On this episode of Community Signal, community management consultant Tanja Laub gives a full report on what it’s like to work as a community manager in Germany. And perhaps not too surprising, the experience is not dissimilar to what guests from the United States and other countries have described. Tanja shares a breakdown of community manager responsibilities, typical salaries, and the limitations and opportunities that she’s seen in the field so far.
Tanja is also a chairperson for BVCM, an association for Germany community managers, where she has helped develop a certification procedure for community and social media managers. Rather than requiring professionals to take a class to become certified, community managers instead verify their professional history and some other details about themselves to get the certification. Between that and her work to help organizations refine their hiring needs and community manager role descriptions, Tanja is helping to set the standard for what it means to work in community management.
Tanja and Patrick also discuss:
- The value of certifications
- How moderation norms compare to other countries, like Australia and the United States
- What Tanja sees as areas of opportunity for communities in Germany
On building your community with your community (18:40): “If you’re [making] changes [to the community] without them knowing, [community members will ask:] ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you change that?’ Even if it’s a minor thing. The greatest [thing] … would be to develop the community together with the users, to ask them in advance, ‘How do you want to have that feature? What works best for you? Here are two versions, look at them, work with them. Which one do you want to have? Which one shall we put into the community? What kinds of changes should we make?'” –@TanjaOnTour
About Tanja Laub
Tanja Laub has worked in community management since 2006. She spoke communities for a big European media company RTL Media Group, including one about cooking, the other for women, and was head of community for Douglas, a perfume chain, essentially the European Sephora.
Since 2010, she has been a community and social media management consultant with a focus on own platforms. Tanja also gives trainings and workshops. Since 2017, she has been the chairwoman of BVCM, a German association for professional community and social media managers. They’re offering certifications and define the job descriptions to help companies better understand who they want to hire and what they need. The organization also conducts a survey to better know the market and problems of their professionals.
- Tanja Laub on Twitter
- Walkabout Media
- RTL Media Group and Douglas, where Tanja previously worked
- BVCM, the Federal Association for Community Managers
- 2019 Australian Community Managers Career Survey
- Community builder, manager, and strategist Venessa Paech
- Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or NetzDG
- Bianca Oertel, a community professional who works at Motor Talk
- Chefkoch, a cooking and baking community
- Voycer, a software company focused on the German market
- Article by Tanja about the role of a community manager on company-owned platforms
- Julie Hamel on Community Signal
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. On this episode, our guest is Tanja Laub, who leads an organization for German community pros. We’re talking about compensation and career advancement in Germany, why community managers are product managers, and the value of certifications.
A huge thanks to our supporters on Patreon, your consistent support of the show means a lot. This includes Serena Snoad, Heather Champ, and Maggie McGarry. If you find value in the show, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for more details.
Tanja Laub has worked in community management since 2006. She’s built communities for a big European media company RTL Media Group, including one about cooking, the other for women, and was head of community for Douglas, a perfume chain, essentially the European Sephora. Since 2010, she has been a community and social media management consultant with a focus on owned platforms. Tanja also gives trainings and workshops. Since 2017, she has been the chairwoman of BVCM, a German association for professional community and social media managers. They’re offering certifications and define the job descriptions to help companies better understand who they want to hire and what they need. The organization also conducts a survey to better know the market and problems of their professionals. Tanja, welcome to the show.
[00:01:35] Tanja Laub: Hey, great to be here.
[00:01:36] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s great to have you. It’s funny because when I was thinking about community management in Germany, Tom Newting immediately came to mind as he’s someone I bumped into online for many years and come to find out you’re the leader of an organization that he founded. I was like, “That’s great. That’s a small world. It’s funny.”
[00:01:52] Tanja Laub: Yes, it’s interesting to see how small the community management world is. Even in the scale of worldwide, you are bumping into the same people everywhere. Tom is great. Yes, he founded the association in 2008.
[00:02:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Tell me about community management in Germany.
[00:02:08] Tanja Laub: Well, it’s interesting to see that there are some things we all share working in this field worldwide. I’ve just read the Australian survey the other day and it was interesting to see how many similarities there are to the German market.
