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The role of the community manager in crowdsourcing

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The role of the community manager in crowdsourcing

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Having worked amongst community managers for many years, it’s rare to find one that works in the crowdsourcing field.  The majority seem to work in consumer related fields, handling customer support or often merely some fuzzy social media stuff.

It’s perhaps fair to say therefore that the role of community manager in crowdsourcing is perhaps a little under appreciated, which given the large numbers of people such projects bring together is more than a little peculiar.  Nevertheless, the role of the community manager in crowdsourcing is slightly different to consumer related tasks, so I thought it might be valuable to highlight some of the key roles the community manager plays when it comes to crowdsourcing.

It’s based loosely around the work of Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom and her work on governing the commons, which is well worth a read if you work in this field.  She outlines eight distinct roles that go into successful management of any precious resource, of which of course, your community is one.


The first role is one that most community managers will be all too familiar with.  Pretty much every community manager will be tasked with monitoring their domain, be that a discussion forum, a social network account, a subject matter area, or of course a crowdsourced project.  Suffice to say that the key to monitoring in this context is monitoring the right things.  You want your community manager to be gauging what is working and what isn’t working in your project.

Customer support

This is again, something most community managers will be very familiar with, as the web is sadly infamous for the ease with which disagreements flair up.  With a crowdsourcing project however, the disagreements probably have graver consequences, so your community manager will need to be well aware of the rules of the project and of course the style of the competition you’re running.


The community manager should also act as the official advocate for the project.  In most instances you will be the first point of contact for members of the community, and as such you will automatically become the de-facto voice of that community.  As such, you will be required to represent that community inside the sponsoring company.

The law

Most communities have rules and policies to ensure things operate smoothly, and your crowdsourcing project will be no different.  It will be the job of the community manager to ensure those rules are upheld, and to sanction members that step out of line.  On a crowdsourced project, these breaches are usually going to be things like trying to game the system or intellectual property violations.  As such, the community manager needs to have a good understanding of the legal and licensing framework the competition operates within, and be close to the legal team at the sponsoring company.

The resource conduit

Part of the value exchange of signing up to a crowdsourcing competition may be access to resources, be they human or technical.  The community manager needs to be the guide to successful usage of these shared resources.

Tapping the wisdom

Most crowdsourcing projects allow various levels of involvement.  For instance, many will allow participants to offer solutions to the problem posed but also to vote on the entries of other participants.  This involvement gives members a stake in the outcome of the project, so a crucial role of the community manager is to encourage involvement at all levels.

Live the values

I mentioned in a previous blog the importance of social good in motivating participants to get involved.  As such, it’s crucial that the community manager communicates the values of the project clearly and frequently.  What’s more, they need to make clear that by joining the community, it’s expected that members will also abide by these values.

Scaling the project

The final task of the community manager is to ensure that a satisfactory level of relationship is maintained as the project scales and more participants are attracted to it.  This is typically done by nesting the project off, for instance along functional lines, or by particular project types.

No doubt there are other things that will fall under the community manager’s remit, but if they can perform these tasks well, then the project stands a much better chance of success.  Before I leave, it should also be said that when crowdsourcing is applied internally, as with the IBM idea jams or Cemex’s Shift platform, the role of community manager often falls onto middle managers.  As community management is not something that is typically within their remit, this is something that should be considered if internal crowdsourcing is to succeed.

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