Scorecard: Should Startups Have Community Managers?

Marshall poses the question (and does analysis and conducts informal interviews) do startups need Community Managers? He points to my growing list of enterprise class companies who are adopting these roles, but we should also examine the startup.

First of all, if you don’t know what a community manager is, start with these four tenants on my blog, or read the Forrester report (aimed towards corporate, not startups) how to staff for social computing.

An excellent piece, but let’s step it up and look at the bigger question, for startups, corporations, or mid sized companies. The real question to ask is “Should companies engage customers and prospects in a collaborative nature online”. The answer? “it depends”.

Marshall’s post gleans opinions from those that agree and disagree with the notion, all of them make sense, and I’m sure I’d agree that you don’t always need one. For example, the cash strapped company, having a dedicated role to manage community relations is costly, especially when you’re trying to get the next product iteration out. Another thought is that for small startups, nearly everyone is doing community relations, it’s not one specific role. Lastly, a few reasons why it doesn’t make sense is if there is no social aspect to your product, if it’s just being consumed, and no one has questions or needs to develop or share it with others (a component part perhaps) they the need to have relations doesn’t make sense.

Of course there are lots of considerations, Dawn lists out others, for some financial companies this may be a challenge due to legal restrictions (although Mint had Damon Billian as the community manager for some time). But taking a look at most startups (as to how Marshall is referring to them) he’s often asking about the web startups.

[Should Startups Have Community Managers? It depends, use this informal scorecard to conduct self-analysis and to trigger an internal discussion]

Startups are unique compared to large funded corporations, so, let’s list out when it makes sense and when it doesn’t using this scorecard

Add Positive Points. Startups should have a community manager when:
You should tally check marks as “+1” for each of these:

  • Score one point if the startup has a thriving online discussion around their product
  • Score one point if the startup has a thriving discussion around the “lifestyle” that the product provides (different from above)
  • Score one point if the startup has an online web product or service
  • Score one point if the startup wants to improve products from direct customer feedback
  • Score one point if the startup’s business model requires third party developers to help growth
  • Score one point if the startup has a competitor with a community
  • Score one point if the startup has a strong product in the market and is ready for mass adoption
  • Score one point if the startup has a competitor that has a community manager role
  • Score one point if customers are ‘banging at the door’ with questions, suggestions from forums, blogs, and other resources.
  • Score one point if your customers are specifically asking for a community manager
  • Tally your positive score

    Subtract Points. Startups should NOT have a community manager for the following scenarios
    You should tally check marks as “-1” for each of these:

  • Minus one point if the startup is in stealth mode and the product isn’t yet revealed
  • Minus one point if the startup is small enough where everyone can participate
  • Minus one point if no one interacts with your existing products, or perhaps it’s quickly consumed and not discussed
  • Minus one point if the startup is small enough where every employee can act as community liaisons
  • Minus one point if the startup if there is no current online discussion at the “lifestyle” level
  • Minus one point if the startup’s product is failing and all resources should be focused on building the product
  • Minus one point if the product can be supported by the community at a 95% or greater threshold
  • Minus TWO points if the startup’s management and the orginization is not prepared to take in community feedback to make changes.
  • Tally your negative score

    = combine positive and negative points

    Next: Conduct your own self-analysis and have an internal (and external) discussion

    If you can suggest other additions or subtractions, leave a comment below. First, put yourself in the seat of the CEO or COO, does this make business sense?

    I’m not going to give you a single number where a startup should or should not hire a community manager, as I think there are internal factors that will set each companies ‘go or no go’ threshold number, but instead, use this checklist as an internal discussion point and conduct your own self-analysis.