05 July 2010 ~ 4 Comments

10 questions to ask when interviewing a potential Community Manager

interview questions for community manager social mediaSince I started this blog about Online Community Management, I have covered a number of topics such as how to recruit a community manager via social media sites, a list of social media and community manager job role templates for you to use as a starting point, whether your new hire should be found internally or externally, and of course whether you need a community manager in the first place.

Once you’ve found a few prospective candidates, how do you make sure you don’t end up hiring the wrong person for your particular role? Should you go for someone with a firm hand, the sort of person who thinks everything goes, or maybe one with Pollyanna tendencies?

Of course, none of the above types of Community Manager are a wise hire; you need someone who can adapt to emerging situations within your online community. Hiring the wrong community manager can have some painfully negative consequences such as PR disasters, legal bills, or collapsing traffic. To make sure you avoid these situations, you can ask a number of questions during the interview process to flush out whether you are faced with a great candidate or not.

1. How many hours does a Community Manager work?

This will tell you whether your candidate truly understands the reality of managing online communities. Technically, unless you close your branded community at set hours, life goes on 24/7 online so candidates need to appreciate they may be on call when needed. If they say 9-5, say thank you and goodbye.

2. What tool do you recommend we build our community/new feature on?

If all they suggest are hosted community platforms, you might have a shill. An open-minded and competent community manager will be able to build a thriving space using free tools if necessary, and will most likely respond by asking what the requirements are, as this will dictate the toolset, not the other way around.

3. Which online communities have you managed in the past and what were your responsibilities?

An obvious question, but one that throws up almost everything you need to know about their skill set. An ex-Community Manager may turn out to be more competent than a Head of Community, depending on the scope of their role and their position in the organisation. As job titles are still very fluid, use this question to flesh out just how experienced they are and whether they were running teams or influencing any other departments.

4. What did you set out to achieve when managing these communities, and did you succeed?

A truthful answer will generally be “Not always.”. A reassuring answer would be “I made some mistakes, but here’s what I learnt:”. An enlightened answer is “Some things worked, some things didn’t, but overall I grew the community whilst increasing engagement because:”. A blank stare is worrying.

5. How would your strategy differ when managing our social media outposts and our branded community?

This is our first question referencing social media. This is a great one for probing for use of buzz words, generic statements about social media and kool-aid, fishbowl, echo chamber reactionism. We’re looking for an in-depth answer outlining the differences of each audience and why each platform should have its own focus and approach (engagement, attrition, monitoring etc), and what that would be. It’s also a good way to check whether the candidate has looked at your community eco-system before walking through your office door.

6. What metrics do you track, and why? How will you communicate these to management?

A Community Manager who doesn’t know which metrics are relevant to their community and doesn’t know how to measure the success of their engagement initiatives will soon run into trouble. A star performer will have some ideas that are pertinent to your community by the time they meet you for an interview. It’s even better if they ask you who will be viewing the report and devise a custom answer based on that.

7. How do you deal with difficult people, arguments in your community, or legal/security risks?

Back to the nitty-gritty of routine community management; how will your candidate take to implementing a solid policy and set of escalation procedures, or write them up from scratch? Asking them for examples of situations they have experienced is useful too. I used to ask candidates in passing how taking the Tube made them feel; you’d be surprised at how many were quick to anger at the mere thought, which didn’t bode well.

8. How would you announce a new feature, initiative or respond to problematic users of the website?

Getting the candidate to draft up some email responses, forum posts or a blog post gives you some insight into their writing and communication skills, and how they approach solving problems by email. You can also find out whether they are finding it easy to pick up on the voice of your company, or have any thoughts about how to modify it when communicating with online customers.