[00:02:21] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re talking about the ACM survey?
[00:02:23] Tanja Laub: Yes, exactly.
[00:02:25] Patrick O’Keefe: I think Venessa Paech is part of that?
[00:02:26] Tanja Laub: Yes, exactly.
[00:02:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Awesome. Okay.
[00:02:29] Tanja Laub: It’s interesting to see the job over there is not really recognized or appreciated yet like it’s over here. It’s often unclear what a social media and a community manager does and how the two of them differ. We’re all having to do with hate speech and harassment, and that’s something I see in other countries as well. That’s where we’re on the same scale, but in other things, we’re still a bit far back from Germany, especially when it comes to online community management, and especially with what’s the difference between a community manager and a social media manager. A lot of companies don’t understand that, they have no clue what it is. For them, everyone working with social media is a social media manager, no matter what they’re doing.
[00:03:14] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to talk about this great survey that you do on the German community space, but you just mentioned hate speech and I thought it’d be interesting because you’ve mentioned how you read the ACM survey and how Australian community managers have to deal with hate speech. What do you think is unique in Germany when it comes to dealing with hate speech as opposed to what you’ve seen from other countries?
[00:03:33] Tanja Laub: I’m not sure if there’s anything unique about it, because at the moment it’s the same there, especially in areas like media and politics, where you have the main problems with it, but it can happen everywhere, with everyone, to every company. People just feel like they’re much stronger on the internet and when they’re screaming louder, well, they get hurt. We still have to find our way how to really react to them. Some companies decided to, “Okay, we’re just disconnecting the comment sections so no one can comment anymore.” That’s not the right way. You really have to go in there to talk with the people, to moderate it. Still, a lot of companies have turned around and see that and are looking for the right way how to handle it.
[00:04:24] Patrick O’Keefe: When you think about hate speech in Germany, are the laws on your side, do you think? Do they work in favor of the people managing online communities or do they work against you?
[00:04:33] Tanja Laub: Kind of hard to say. They just created a new legislation. It’s called Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz. That is to protect everything around hate speech, but it’s not really used, because mainly people are using the normal buttons on Facebook if they want to say “Okay, here’s something wrong,” and they’re not using the new legislation, so there are not a lot of things coming in. I think what will have to change is that Facebook always just says, “This doesn’t apply against our common rules.”
It’s not their job to do everything, but well, there is somehow within it they do have to do something about it. They can’t just always say, “Well, that’s not against it.” They really have to look into it more, and not just everything from a machine, but really put people there who know what they’re doing, who know what the difference is.
[00:05:35] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting. Do you feel that Facebook in that context is applying its rules from, say, other countries, and not just, say, maybe the U.S. to the German market? Is that part of the disconnect, would you say, or is it just something totally different?
[00:05:53] Tanja Laub: Yes, that might be part of it, and it’s also probably they just don’t really care.
[00:05:59] Patrick O’Keefe: Right. [chuckles]
[00:06:00] Tanja Laub: It’s like, “That’s not our business. We are just having the platform and what you’re doing on your page, the problems you’re having with your users, that’s your problem.” They’re responsible, they’re not really taking that on.
[00:06:16] Patrick O’Keefe: For years, BVCM has produced a survey for the community industry in Germany, and I’d love to get into a little bit of that data. I’m always interested, especially in salary data and what people are making, because I feel like it represents tremendous value to people who work in this space. It gives them negotiating power, it gives them an understanding of what they could be making, what they should be making, what other people are making. That’s really powerful data. In your research, what do community professionals get paid in Germany?
[00:06:44] Tanja Laub: Well, what they’re getting paid is aligned with other jobs in that area, like an online editor. If you’re looking at it, they’re mainly between 30,000 and 40,000, that’s where the majority is. The salaries grew in the last few years, and the people who are earning really, really less, there are less people of that. There is a difference if you work as a community manager, a social media manager, or a corporate community manager. Community and social media manager are both in the area of 30,0000 to 40,000, but with the community manager, they’re earning over 40,000, whereas the social media manager is more up to 30,000. The ones that are earning the most are the corporate community managers, no one is under starting 40,000 and most are just starting at around 50,000, that was 69%.
