope that if people, but also the community manager, realize that human interactions as such are not manageable, there might be less pressure, a healthier sense of (social) responsibility might be created and the community could start to work together in a synergy that benefits both the operators and colivers.
Don’t lose yourself in the process
“Coliving’s edge, or “trick” to making its model sustainable, is to shift the onus of the experience from the operator alone, to both the operator and the members. Build with your members, not for your members” Gaëtan de Dietrich (Hmlet).
Let’s be honest: when we do something we love and truly stand for, we naturally have high expectations. While ambition is really important, it’s easy to lose yourself in the process. Coliving is no exception either, since the urge to belong is anchored so deep within ourselves, we often don’t notice when we place the needs of others above our own. In a community manager role, this means placing residents’ needs and / or operators’ wishes above what you might need in order to successfully execute your job. And that is where the trouble comes in. As a community manager it might feel like problem solving and conflict management is part of the job description. That might be true — to a certain extent. Going the extra mile every now and then in order to make everyone feel at home within coliving communities is important, but don’t forget the importance of your own role within the community you’re building as well. You also need enough head space, time and financial assets to not only be able to do your job right, but also to live up to your own expectations. What are your values and dreams and are they still in line with the purpose of the community? If not, why is that? Is it because naturally you achieved something even better or because you don’t feel as connected to your community anymore because you are busy fulfilling other members’ needs? Don’t forget that a community is a team effort. Set boundaries for yourself while remaining open to change and negotiation of the meaning, purpose and goals of your community.
One of the attendees mentioned: “Community is an ecosystem created and supported by like-minded people who share space and values and are engaged in common activities. An ideal manager has an open mind, empathy, stress-resistance, respect to house rules and creative approach to managing day-to-day issues.”
What a Community manager is not
While it is hard to find an accurate definition what a community manager should be like, let’s focus on the things we are not:
1. Customer Support
There is a fine line between the community managers and the operations managers tasks. Responsible for a lot of things, CMs are not there to fix the elevator or answer service desk questions 24/7. In fact, CMs might not have any operational duties depending on the structure of the coliving business. CMs are likely to focus on communal and experience processes only.
2. Emotional counsellors
“A community is a group of people who feel safe around each other because they believe in a system of wholesomeness. If one disagrees it means they would find a middle ground to agree. Critical to community management are conflict resolution, communication and open mindedness.’, one of the attendees states.
While the Community Manager usually holds a mediator role between operators and residents, this does not make them emotional counsellors. They can’t and won’t fix every personal drama or conflict that might occur within the community, but are happy to help if it is in their power (and work field related) but there are boundaries.
3. Sales & Marketing Managers
Generally, during the starting phase of a coliving project, there are budget restrictions. Community Managers often find themselves expected to fulfill several roles at once. Of course they can be asked to participate and provide valuable information about their communities, however, marketing campaigns, as well as the acquisition of new members should be lying in the responsibility of marketing and sales managers. This way the Community Manager can focus on what they are doing best: creating a sense of home and belonging within their community and fostering authentic connection.
“A clear demarcation between operations and community is very important. It is important these are two distinct roles, because although for a member it may seem like the same role, it requires different skill sets. Otherwise it can lead to confusion and members might not be sure what to expect from whom.” — Gaetan de Dietrich, Hmlet
The definition of the Community Manager is fluid and negotiable
The Mastermind Series discussed many different aspects of the expectations and ideals of a Community Manager. While there are many approaches and extensions, which makes it hard to break the role of Community Manager down, the statement below is what we could concluded together as a group of Community Managers, Community Facilitators, founders and more:
A Community Facilitator / Community Manager is “A person responsible for community building by facilitating group interactions and communications and bridging the gap between community needs and operational processes. Their ultimate goal is to support the emergence and maintenance of community by enabling residents to foster authentic connection, fulfill their individual needs and catalyse collective engagement.” — The Community Facilitator Handbook.
As a group, we’ll continue to negotiate and discuss the meaning, appreciation, challenges and fortunes of the role of Community Manager within our global coliving and coworking communities.
Want to join us in the process? Get in touch with Co-Liv and Sowebuild or follow our journey on social media.
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Co-Liv is non-profit think and do-tank focussed on creating valuable content, events and initiatives that help foster the coliving industry. With 300+ worldwide members and 35+ ambassadors in five continents, Co-Liv helps its members through networking events, educational tools and resources to achieve faster business growth. Its social vision is also being translated into the yearly Co-Liv Summit, the major industry event, which will take place on may 5th & 6th 2021. Join Co-Liv today!
With lots of co-love,
The Co-Liv Team
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