Community Managers and Managing Communities

I wonder how most organizations are handling the role of community manager. I’m curious where a community manager reports. Marketing? HR? Customer service? I wonder how organizations are justifying the cost, and what they believe the role entails for level of effort. How are companies using the role in either direction?

[From On Managing A Community |]

NewsGator has a new community manager. I hired Josh Larson a few weeks ago to take on this newly formed role. The truth is that we were all doing some measure of community management before Josh came on board, we just were not focused on it and a lot of stuff fell through the cracks.

As you can imagine given my background in corporate blogging, this is an area that interests me greatly, but it’s not just about blogging on behalf of a company. I think that is where a lot of companies go wrong on this front, they think that just getting someone to “go blog it out” is enough when in fact community management is like marketing like customer support is to engineering. All are critical functions but community management is about advocacy more than promotion, just like customer support.

This is also why Josh reports to me instead of to our marketing group. I want this role to represent marketplace advocacy and I thought that ultimately I am responsible for that so it makes sense for the role to report to me. I also happen to care alot about the tactics by which we manage community, an outgrowth of my now many years of experience in corporate social media.

Our community manager has several distinct but interconnected roles. The first is easy, establish and grow a meaningful blog presence through which we expose and highlight our activities AND connect directly with influencers, power users, early adopters, customers, and many other groups of individuals who are relevant to our market space.

A blog is just a tool, which means that we will use many tools at our disposal to reach out and with an authentic voice talk about what we are doing and listen about what we could be doing. What we are doing with Twitter is another example of how we are taking advantage of social media tools to connect to our marketplace.

Communities are about networks and as such the community manager is responsible for building out and maintaining networks related to the above groups, and like a pilot who’s hands are on many levers apply leverage to various constituencies as determined by what our objectives are. The important aspect of this is that for a network to remain vibrant and active, we have to give back as much as we take.

There are probably a dozen other responsibilities that fallen within the scope of community manager but in the final equation it comes down to the commitment of the company to support that person in his/her role. I think we have a well earned track record at working with our community and not just talking to it, which hopefully means we are prepared to amp up those efforts with a person who is dedicated to the task.

Like all things that are on the forward edge there is an element of learning as we go, but this type of role is not so new as to suggest it’s all experimentation. We, as an industry, know from recent experience that the marketplace is demanding a richer interaction with companies so I think we’re on the forward edge of mainstream as opposed to on the bleeding edge.

15 thoughts on Community Managers and Managing Communities

  1. good post jeff – never hurts to quote “the chris brogan” on community relationships – he is the master…

    i was noticing today that is using a jack russell terrier (a member of their marketing dept naturally) to manage their community relationships on twitter and of course does a super job of tracking and reacting via their twitter persona – a part of their customer service / customer advocacy effort…

  2. Thanks Mike. It’s really quite surprising how many companies are on Twitter, which makes me wonder how often it’s organized versus some some smart motivated people taking the initiative. What is Hearst doing in this area?

  3. I recently met a “community manager” for a major web brand who said to me, “I still haven’t figured out what Twitter is.” She’s not the first clueless type I have encountered in such a role. It seems some companies are giving these positions to people fresh out of college who happen to have a MySpace page.

  4. Its’ funny that the hardest part of the equation for me (in that blog post) was thinking about the metrics, because if you’re going to pay someone to do something, there has to be some reasonable way to measure one’s effectiveness. Right? I mean, we don’t pay people to sit around and say nice things about us. We pay them to do meaningful work.

    But that brought up TONS of thinking. Heck, I could probably take swings at the same post all week and not hit it just so.

    Elusive, and thus, worth the conversation.

    I’m pleased and honored that you’re part of that conversation, Jeff. Glad to read a bit more about you in the process.

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  6. Chris,
    I think you can pull some quant measures that are meaningful. For example, look at the number of people linking to your content, # of tweets, Alexa reach, and then do all of that compared to a competitive peer group and measure it period over period.

    You are right that it’s not traditional lead generation and such, but with marketing becoming a lot finer grained it is also more difficult to measure according to traditional benchmarks. Right now I am satisfied measuring brand reach and marketplace responsiveness.

  7. related to hearst, where we have community features we do tend to have a group overseeing them, mostly marketing types…

    then there’s me of course 😉

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