[00:07:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Got it. In your case, the definition there between a community manager that’s making 30 to 40 and a corporate community manager, are those internal communities, like for the employees, or what’s the differentiator there between, say, the community manager and the corporate community manager?
[00:07:59] Tanja Laub: Yes, exactly. Corporate is the internal one taking care of the employees, the normal community manager. Not to say the other one is not normal… The community manager is the one taking care of external, no matter if it’s a standalone-owned platform or a social network.
[00:08:20] Patrick O’Keefe: Got it, when you say 50,000, that’s €50,000, right?
[00:08:24] Tanja Laub: Yes, exactly.
[00:08:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Got it. For those of us in the U.S. the rough conversion there is $55,000 U.S. right now. What are the more senior-level roles that you see for community? Are there senior community managers? Are there heads of community? Are there people who crack into, say, €60,000, €70,000, €80,000, even if they are rare €60,000, €70,000, €80,000?
[00:08:43] Tanja Laub: There are a few. Even so, there are not that many, but yes, we do have them. Senior roles are leading a team so that you’re not on your own anymore where you have to take care of the community. I also see that a lot of people working in the field of community, instead of developing there, they’re changing jobs. They’re staying in the digital field, but their career then is more like any other digital field and not in community management.
[00:09:14] Patrick O’Keefe: What do they end up doing?
[00:09:16] Tanja Laub: It’s more like communications or digitalization overall in the company.
[00:09:21] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned there’s a few out there that lead a team, right? They’re not common. Is there an example you can point to of one German company or organization that has, say, the mature team in Germany or a more mature community team?
[00:09:33] Tanja Laub: Yes, there is when we’re talking about standalone platforms, Motor Talk, where Bianca Oertel works, some people might know her. Yes, they’re doing a great job and they’re around for years, so they’re pretty advanced in what they’re doing.
[00:09:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Before the show, you told me that we, meaning the German community market, German community pros, we are really far back when it comes to owned platforms and I would love to change that. We have a few really big communities, but they’re already a few years old. Talk about that a little bit. Who’s serving the German market?
[00:10:07] Tanja Laub: Well, we have Motor Talk, as I just said, and we have Chefkoch. They are both really great and they’re both pretty big, but if I’m looking to countries like the States, Australia, also our neighbor countries in the UK or Netherlands, they are so much more advanced than we are. I’m missing some new platforms on the market, especially when it comes to retail. You can do so many really, really cool things there. You can develop products with your customers, you can use their opinion to improve your own products, and you can let them be the voice of the company or integrate it in other features like your membership card. There are so many possibilities, but the companies don’t really see the value of it yet. They’re still just focused on social media, Facebook and that kind of stuff. They’re also really anxious about investing money and time. They’re not really taking the time. They’re just taking three months, “That’s not working. Okay, we’re not doing it.”
[00:11:10] Patrick O’Keefe: Right. [chuckles]
[00:11:13] Tanja Laub: It’s frustrating. [chuckles]
[00:11:13] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, way too short. I think it’s funny because a lot of people in the US feel like what you just said is true here, but if you look around the world, and I think you’re speaking to that perspective now, a lot of people will look to the U.S. and say, “I wish we were there with the level of investment that exists.” It’s always a grass is greener type of thing, I guess. Or maybe in the U.S. we just don’t appreciate what we have. With the companies that do have their own owned platforms, what are the most popular software choices, or is it all developed in-house?
[00:11:45] Tanja Laub: With the big ones is mainly developed in-house, because they’re so old that the market for software wasn’t really that good. It’s different nowadays, we have two German companies who are serving the market and there are a lot of international companies. I work with both, I work with in-house developed software. Nowadays it’s changing. I hope it helps the market, that companies see, “Okay, look, there’s a software you can use, you don’t have to do it all on your own. You can if you want to, but you don’t have to.”
[00:12:23] Patrick O’Keefe: What’s the software you recommend? Who’s the company that’s really doing the best job right now?
