Community Managers Sit Everywhere. Should They?

fedora This week’s opensource.com community blogging prompt by Stormy Peters includes the question, “should community managers sit in marketing or engineering?” This is a very individualized decision and not an easy one at that.

A lot of companies support open source communities. The Fedora Project is supported by Red Hat. Red Hat’s support is huge and includes infrastructure, engineering and non-engineering contributions, budget for community driven activities and events and community coordination assistance.

As part of the coordination area, Red Hat provides positions for the Fedora Project Leader (FPL) and the Fedora Community Action & Impact Coordinator (FCAIC). Full Disclosure: I am the current FCAIC.

These two positions work together to help the Fedora community accomplish its mission and live its values. Both positions are focused on the full range of community concerns from engineering to marketing to community building and everything in between. Together they work to help the community be successful by driving conversations to clarify objectives and providing the support a volunteer community needs. Each position has its area of focus and supports the other.

While both positions can be considered community managers, a large well structured community like Fedora doesn’t need management. It needs a combination of support, coordination, and back-office grunt work (Fedora is kind of like a multi-national company when it comes to accounting, etc.).

The FPL position lives in Red Hat’s engineering unit. Having the FPL there increases the communication between our largest downstream, who is also a significant upstream contributor, and the community.

The FCAIC is on a different Red Hat team. My position is in the Open Source and Standards team (OSAS). This team focuses on working with upstream communities, Red Hat’s ongoing support for open standards, and educational initiatives, amongst other things. This location gives the FCAIC the freedom to focus exclusively on the Fedora community and instant access to a group of peer experts for consultation and assistance. I may be biased, but I think Red Hat is awesome for having a team like this.

Neither of these positions are in marketing. This works well for an organization like Red Hat where communities are an integral part of our DNA and not just an aspect of a single product. However this doesn’t mean that marketing doesn’t have a role to play. Downstream marketing efforts should reflect positively on the upstream community. These efforts should show the distinction the downstream brings. This is true whether the downstream is a commercial entity like Red Hat with Red Hat Enterprise Linux or another community, like Korora.

At Red Hat we are privileged to have a marketing events liaison, Jennifer Madriaga, who sits in marketing and works with OSAS. She works to make sure that all of our communities are well represented when Red Hat is at a conference and helps us organize community specific events like Flock, the Fedora community’s annual contributor conference.

Ultimately, with my role and the community I work with, I think we’re making the right choice on marketing vs. engineering. However, each community and their supporting organization need to explore this question relative to their situation. I can easily see, in some situations, how a new community or user heavy community may be better served by a community manager embedded in marketing. Others may find having an engineering colleague or someone not in either department more useful.

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About Brian Exelbierd

Brian (bex) Exelbierd is the Fedora Community Action and Impact Coordinator on behalf of the Open Source and Standards team at Red Hat. Brian has a background in Higher Education and various IT/Engineering roles. Follow him on Twitter @bexelbie.