With the Web just having celebrated its twentieth anniversary, the online community manager is a relatively recent profession, yet the importance of community managers is becoming increasingly recognized (there is even a yearly Community Manager Appreciation Day in its honor). While online community managers are generally understood to be outward-facing individuals who serve as community advocates, the specific skills they require to be effective sometimes differ depending on the unique environments they find themselves in.
Nevertheless, one skill set all community managers should have – yet one that is insufficiently emphasized in terms of education or training – is conflict management. It’s inevitable that conflicts occur in communities and, in fact, not shying away from tackling the sometimes uncomfortable issues that arise within it can be the sign of a health and robust group. Yet conflicts can also also tear a community apart, if not managed properly. Unfortunately organizations often expect community managers to “learn as they go,” not realizing the tenuous position they therefore place their communities in.
Prior training in the theory and practice of conflict management should be required for online community managers. An introduction to dealing with conflict can be found the chapter Handling Conflict in The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation by Jono Bacon.