[00:12:27] Tanja Laub: Hard to say. I can’t really pick one, and it would depend if I have to stick with the German market, then there are only two, or if I go worldwide. I can’t just say, “Well, take that, that’s the best you can get.” There are some great ones I would use, but it always depends, what kind of team do you have and especially what’s your goal. That’s even the main one. Where do you want to go? What kind of features do you need? What are you looking that? After that you can look for a platform. I can’t really just say, “Okay, always take that one.”
[00:13:00] Patrick O’Keefe: Right, that makes sense. Who are your two or three that you find yourself recommending the most?
[00:13:05] Tanja Laub: I do like Salesforce because you can do a lot of your own without too much experience, but it’s also really big. It’s not like that you can just jump in there and know everything. You need a guy or a person who knows what to do. I’m just trying to learn it myself, but it’s still a lot to do. I like the one that’s on the German market, Voycer. They’re doing a lot, and for Germany they’re great. But with Lithium, I never worked with them so I can’t really tell. I heard some good things about them and seen their features, they’re great, but I’ve also heart some things in working together which are not that great. I like Discourse and Higher Logic, probably there are a few that I’ve forgotten. There are just so many.
[00:13:57] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, there are, and you hear a lot of the honest remarks in private. [chuckles] For the most part, everyone’s afraid of hurting each other’s feelings and so there’s a lot of that that goes on, but that’s interesting to know. I’ve read an article that you wrote on communitymanagement.de in 2017 where you said that community managers of company-owned platforms are at the same time project and product managers of the community. I like that thought a lot, I think there’s a nuance there that a lot of people haven’t picked up on. I want to talk about that a little bit. I’d love to just hear from your perspective the inspiration behind that thought, the responsibilities the community managers can take in viewing themselves as project and product managers of the community.
[00:14:44] Tanja Laub: Yes. That’s what I love about the job, and that’s how the previous jobs I’ve been in worked. I may freelance now, but before that, my community role always was a connected one. Being the community manager, but also being a product and a project manager. I think that’s really, really important, because it all connects to the community. If the community is around for a while, then they might experience some technical problems, but if it’s their first visit and there are some problems, they’re never coming back.
Usability and how the platform works and if everything is right, it’s really, really important for the community and to keep it alive. Also, which features to offer. Yes, I think that’s the right way to integrate those parts in the community manager job as well. On one of my former projects, I was the community manager for years and the users fight for a feature. After one and a half years, I eventually managed to get that feature. Then there was a relaunch, and the product manager, without consulting me, decided, “Looking at my Excel sheet, no one’s using that feature, so we’re not taking that over with the relaunch.”
Yes, well that was the feature the users that have been there the most time, the kind of super-users, loved the most. We took that away, and on the day of the relaunch, everyone screamed, “What happened?” They were really sad and angry, that really damaged the community. Because the product manager was just looking at his Excel sheet and he didn’t know what’s behind the feature, how much value and heart feel is in there for the community.
[00:16:40] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting because when you look at your role as a community manager or whatever level you are, and you see it as also a product role and you see the community as a product, it changes some of the way that you look at your role and how you go about it.
We had a show a while back with Julie Hamel, titled Community as a Product. One of the things that she did is she looked at community as this product that was iterated on and had versions. Even if, let’s say, you change something that’s not a new feature or you don’t have a programmer or a developer or someone bring something new to the community, you do make changes to the product through, let’s say, your settings, your administrative settings, the way the pages look, the colors, whatever it is on the page that changes. The guidelines change, policies change, things change. That can all be looked at from a product perspective as a new version of the community.
When you see it that way, it also changes how you communicate it. Because you want to have releases and release cycles, and what goes into a release cycle? You’re proposing changes, you’re doing QA and quality assurance. You are updating and releasing that version, and then you’re announcing it to the community that this new version is now available, here are the changes, here’s where you can feedback, and so on and so forth. It’s just a different way of looking at it. I think that’s really interesting.
[00:18:05] Tanja Laub: Yes. You just said it’s all about communicating. Yes, it is, even if you just change the color of a button. If the color stays in the same place where its been for ages — I changed it once from red to green or whatever, and for the community that something really new. They are used to having their green button instead of a red button. Even with minor changes you really have to talk to them and to tell them in advance, “Okay, listen, there’s something coming up. That’s what we are doing and that’s why we are doing,” because they are trusting you.
