The profession of community management has undergone several facelifts in its relatively short-lived career. In the early days of online communities — when bulletin board systems, LISTSERVs, Usenet newsgroups, and later, web-based discussion forums ruled the web — brands, at least as participants, were nowhere to be found. “Community managers”, then, were more passion-driven hobbyists than professionally hired brand ambassadors.
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But as the accessibility and ubiquity of mass social-networking platforms like Facebook grew to such epic proportions that brands could become, to use a now-tired phrase, “people, too,” the job of managing a community became, well, a job — a bona fide career.
Enter today’s community manager: an individual responsible for acting as the eyes, ears, voice, and sometimes face of a brand in its virtual environments. It is often a thankless job, but it’s an important one — which is why you’re reading this article today, on Community Manager Appreciation Day, or #CMAD.
And for community managers to keep meeting the demands of our rapidly changing media landscape — and to continue evolving and maturing as practitioners in 2013 — I see a few key shifts as essential:
- Community manager as specialist and strategist. In the community management world, the idea of community-manager-as-strategist is somewhat of a controversial point. While I agree that a community manager shouldn’t be a “jack of all trades,” in 2013, he or she will need to have an increasingly deeper, and more general, grasp of brand and digital strategy to do his very specific job well. After all, our media landscape isn’t getting any less complex, and he’s right in the middle of it.What does that mean? Getting the role that hashtags play in converting a 60-second TV spot into online community growth and engagement. Understanding the nuances and intricacies of brand purpose, and how they translate into creating content that meets consumer interest. Tracking the growing importance of real-time communication, mobile, and social CRM.In the end, his day-to-day responsibilities may center on actually engaging the brand’s communities, but his perspective must exist at a higher, more holistic level—one that acknowledges the growing complexity and interconnectedness of the very communities he’s engaging.
- Community manager as integrated team member. Of everyone on the marketing team, community managers have perhaps the most frequent, on-the-ground interaction with a brand’s community. There is no better anecdotal source of insight into what community members are saying, what kinds of content they’re responding to, and how they’re feeling about a new product, service, or initiative.Note that I said anecdotal: collecting and analyzing social data will continue to grow in importance for brands, and developing breathtaking creative will never cease to be a foundation of a brand’s identity and voice in the world. But community managers are often siloed unnecessarily, and the feedback, stories, and ideas that they hear from brand advocates and detractors alike can—and should—play an important role in informing brand and digital strategy in 2013.
- Community manager as mentor and mentee. Community managers are often young. They’re “natively social” — they grew up with instant messaging, social networking, and blogging. And even if they didn’t, they “get it,” which, in our world, often implies they understand that brand relevance and equity in the 21st century has more to do with participation than pushing.In other words, they have a lot to teach those who didn’t come of age in a digital world — which is why reverse mentoring has become so popular in agencies and brands alike.Yet, there’s a whole world of marketing, branding, and communications — direct-response, media buying, or, as referenced earlier, the brand promise, to name a few — that would only benefit them to learn.Community managers, then, in addition to sharing what they know, will also need to learn from veterans about aspects of marketing and branding that may seem outdated but, in the end, are critical to their development as strategic thinkers and integral members of the marketing team.
Community management has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. And, like my Digitas colleague Jordan Bitterman predicted in late 2012, I think it will see its day in 2013.
Adopting these three shifts will, in my opinion, only help community managers develop greater influence and value in the coming months and years — which, given their tireless work and unending inspiration, is something I think they all deserve.
On that note: Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day.