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The Community Manager as a Horizontal Position

Horizontal LadderThere’s a lot of talk about whom a community manager should report to. Marketing? Product? Support?

I’ll throw my two cents out there and say I think a Community Manager should report directly to the CEO. The Community Manager can only be effective as a horizontal, not vertical, position.

Hear me out.

For many jobs, being vertical makes sense. If you’re doing QA you’re going to report to the VP of Engineering, who will then mobilize his team to fix the issues you find. Both these positions make sense vertically. The VP of Marketing doesn’t need to know about issues that QA finds during testing. The HR lead certainly doesn’t. And similarly, the VP of Engineering doesn’t need to know about the advertising campaigns currently being run.

So what roles are horizontal? The CEO, primarily. The CEO *does* need to know about what’s happening with engineering, marketing, sales, and HR. He or she brings it all together, and all the pieces affect each other.

I think it’s exactly the same for a community manager. How can you represent a company if you don’t know what’s happening within it? If you don’t know how the sales guys act on the phone, how can you honestly tell someone on Twitter that the company cares about their issue? If you don’t know what engineering is working on, how can you tell the guy who comes to your meetup whether his frustrations will ever get addressed? If you don’t know what the marketing department is doing, how can you answer allegations about your advertising being offensive?

What the Community Manager does affects every department and what every department does affects the Community Manager.

So how does one live horizontally?

  • Report to the CEO. You are not part of the marketing department. You are part of every department. And you need the muscle of the CEO to be able to get access.
  • Establish a clear company culture. It’s easy for coworkers to dismiss your work as “lovely dovey”. Work with them to establish company values, and then leverage those when working with these coworkers. It’s hard for them to argue with something they helped create.
  • Be everywhere. You should attend all major discussions and decisions, even if you’re often silent. You need to know what’s going on, and the best way to know is to be present.
  • Share notes. Work regularly with department heads to ensure your community outreach is not misrepresenting their work. Work with department heads to ensure what they’re doing isn’t out of line with your community outreach.
  • Review everything. Regularly audit all departments to ensure they are in line with the company culture and your community outreach. Be gentle about it – you hate the boss that butts in to rifle through your work and tell you what you’re doing wrong. Don’t be that guy. Quietly observe and then provide clear, gentle suggestions for improvement.
  • Communicate. Be available and proactive about providing insight based on your knowledge. Establish clear lines of communication with all sections of the company so you can instantly interface with them and vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying this will be easy. I’m not saying it’ll happen tomorrow (It’s my manifesto and I certainly haven’t accomplished all of this!), but you need to push for it. Doing community management in a corner isn’t putting your community’s health or your own mental health first. We need to step up and be a champion of our customers across the company, not just on Twitter. Let’s do it.


Evan Hamilton is addicted to helping people build things. Currently he is Community Manager at UserVoice, where he handles social media, content creation, customer support, and community-building. Evan writes the blog “Understanding Your Customers” for UserVoice, featuring insights into succeeding through great customer service.  In addition to his daily duties at UserVoice, Evan has also spoken about customer engagement at events like Failcon and Social Media Week and once won the “Best One-man Show” at Macworld. When he finds some free time he likes to play rollicking americana music as Kicking Tuesday.

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About the author

Evan Hamilton

Evan Hamilton is addicted to helping people build things. Currently he is Community Manager at UserVoice, where he handles social media, content creation, customer support, and community-building. Evan writes the blog “Understanding Your Customers” for UserVoice, featuring insights into succeeding through great customer service. In addition to his daily duties at UserVoice, Evan has also spoken about customer engagement at events like Failcon and Social Media Week and once won the “Best One-man Show” at Macworld. When he finds some free time he likes to play rollicking americana music as Kicking Tuesday.

6 comments
MeganMurray1
MeganMurray1

Also, do not love livefyre.... bit of a barrier to insist that I log in with a service AND create a livefyre acct (hence the weird 1 and the end of my name). Blech! :)

MeganMurray1
MeganMurray1

Love this post, Evan. I knew more about my company than most executives I supported as a community manager. I often caution those I'm consulting on just that topic. As with all things social on the inside, you're dealing with a lens. Get ready to see some awesome and some ugly! Having to build and support relationships that permeate the hierarchy makes it impossible not to. Recognizing that early is painfully difficult for those trying to force the open and messy work of social humans into old and brittle structures. My .02 is that a cmgr should hold a corporate, company-wide role. Reporting to the CEO mandates that the CEO be up to speed and ready to go, which isn't the case more often than not. The best internal cmgrs will make it a personal goal to educate that CEO, show the business value of that relationship and create that company-wide role in the spot that works best at the time. Keep on chippin' away, there's good stuff underneath. 

LaurenVargas
LaurenVargas

Evan, good post. I think this really emphasizes the point that a community manager is strategic and should not be pigeonholed as being 100% tactical. However, I don't think it matters so much as who you report to as much as it matters that you act as the company hub (not bottleneck) and work in a collaborative space.

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