If you’re just doing changes without them knowing, they’re looking at you and saying, “Okay, why didn’t you tell me? Why did you change that?” Even if it’s a minor thing. Also, the greatest part, well it’s the vision, it usually doesn’t always work, but would be to develop the community together with the users, to ask them in advance, “How do you want to have that feature? What works best for you? Here are two versions, look at them, work with them. Which one do you want to have? Which one shall we put into the community? What kinds of changes should we make?”
[00:19:17] Patrick O’Keefe: BVCM offers community management certifications. What do you think is the value of certification from an organization like BVCM?
[00:19:26] Tanja Laub: Well, there’s no university degree or any that you can do and say, “Hey, I’m a community manager.” There are a few organizations where you can…It’s not a degree, but just educate yourself on digitalization. It’s mostly social media. We started off with a social media manager certificate, and we’re now running community one as well. German people love, and companies, certificates that you can show, “Hey, that’s what I can, and someone told me that that’s what I know.”
You have a lot of experience, but no one can really tell you, “Yes, right, you know what you’re doing.” We are neutral. We don’t have courses ourselves, you can just come up and say, “Hey, I’m a community manager, I know what I’m doing.” You need to fulfill a few things in order to be able to take the certificate. Then you can really go to your employer and say, “Look, this federal association told that I’m a certified community manager, because that’s what I do and that’s what I can.” As a lot of people still don’t know what a community manager is, that’s about building awareness, and also about helping the people in their careers.
[00:20:42] Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s really interesting how you described it. [chuckles] In some cases, I’m not certain of all cases, they already know what they know. It’s putting it into a form factor that, say, the average person hiring might be willing to accept, or that might be more in a language they can understand where they might not see, “Okay, this person, they’ve built this community at these companies, so they know what they’re doing, they have experience.” They are more likely to place their faith in some sort of certificate even if that person already had the experience because just as an organization or as a hiring manager, or whoever’s making the decision, they value certificates and degrees to such a degree.
[00:21:29] Tanja Laub: Exactly. It’s like you say, putting it in a language they do understand.
[00:21:32] Patrick O’Keefe: I like that.
[00:21:33] Tanja Laub: Because the field is so new, a lot of people still don’t know what those job profiles are about, so it’s really about understanding what we’re doing there.
[00:21:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of job profiles, you help companies in Germany create their job descriptions and define community. What are some of the biggest errors that you see them make?
[00:21:55] Tanja Laub: Well, the most common error is that they say they’re hiring a social media manager or looking for a social media manager, but in reality they’re actually looking for someone who’s taking care of the community. Like, “Hey, we’re looking for a social media manager who’s taking care of Facebook and Instagram to interact community.” That’s what they’re writing. They don’t know the difference between social media and community manager. As I said, for them is everyone who works with social media a social media manager. Also, a lot of them are also looking for someone who does the layout and SEO. For them it’s like, “Okay, everything that’s digital to that one person, please.”
[00:22:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. What excites you most about community right now?
[00:22:42] Tanja Laub: It’s interesting to see how the field changes. I always love to connect people. I always love to work in a media environment. When I studied, my job didn’t exist. I love my job and it’s interesting to see how my life really led to where I am today. Now, actually people start to understand what a community is, what a community manager is, that they’re not only social networks, but they’re something else, and that we have to get into it, that that is the future. We’ll need a few more years, but here people are starting to realize that’s important. Building communities and also how to interact with the community, how to speak with the customer.
[00:23:36] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, Tanja, I appreciate you getting up early, and then me staying up late to make this conversation happen. It’s been a pleasure to chat and I thank you for taking the time with us.
[00:23:46] Tanja Laub: Thanks a lot. It’s really been a pleasure for me as well. That was fun.
[00:23:51] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Tanja Laub, of BVCM, an organization for German community pros. That’s bvcm.org. For more on Tanja’s work as a community strategist, check out walkaboutmedia.de and communitymanagement.de.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
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