Dru Lavigne: Confessions of a community manager

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Dru Lavigne has been contributing to BSD since late 90s and is now the community manager for PC-BSD. At SCALE9x, which continues in LA through this weekend, she spoke about being a community manager and how to decide whether your project is ready to have one.

What is a community manager?

Each project will have a different job description for the community manager, depending on its needs and goals. A community manager can be filled as a volunteer position, but if you don't have a source of funding, a volunteer community manager can be overwhelmed--it's often a full-time job. That's not to say that you can't have one without the ability to pay someone. But if that is the case, the role should be spread out as a team task to keep from overburdening an individual.

Dru used the four tenets of a community manager definition to summarize what one should be:

  • Community advocate - Advocating for what that community has to offer, both to its members and to those outside
  • Brand evangelist - Every project needs to tell other people that it exists and to get others involved
  • Savvy communicator - A community manager needs to be a good communicator for a lot of reasons
  • Community input gatherer - Be a focus point for community input

Is your project ready for a community manager?

Every community is different, in size, culture, goals, and philosophy. What's happening in your community? How long has it been around, and how mature is it? What are the existing structure and roles? Dru offered several sets of questions you can ask about your open source project's structure to help decide whether you're ready for a community manager:

  • What type of software is created, and who is the intended audience?
  • What is the relationship between developers and non-developers? Or are users of the product primarily developers? Do you need someone communicating between those groups?
  • What is the ratio of contributors to non-contributors? Is the community satisfied with that ratio or does it have a goal to increase contributors?
  • Is there some sort of legal entity, foundation, or other organization that supports the project? If not, are there similar projects or associations you can partner with?
  • Is this a company that wants to open a project to create or work more closely with a community?

You also should consider the funding issues related to your project; for example, whether there are people who are paid to work on the project. This is most likely in a corporate-sponsored project. And if there are some paid contributors and some who are not, you should consider the cultural attitude that the members have towards those who are paid.

Why have a community manager?

Projects that have community managers are generally seen to be mature and to have been around for a time, which is a very positive association. Community managers communicate beyond the community, pointing new users in the right direction and interacting with other projects. Having one also provides a spokesperson for the project, with the benefit of having someone who is the clear point of contact for media requests and interview.

A community manager provides focus, which lets the other members of the community the ability to concentrate on the things that they're good at instead of answering repetitive questions or doing interviews that they're not interested in spending their time on. The community manager as a focal point is a way to catch the many things that can easily fall through the cracks when the community is focusing on its core tasks. New users might leave because a question wasn't answered or a feature went ignored. New contributors might not feel welcomed when they don't get the feedback they're looking for.

Learn more

Dru's slides are content-heavy, so if you're looking for more detail about how to integrate social media, how to motivate users, and the pitfalls of community management, you can get them on SlideShare.

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.

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