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4 rules for becoming a community leader

3 min read


Many community managers sell themselves short. While this is undoubtedly in part due to the persistent trend of many organizations to limit the role of community managers to updating their brands Facebook page or LinkedIn group, it does rather render the “manager” part of their job title redundant. Folks like that aren’t really managing anyone. All they’re doing is acting as a mouthpiece for the marketing team.

When community management is done well, however, it doesn’t just require management skills; it requires exceptional leadership skills. If your company is a true social business, then your communities will be used to deliver things that matter to your company. They’ll be delivering great customer service, collaborating on new products and maybe even helping define the future strategy of the organization.

Whether you’re looking to mobilize external stakeholders or internal employees (or both) therefore, you can see that community management is a key leadership skill. Often, however, the community manager doesn’t have access to the traditional motivational toolkit. After all, when you’re dealing with a community of customers, you can’t dock their pay if they don’t perform or ask them to submit a 360-degree feedback form.

Instead you have to be much smarter in engaging your community. You have to use social identity leadership. Social identity leadership differs from the traditional view of leadership as something undertaken by a heroic leader that can bend all to his will. It instead dictates that in order for leaders to lead, they need followers that believe in them and want to be led.

If you want to be a great community leader, here are four rules that will keep you in good stead.

Rule 1: Do you reflect your community? Psychological research has shown that leaders succeed when they reflect the characteristics of their followers.  The more you are seen as “one of us” by your team, the more likely you are to be able to lead them successfully.  This isn’t saying you have to be identical to everyone, but there will be things that matter to your community, and they need to matter to you, too.

Rule 2: Do you champion your community? As well as being seen to reflect your community, you also need to be championing them.  Too often leaders are seen to be in it just for themselves, and it’s therefore not surprising that their leadership capabilities are weak. Leaders need to advance the collective interests of their followers in order to lead them well, so show they you’re on their side as much as you are your employers.

Rule 3: Do you create this identity? Leaders don’t tend to wait for leadership to be bestowed upon them. Instead they create the opportunity by forging the shared identities and policies of their group. If you’re new on the job, you’ll need to fashion the opportunities to show that #1 and #2 apply to you.

Rule 4: Do you turn vision into reality? Leaders should be able to show results in order to achieve a devoted following. Shallow rhetoric might work for a short while, but followers want to see you can translate your words into reality. So if your community are submitting ideas to improve your business, they need to see that those ideas are being delivered.

Community management is crucial if you want to make the transition to a social business. If your community manager can abide by these four rules, then you have a good chance of succeeding.

Adi Gaskell is a blogger and community manager.