Takeaways From Community Manager UnConference NYC

It was an honor to learn, share and collaborate with this great group of community managers.
Image by Laura Horak

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a lot of tweeting about community management stuff all last weekend. That’s because I was in New York City for the Community Management Unconference, and I was so blown away by what was being shared that I had to share too. There’s something about being in a room filled with people who are passionate about community that put me totally in my element.

I’m still processing everything we talked about, but I came away with  plenty of thoughts and ideas about communities, community management, and the evolution and future of online communities, and I’d like to share those with you.

I give you: my top takeaways from the Community Manager Unconference:

It’s important to understand the deep roles within a community

During Ric Dragon‘s  talk, he compared online communities to feudal systems and dysfunctional families, but that isn’t to be taken in a negative way. The members of an online community all have deep roles, even if those roles weren’t directly assigned to them. Roles can be nurturing or even critical but they’re all important. It’s essential for the community manager not to discourage the deep roles each community member takes, but to analyze them, know how they work and understand where each person fits into the different roles.

The future of community isn’t a social network, a list, Likes, or a bunch of numbers

If you truly want to be a successful community manager, you have to get to know your community in a big way. This goes beyond Likes and Shares. It’s time  to get into the hows and whys. In order to manage any online community it’s important to learn the true, nitty gritty details. For example, why are folks joining the community? What are their habits? What are they hoping to get out of the community?  What are they sharing? What are they reading?  Who are their heroes? What areas of your community does each particular community member spend time at the most? Which conversations lead to the most productive discussions?

The future of community management isn’t how many Likes you receive on Facebook, nor is it how many people are following on Twitter. It isn’t even how many sales you reel in as a result. The future of community management is psychology, anthropology, history, analytics, and statistics. It’s learning about who you’re interacting with so you know how to make the most of that interaction. You can’t give people what they want or expect them to advocate for you unless you provide them with the most positive experience possible.

Thanks to Jury Klepic for reminding us to go beyond the numbers and into the mindset.

Brands are so busy looking at numbers they’re not necessarily seeing the big picture

A common frustration among many of the community managers I met last weekend is how big a role numbers play in their jobs. They feel the people in the C-suites are paying more attention to a bunch of numbers on a social network than the things they should really be into. They’re also paying more attention to sales than anything else. While we all know the main goal of building an online community is generally to lead to sales, this is just a small part of what we should be looking at.

What can be more important than numbers?

  • Loyalty:  Knowing how a community feels about the brand is worth its weight in gold. When you have a loyal community they’ll go all out for you. They’ll provide positive feedback, give recommendations, and when it comes to purchasing time they’ll consider your brand over others. Moreover, a positive, active community is like a magnet for bringing in others.
  • Word of mouth marketing: People don’t buy every day or even every week. However, when they’re not buying they might still be talking about you. Don’t underestimate the importance of word of mouth marketing and brand advocacy among your community members.
  • Affection: Positivity is a powerful tool. Seeing happy people talk about your brand is better than any advertising your brand can buy.
Brands have to look beyond the numbers. Indeed, sales are important, but when people have your back it can explode sales and  brand recognition beyond your wildest dreams.

Community managers are still having to prove their value to their brands

The community manager is absolutely the most important person on the team. We’re the voice of the brand and we’re the people the members of our communities come to when they need someone they can talk to. We have the trust of both the brand and the community and make sure there’s an open dialogue between both.We’re also the people who share important information with the brand about the people who use their products and services. Through our outreach we learn about our individual members’ wants and needs and take the necessary steps to ensure everyone’s happiness. You can’t trust this type of responsibility to an intern or a glorified tweeter.

Yet, community managers are still having to prove our value to people who aren’t sure we’re necessary or feel community management is a low paying, entry level position. We’re still having to show that the job is more than a bunch of Likes and follows. You’ll rarely find people who are more passionate about their jobs and the people they represent than community managers. Let’s hope brands start appreciating that passion (and the results of said passion) soon.

Setting boundaries and taking time away from the community is equally as important as everything else

No one can be online 24/7 but sometimes it feels as if that’s what’s expected. Many community managers are so busy taking care of everyone else, they’re not taking care of themselves. Judy Martin not only showed us the important of relaxation and deep breathing exercises throughout the day, but she also reminded us how important it is to step away from our desk and:

  • Go for a walk
  • Have lunch with some friends
  • Run some errands
  • Take a catnap
  • Do anything but work
We’re no good to anyone if we’re stressed out and cranky. Setting limits for our time and taking time for us could be the most important thing we do for our communities as well.

Sometimes the best learning is done in a more intimate setting

You know what was missing from Community Manager Unconference NYC? Egos and loud parties.

I’ve been to many conferences, and I’ve always walked away with something of value. However, there’s something about stripping down the conference experience and removing the big names, swag, parties and vast corridors, and just hanging out in a room of like-minded people. I learned more about community management last Saturday than I have throughout all my years of doing this and I believe the unconference experience lent well to that.

Internet Media Labs in New York City was the perfect setting for the UnConference. There were no slides or microphones, and most important, everyone checked their egos at the door. Instead of stages, podiums, panels, and pontification, we discussed, shared and collaborated.  No one insisted their way was the best way, and everyone tossed around ideas and shared how we can best help our communities and brands.

The most important thing you can tell your community is:

Angela Maiers presented what I felt was the most important tip of the day: The most important thing you can tell people every day is “you matter.” When we take time each day to let people in our community know how special they are to us , we’ll matter for them in return. Like Angela’s smile, caring is infectious. Don’t forget to tell your community they’re important to you. You’ll see, it will make all the difference in the world.


Thank you to Tim McDonald, Brandie McCallum and the rest of the My Community Manager team for putting on an absolutely fantastic and valuable experience, and thanks t0 all the community  managers who gathered to share, commiserate and contemplate. Let’s do this again soon.


The Community Manager Unconference is taking its show on the road. Keep an eye out for dates, folks, this is one you won’t want to miss.

Recommended Reading:

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  1. Ric Dragon says:

    Great seeing you and discussing life and communities, Deb – and so glad you found something useful about my presentation.

  2. Isn’t Angela Maiers a peach? So much passion and motivation wrapped up her…I wish I could bottle it and sell it!

  3. This writeup makes me miss everyone! Thanks so much for sharing, Deb, and thanks so much for being a part of the experience! I love how you pointed out that the only thing missing was egos and loud parties. :)

  4. Jenn Emerson says:

    Thank you for posting this, Deb. (I wish I could have been there!) This info is invaluable. I will be printing out and forwarding to my community stakeholders. :)