9. Which online communities are you a member of?

I’d expect more than just a Twitter/Facebook answer here. A few niche examples suggest they are capable and aware enough to identify the right places to promote your own community and grow your audience. They are also more likely to have been exposed to different management styles which will help them craft something for your community, rather than blindly rehashing something they read in a book or blog (yes, including this one)

10. What made you choose Community Management as a career? And why are you interested in working for us?

The first part of this question will answer what makes them tick, and what matters to them when building and managing an online community. The second part allows you to ascertain whether they are knowledgeable about your product, passionate about being your digital mouthpiece and evangelising about your company. You could also ask them how they would identify whether an issue needs to be shared with another one of your departments, which also provides a good opportunity to move into describing your company structure and progress the interview to answering their questions.

Hopefully these questions will help you in the process of identifying your perfect Community Manager. Given the importance of the role, it’s worth taking the time to get to know them on a personal level as well, as they will be deeply embedded in your company. Buy them a coffee and find out what their hobbies are!

Can you suggest any other pertinent questions that are worth asking when interviewing community managers? Or do you disagree with any of mine?

[photo by kevincole]

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  • http://twitter.com/Steveology Steve Farnsworth

    My Twitter comment that, “Not sure I agree with them all,” was much more nit-picky then I meant it to sound.

    This is a great set of questions. The only part I don’t agree with are the metric and strategy questions (#5 & #6). I doubt that even a good candidate has had access to required data and people to determine the correct metrics and strategy during the interview process, and answer your questions as posed.

    Goals dictate metrics, and I often find clients are seriously incongruent when it comes to goals. Social media goals need to align and support the communications/marketing goals, which in turn must support the business goals. Rarely has anyone asked if they do.

    Also, are the goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic, and Timefreamed)? If they are, then the metrics should be relatively self-evident. Though some outcome metrics may prove difficult to track, or be cost prohibitive.

    To develop a strategy, and again I find there is great confusion as to what a “strategy” is, I ask 20 to 30 questions that look at community behavior in terms of brand context, social technology preference/use, appropriate/inappropriate engagement, communication humanization, and brand expectations, etc. To draw together those answers requires more access, clarifying, consensus, and time than the interview process allows. I know that is a long answer to why I said I don’t agree with them all, but there it is.

    So, how would I change the questions? I would ask them to walk through their process to answer those questions. In fact, if someone answered those questions without that groundwork I would be deeply concerned. How the hell did they come to their answer?

  • http://twitter.com/hannush Hannush Web and SEO

    Thank you for this list. I think its a great reference also for anyone who is interested in becoming a community manager. It will help them understand where their focus should be and what skill sets they need to develop.

    But taken alone, I think this list could have you missing a really great candidate. Because the world of social marketing is still emerging, there still aren’t standards of practice in place and hiring managers and traditional marketing directors still don’t fully comprehend the space. I think they need to arm themselves with some of this knowledge themselves, and also understand its relation to the entire organization’s strategy and internal needs.

    What is your current hiring situation? If your budget is low, but you requirements dictate a dedicated staffed CM, then you may have to forgo experience in some of these questions and look for diamonds in the rough, who may not answer all of these questions with experience or even have a complete understanding, but have a desire and passion to learn…and demonstrate real world understanding of marketing strategy. Some of my greatest employees did not have experience in the exact role I was putting them in, but had passion for it and for learning. And in a space that is constantly evolving, that passion could run circles around experience, in some cases.

    Also, I think its important for the hiring manager to have a good handle on this top 10 list. Its very easy for candidates to throw out big terms and obscure networks, then dazzle with some creative metrics that may not mean a hill of beans.

    An excellent list. Thank you, I will bookmark this as a reference.

  • laylasabourian

    Thanks for this post, but most of the points you have outlined are common knowledge, what would make an even greater post is if you actually provided examples of some good answers, for instance what metrics would you measure for your community success? Why not include some examples, like “unique visitors converted to registered users”, etc…

  • tua022012

    Thanks for your link. It’s useful for our community.
    Same material can be found at : http://www.humanresources.hrvinet.com/common-metric-questionnaire-cmq-model/
    I hope it’s useful for you and you like it. Please continue sharing more information at this topic.
    Best rgs!