Community Management is the New Black

Kudos to my fellow community manager, Teresa Basich, for the title of this post. In fact, while I am saying thank you, I want to take a moment and thank the team of great community managers I work with at Radian6: Teresa Basich, Gen Coates, Trish Forant, and Melanie Thompson. All of us are extremely opinionated and these ladies inspire me to be at the top of my game and not become lost in a status quo.

Last month, around the time of Community Manager Appreciation Day, a barrage of community management posts were published. Part of me was extremely excited because the (evolved) career path I had chosen was gaining traction, but disappointed that the buzz still seemed to be superficial. The position seemed to give way to another clique. Another Millennial-created position. A mere novelty instead of a discipline.

Then today, I came across a post titled, Are Community Managers Becoming Obsolete? Really? Really? Forgive me, but the position (in the world post-social media) has not been around for that long of a time and already we are jumping ship or renaming? Then, there are those of us who do not see this position as anything new, but an evolved extension of what we were already doing in the public/community relations industry, in reflection of our (and organization’s) social media maturity.

It is not me to dictate what I think the community manager job description should be, but to define through action as I have done since I adopted the title in 2006. Since then, it has become more than a role, but a discipline to be developed within myself, team members, and integrated into the very fabric of the enterprise. Community management became more about internal education and nourishment for a stronger and more dynamic external community engagement.

Over the past five years, I have broken, built and broken again, the role of a community manager in my former Federal Government position and again, as part of a team at Radian6. Community managers wear a plethora of hats these days, from community ambassador to storyteller and back again. There is no one job responsibility or hat. Each organization has to find the right mix and balance of hats a community manager must wear, but don’t be mistaken…one hat does not define the species. Similar to a chameleon, a community manager does not change colors or hats to blend in, but as an act of communication.

The Nine Hats (and Counting) of Community Management 

  1. Ambassador: Stewards the issues, pain points, needs, wants, and general feedback  of the overall community of customers, prospects, fans, and vendors, inside the walls of the organization.
  2. Storyteller: Shares the most relevant and meaningful stories of community members with other community members and within company walls.
  3. Poster Child: Represents brand message, promise, tone, and experience to the core; The moving, dynamic face of the organization’s brand and everything it represents.
  4. Switchboard Operator: Fields direct comments, questions, complaints, and support issues to the right departments within the organization for response and handling.
  5. Caretaker: Pays attention to the health of the community by collecting stats and data to learn more about the successes, potential problems, growth, and movement of the community; Makes informed decisions as to where to invest energy, time, and resources next; and takes steps to directly handle any existing problems.
  6. Content Creator/Curator: Develops and aggregates content and programs to help further community education in portable, easy to digest chunks of knowledge for organization and community members to use and share.
  7. Teacher: Shares knowledge internally (i.e., training, sales, customer support) and externally through tweets, chats, blog comments, forum participation, speaking engagements, and event presence.
  8. Interpreter: Makes sense of external conversations for business use; Reads between the lines of community interactions, and hones in on community member concerns and big-picture ideas, even when they’re not spelled out clearly.
  9. Connector: Identifies strong potential connections within community and makes introductions and facilitates community relationships that are mutually beneficial to those involved.

As an organization matures, so does the community management responsibilities. We are in a constant state of evolution. Attempting to land on one definition or harbor on why organizations are not doing things like you, only leads to standard practices…where everyone is exactly the same and vanilla. No business wants that for itself. Don’t miss the bigger picture: community management is not about the person or the bodies on the team, but integrating these disciplines across the organization. Everyone in your organization has the potential to be a community manager.

So, while it is great to get together with others juggling these same hats and pat ourselves on the back, there is much more work to be done by educating the facilitation of these responsibilities within organizations. Instead of an open bar or a raffle, we need to share stories, unveil our scars, and surround ourselves with those of differing perspectives/strategies. We can become smarter together, but we can’t keep rushing off to rename or predict life span until we are practicing and living the discipline of two-way communication.

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  • Cindy Meltzer

    Great post. If Community Managers are becoming obsolete, I’m in big trouble. I just spent a year building up this position as a legitimate role in upper management.

    I think The Community Roundtable does a fantastic job of steering and facilitating meaningful conversations among Community Managers who seek to professionalize the role and clearly illustrate how CMs can move the needle on brand awareness, engagement, customer service and most importantly, the bottom line.

    • Lauren

      Indeed, The CR is brilliant for facilitating these types of conversations. Most likely the obsolete title was written to sensationalize, but that is not what our jobs are about, are they? I wear nine hats too. :) Hoping to one day make enough money to afford one of those hats to be a Phillip Tracy hat.

  • Cindy Meltzer

    Oh, and I wear all nine of those hats, usually at the same time. :)

  • mihaela_v

    Is this why you’re wearing a hat in the About photo? :)

    Because community managers are wearing so many hats, I think the job will evolve into a family of related positions and grow into a department, rather than become obsolete.

    • Allison Leahy

      Nice. I’d love to see this vision become a reality. I’ve been bundled with support and then moved over into marketing. I know some community managers who roll with HR. Totally depends on the organizational structure and quantity of community assignments. Would be fantastic to bridge this gap.

      • Lauren

        Allison, I have seen community managers be a part of several business units. A lot has changed in the two years since writing this post. Now ever employee has the potential to have community manager responsibilities. I find that community teams work best when you have representatives from all business units and levels.

  • Dhiren

    Hi Lauren,

    You make some very good points. The role of the Community Manager is ever expanding and it will continue to grow as people spend more time online. IMHO, we will soon require Community Managers for specific communities and social networks; Facebook itself requires continual micro-management as does Twitter.

    In response to the requirements of Brand Managers, we’re developing specific tools for Facebook and Twitter community management, which allow users to gain a deeper insights an engage in conversations with their most proactive community members.

    Our recent developments have made me realise that community managers also need to be technologically astute, and posses skills that allow them to seamlessly converse across different different networks, using different tools and applications.

    Market Sentinel

  • Marny Smith

    Love this post – thank you for writing it!

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  • Alain Bertrand

    Great analysis Lauren. I have been saying that loud for some time now: The next web, the really social one, is here already here and will soon get a new race of online marketeers to spawn. I’ll just wait, see and adapt. It not professionals that make consumers anymore but consumers making professionals nowadays… 

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  • HeatherO

    Fantastic post! Great definition, description, and distinctions!

  • Aimee Carmichael

    nice way of explaining it! :)

  • Aimee Carmichael

    nice way of explaining it! :)

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