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Evolving the role of the social media community manager

Community management is not a new concept by any means – it’s a function that essentially began in the “old days” of online communication, when people connected primarily through forums and chat rooms. But the rise of social business has given life to the role in a whole new way. What used to be looked at as a role primarily for moderation of a social media community, is now seen as a necessary function within any company that cares about evolving their business to meet the needs of the social customer.

Ask any community manager to describe what they do, and you’re likely to get a slightly different answer wherever you turn. Altimeter Research’s Jeremiah Owyang studied community manager job descriptions from 16 different organizations and found four key elements: customer advocacy, brand evangelism, savvy communication skills and editorial planning, and liaising between internal decision makers and community members. A jack-of-all-trades, so to speak. But even this doesn’t fully sum up all that a community manager is capable of.

When fully integrated, successful community management can touch nearly every other business function in an organization – from product development, to customer service, marketing, HR and communications. And the role continues to evolve to become more strategic, in many cases incorporating some components traditionally handled by social media managers – things like content creation, measurement, or more “big picture” strategy for social media platforms . While community management “purists” argue that these two roles need to remain separate, I think there’s an evolution happening that is forcing the roles to blend whether we like it or not – especially for businesses that may not have the means to hire for two separate roles.

Bearing in mind the evolving role of the community manager as a more strategic function and, in my opinion, the glue of a social business, there are three things I see becoming increasingly more important for the role.

(1) Perfecting your timing

We know that community management isn’t your standard 9-to-5 job, especially if you manage community content that reaches a global audience. It’s incredibly important, especially for new and growing communities, to pay attention to spikes in activation and engagement within your various communities.

Using tools like Crowdbooster, SocialFlow, PageLever, and good ‘ol fashioned Google Analytics, identify which days of the week and times of the day your community members are most active, and engage appropriately. Community managers don’t always need to insert themselves in to the conversation, but it’s important to pay attention to what your members are saying and be available to respond or manage relationships if necessary. This is key to maintaining an active community and making sure your community continues to grow.

(2) Playing the numbers game

Understanding and reporting on a community’s visitor data and analytics is something that’s fast becoming an important function of the community management role as more attention is placed on the value for the bottom line of the business. The C-suite doesn’t care how many followers you have or how many discussions have been started in your community, but they do want to know how those things tie back to business goals – and it’s more than just reporting on the hard numbers. Are the discussions generating feedback that can be integrated in to product development or the sales cycle? Is your website receiving an increased number of visitors from the community, and if so, what’s the path visitors are taking through the site? Is there content on your blog or website that is especially popular with your community that can provide additional insight about your customer base?

As an integral piece of a social business, community managers will increasingly be relied on for this type of business insight and must be able to communicate the findings in a way that’s understandable for internal decision makers.

(3) Improving searchability

Search engine optimization is a tactic that certainly falls more under the realm of marketing, but with so many community managers reporting that they handle content creation and editorial planning for their organizations (as evidenced by the 2012 Community Manager Report from Social Fresh), it’s a skill that more community managers should take in to consideration when developing content for a brand. The social customer is masterful when it comes to search – so you want to make sure the helpful content within your communities is easily accessible when current and potential customers look for it.

The evolution of community management is inevitable. Purists will continue to advocate for the separation of the community manager role from other social media functions and communications will always be more of an art than a science. But at the end of the day, we can all agree that as business continues to change as a result of our social world, it’s important for all functions to fold in things like data, analytics and search to improve a customer’s experience with the brand.


This post was originally posted on Social Business News on Feb 12, 2012.