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3 Healthcare Community Managers Weigh In on the Role

Colleen Young, a Community Manager for SharingStrength | FortesEnsemble, a bilingual portal and community for women with breast cancer, provides this guest post on effective Community Management in healthcare.  You can follow Colleen on Twitter @SharingStrength .

More and more healthcare organizations and companies are embracing social media tools and building online communities. Effective community management takes a collaborative team effort to develop strategy, policies, metrics and measurements. But who do you want as the forward-facing personality — the community manager (CM) — fostering, encouraging and facilitating your healthcare community?

To help me articulate the most important qualities of a good CM in healthcare, I teamed up with two colleagues: Christine Stewart, Community Animator at CareToKnow.organd Leah Williams, Community & Social Media Manager at Breast Cancer Care. Here are our thoughts.  

A great CM in health care should

  • Listen actively and compassionately

While I’ve stressed the importance of listening in other posts, I want to underline that a CM must be an active listener. Members should know that you are there and that they can reach out to when necessary.

“Friendly and approachable: When people discuss personal healthcare issues, they need to know that the person managing the community will listen to them, has their interests at heart and will try to make the community a safe and supportive place.” LW

“If the community is not interested in the content you are producing as a CM, or if they are not contributing the content you expected them to, you need to thicken your skin. Put aside expectations … and be flexible. It’s about staying motivated to find what works and what will inspire the community to take shape on its own.” CS

  • Communicate effectively

When CM join a conversation, it is imperative that they do so in a tone and literacy level suited to the community. They need to write clearly, succinctly and stay focused on the needs of the community.

“Insight and empathy: Managers of healthcare communities need to have some insight into what might be going on in people’s lives so they can respond appropriately, make sensitive moderating decisions and communicate in an appropriate tone.” LW

“Judgment, balance and a keen sense of fairness: Combined with insight and empathy, these are the bedrock of decision-making for CMs in healthcare. They must weigh a number of complex factors and keep in mind the bigger picture of the community whilst balancing the details of the relationships involved. They must also consider the long-term implications of their decisions. One of the key areas where these qualities are required would be knowing when and how to intervene (or participate) in a discussion.” LW

  • Make meaningful connections

A CM connects people with people and quality health information. Being able to collaborate and network beyond your community’s membership broadens the community’s knowledge and expands their access to resources.

“Outreach and knowledge brokering skills: You don’t need to be a clinician or healthcare expert… you don’t need to know everything, but you need to know who does!” CS

“Limitless source of humility and perseverance: There’s a lot of heavy lifting required to get a new community going, particularly in healthcare where you are faced with additional challenges regarding privacy, professional or provider boundaries, and creating a space that is safe and welcoming. When it comes to engaging health professionals and researchers, time can be a challenge too.” CS

  • Be genuine

People want the person guiding their community to understand them, recognize their needs and to engage with them honestly and free of bias. The CM has to be passionate about the community and facilitate exchanges, allowing the community to flourish.

“A CM must be caring, person-centered, trustworthy and determined. These are actually Breast Cancer Care’s corporate values, but apply particularly to the position of CM.” LW

“Put your heart into it. A good CM knows that you have to invest in getting to know your community members. It’s important to stay in touch and engage them as contributors, not just joiners. Send personal, not automated messages. Welcome each new member to the community. Recognize, and respond to, contributions. Let your own personality come through. The Care to Know Centre is founded on a collaborative approach focused on client engaged and family centered care. This begins with a collaborative approach to understanding and honouring the patient experience at all points of care.” CS

What would you add to the list?


Christine Stewart is the CM at CareToKnow.org, a social network for two-way health knowledge exchange, support and conversations. Created by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, the community is designed to connect individuals, family caregivers, professionals, researchers, organizations and policy stakeholders across Canada.

Leah Williams is the CM at Breast Cancer Care, a UK charity supporting people affected by breast cancer. As well as printed information, a telephone helpline and web resources, Breast Cancer Care manages an active online forum where people affected by breast cancer share experiences and information and support each other.

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8 responses to “3 Healthcare Community Managers Weigh In on the Role”

  1. I love your post ! Thank you Colleen & colleagues for your meaningful insights.
    I totally agree with, the first quality of a good Community Manager (CM) is listening. But I would add to your list the ability to valorise and help the community and (most of all) its members. Eg, to send X1 a link to an article I know he will love, or to put two members in touch, because they both are working on the same area… etc. This behaviour maintains faithfulness and link within the community !

  2. Absolutely Tiphaine. You articulate very clearly an aspect of the job that should be included under the heading “Make meaningful connections”.

    As CM I enjoy connecting community members to each other and to relevant resources. Sometimes the challenge can be when to do this. In the case of SharingStrength, the forums focus on peer exchange. Before jumping in, I wait and watch how the conversation will unfold. More often than not, I’m the one who gets taught something or introduced to new resources. On the other hand, I ensure that I am present enough that members know they can call on me any time and get a timely response. It’s a fine balance.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great post Colleen and sorry I didn’t get back to you in time to help you with this blog. All the points highlighted here are key to growing a successful and active community.

    I have six years experience as a CM and I see myself as a conduit, to engage and promote other, help raise online profiles, putting other people first, helping and seeding those connections and being active involved and excited about a persons journey.

    My tip: It’s not your (community managers or companies) site/community, it’s belongs to the users. We simply provide the means for them to engage with each other 🙂

  4. David,
    You tip is a vital reminder. It can be tempting to be possessive about our communities, but they don’t revolve around us (the CM or company). This point is important both when developing a community strategy and managing the community you’ve established.

    Are there any differences you’d like to point out when managing a health-related community as opposed to a non-health community?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Thank you, Colleen, for leading this important conversation on the role of the Community Manager, and thank you to Christine Stewart, Leah Williams, Tiphaine de Frémont, and David Isaacson for your insights and contributions! Together, you have provided meaningful guidance for those looking to hire a communications professional for this role or those considering moving into community management!

    Best, Angela

  6. Thanks Colleen, Christine & Leah – great insights into the community management role. The functional responsibilities were highlighted nicely in a recent post from radian6 (http://bit.ly/9OSRb8), but I like how you’ve combined some of the responsibilities with some of the key characteristics that define the health care community manager… in particular, the importance of listening both actively and compassionately.

    I’d also like to share with you an opportunity to connect with other community managers in the space… check out the Health Care 2.0 Webinar Series entitled ‘Creating Communities of Care’ beginning on Tuesday June 29th . The community manager of TransforMED, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), will discuss their Delta-Exchange network – an online learning community designed to transfer lessons learned across the country to primary care practices. http://bit.ly/cRyPjo

  7. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks so much for your comment and the links. I hope to join the webinar this afternoon.


  8. Pingback: What makes a good healthcare community manager? « Colleen Young