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The Second Most Scarce Human Capital Resource in Silicon Valley

Everyone in the tech space seems to complain that great engineering talent (regardless of specialty) is the single most difficult human capital resource to find in Silicon Valley. Even before Google was gobbling up engineers, the general sentiment I heard was that hiring great engineers who fit a company’s culture is a really hard (and never-ending) challenge. I am willing to concede that hiring the best engineers is probably job #1. That got me to thinking about what might be the second most scarce human capital resource in the valley today.

I am willing to be that the second most scarce resource in the valley is (sadly) not business development. The most difficult position to fill at the moment has to be what I will call “community marketing manager” or the person who is responsible for growing, developing, and nurturing a user community to build a great social networking or community site. Why do I think this is such a hard position to fill? First, there don’t appear to be a lot of people who have shown competence in building strong, engaged user communities until very recently. There are a number of contemporary examples (Yelp, Meebo, Pandora, Meetup, Threadless, and perhaps a few others) of companies who have managed to make engagement between the company and the user base a very personal and real connection that reinforces user engagement with the core service or brand. It’s not about building a sticky site or having ridiculous retention or usage metrics — it’s really about the way in which the site or service cultivates a relationship with the user community. The number of companies, either in contemporary terms or from web 1.0 who have been good at this is fairly small in my opinion.

Second, most great community marketing manager types I know do their job with little to no budget. Many of the most effective things I have seen really are about superior customer service (responding quickly to customer emails, acknowledging mistakes when you make them, communicating proactively about upcoming features and changes, and meeting unspoken needs from the user base all come to mind) than they are about marketing budgets and ad spend.

Last, I think this is a scarce skill set because it’s hard to write a spec for a great community marketing manager. Writing a tight spec for a classic marketing manager is fairly straightforward. But good community marketing managers seem to combine great customer service skills, personality, an intuition for marketing, and the ability to achieve great things with fairly limited budget resources. If that’s not a tough spec to write and fill I don’t know what is.

If there is another job function that you feel is more deserving of the #2 spot, go ahead and make your case in the comments or just email me directly.

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