What Does a Community Strategist Do?

What is a Community Strategist?“So what would you say you do here?”  might just be one of my all time favorite Office Space quotes. And it’s something that goes through my head at least once daily when someone inevitably asks me what I do.

Assuming we all know the difference between a social media manager and a community manager, what IS the difference between a community strategist and a community manager? The easy answer is experience. Just like with any title, it implies the level at which you are at professionally. A community coordinator is entry level,  community manager is more experienced, and a community strategist is responsible for all of the higher level thinking with a seat at the table. Many would argue that the term “Community Manager” is fairly inaccurate and very vague on what it actually is the person does, which is why we need to start understanding the job descriptions we’re writing, the titles we’re handing out, and the jobs that need to be done.

Naturally much of this depends on the size and maturity of your organization, but as the business begins to scale, the correct structure of a team should begin to take shape.


Q1: How does a Community Strategist differ from a community manager? What do they do/ Who are the *best*?

mbhahn One manages campaigns to build growth and sustainability and one manages the community itself

justinisaf  As always a #cmgr does it all, incl. strat. A community strategist is a more specialized role focused on big picture.

corecorina  Ahhh.. since I play both roles, I can distinguish easily! Strategist = strategy/planning Manager = execution/insight

rhappe  to me strategists are a lot less hands on, much more research and business focused and responsible for enterprise standards

pushingvision Strategy is about planning. Managing is about doing. It’s the thought (and purpose) behind the action.

apdolan  Strategist implies a beforehand/planning vibe – while Cmgr is in the trenches as the day-to-day happens.

BrianSchalk  Community Strategists work with the process of defining, integrating & innovating the #cmgr role for the benefit of client

corecorina Any good community manager IS a community strategist. It’s a way of thinking, not just a ‘job’.


Q2: Assume your organization is just beginning. What are the first steps for a strategist?

NataliaForsyth Research! See where your target audience is active socially. Check out like-minded companies and their platforms

rhappe  Listen, understand, be curious, ask a lot of questions, interview/survey stakeholders

rhappe I think of initial goals as identifying sweet spots where organizational and stakeholder interests overlap

corecorina  A good strategist will first take stock of the company’s situation and determine resources, obstacles/impediments and goals.

tina_yip  Figure out business objective, define target audience, define the appropriate tone/ voice and go from there

hillaryboucher  Do a community audit. Interview diverse stakeholders. Listen. Identify big picture goals. Create a map to get there.

vargasl  Align biz goals with cmty strategy and add context to each touchpoint internal and external of org.

BeckyBol  Define your purpose. Why are there? What are you trying to accomplish? In what ways will community members be able to engage?

SueOnTheWeb  First define goals of community. You can figure out how to get there if you don’t know where you are going.

JPedde  Get together your product team. Understand it, ask questions, be the user.

JPedde  Figure out how social & community fit in with other departments. Marketing, Sales, Support, PR, Product all want to play


Q3: What resources/people do you recommend for learning more about effective community strategies?

vargasl  Resource = time…no cookie cutter model. You need time to build foundational elements that work for your org.

vargasl   Go beyond CM cmty. Look at how traditional communities are built, managed, and grow. Use natural order as inspiration!

vargasl I really like the safe haven environment of @TheCR to talk about how things work and addressing sticky conversations w/in org

JayPellis I have found (so far) skimming/reading books, blogs, websites, and #cmgrchat are the best resources. Put it together with common sense.

corecorina  I get most benefit out of talking to other community managers; even in totally opposite verticals, the learnings apply to me

corecorina I have really enjoyed attending BlogWorld (now New Media Expo) — very passionate and active group of social media people.

HeyVeronica  I just started using Sprout Social and I love it. Currently in the free trial stage but will def be buying

evanhamilton DOING community management is a great learning tool. Talking to other CMs. Books. Feverbee. Seth Godin. Many grains of salt

rhappe This year’s State of Community Mgmt is targeted toward the Cmty Strategist – based on our work w others –

rhappe There are many community case studies on our Slideshare favorites – Peer learning in this space is key for me

rhappe There is a lot of social science research on the power of influence and the power of peers in education, psychology & politics

JPedde: We have this giant list of books to get you started on some high level thinking:

JPedde   Look into communication theories, psychology/sociology/anthropology. What makes a group of ppl tick?

marieconnelly  Picked up “Building Successful Online Communities” at @RichMillington‘s rec and am finding it very helpful this summer

jimstorer A3: @NancyWhite was one of the first people I connected w/ around community (late 1990s) & is still one of the best.


Q4: Is it more important to have community experience or business experience to be a good community strategist? Why?

GabieKur:  Community experience > biz. Need to learn how to engage without pushing the sell, but still monetizing at the same time.

vargasl  Not one b/w answer. Both are important and may have more importance at different stages of org maturity.

evanhamilton In my mind any Community position requires empathy first. Business skills are great, but useless if you don’t “get” people.

comfactscom  Community. An understanding of community is needed before you can translate business goals into social metrics.

amywhiggins  Community experience. One must learn how to walk b4 run

hillaryboucher Both you need both. Possible that it comes from different ppl w/ different experiences working together closely

rhappe This may be unpopular but I would say getting business experience & judgement will serve your success better as a Strategist

corecorina  I wouldn’t hire someone to be a lead on strategy or execution if they didn’t bring business and community experience to table.

corecorina Let’s not polarize things. Business and Community go hand in hand.. how you’d succeed in one w/out the other is beyond me.

EvanWatkins83  I think it’s a mix of both. You need to have the community experience to execute, but business experience to strategize.

tina_yip  Community. But you should still have the business objectives in mind and align both aspects

JPedde  I debate this all the time. Is it Talent vs Vision vs Experience vs Passion vs Biz acumen? It’s the rare perfect blend of it all.

AutumnMcRey  Definitely both. Without strategy, your community lacks purpose (for biz), but without engagement, it doesn’t exist

rhappe One thing to keep in mind is the experience and strength needed in a strategist will vary greatly by organizational size & culture


Q5: As a strategist, how do you measure an effective community strategy?

corecorina   A good strategy has clear KPIs to measure against. Typically growth, engagement, reach, and potentially conversion.

vargasl Look at the overall cmty health. Find the right combination of metrics, weighted to represent org / cmty maturity.

vargasl Brand Engagement, Internal Engagement, Industry Engagement, Content Curation/Creation = Cmty Health

rhappe Strategists second job is to know what success looks like specifically and get buy in for that… and then measure to that.

rhappe For some companies, satisfaction is a key measure for others it’s sales, or cost reductions or quality/speed

evanhamilton As others are saying, a strategists measures based on strategy. Are you acquiring customers? Retaining? Building buzz?

JPedde  Referrals, Interactions, Attendance at events, actionable tasks…

jimstorer  Whatever makes your CEO happy/successful. 🙂


This digest was taken from the #cmgrchat that took place on Wednesday August 22nd in conjuction with @TheCR and @WOMMA who host a series of certification courses.  If anything in this digest inspired you, please reach out to us to considering writing a follow up.

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About the author

Jenn Pedde

Jenn is a Co-Founder of The Community Manager and the Editor-In-Chief. She’s also an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. You can find her almost anywhere online, but specifically on #CmgrChat every Wednesday from 2-3pm ET.


Great article and wrap up!


Community Strategist is the one who's gonna take the fluffy touchy feely big ideas, articulate the strategy, break those strategic items into raw actionable tactics, and define the KPI's against them. 


Thanks for including me in your summary!