As online communities continue to grow in number and usage, the professional role of community manager is also growing in prominence as a valued position that can, frankly, make or break a community. Of course, I’m biased from my perch as a community manager for the past 3.5 years for my company’s enterprise social network and a few external communities. Still, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in my role is the necessity of having the right person at the helm who understands communities – especially online communities – and who has the passion, training, knowledge, judgment and evolving experience to know what needs to be done, and who has the leeway to act accordingly.
Others have written great articles about the many hats community managers wear, the mind of the community manager, and qualities effective community managers must have. There are a host of phenomenal online resources related to community management such as Rich Millington’s Feverbee.com, Tim McDonald’s My Community Manager and others. In this post I want to make a simple point that will be self-evident to other community managers but not always so obvious to others.
First, a little background…
Our Enterprise Social Media Team at work has had a couple of open positions for a few months for various social media roles, one of which is for a community manager. We have no shortage of people applying for the roles. In fact, back in the spring of this year when we posted for an open position we had over 200 applicants. However, the number of people worth talking with and interviewing from among those applicants was in the single digits. Why? Nearly everyone thought that because they used social media to some extent in their personal lives, they were therefore qualified to be a community manager.
Let me state this as clearly as I know how: The fact that you use social media personally does not qualify you to be a community manager.
Billions of people on earth use social media. There are not billions of qualified community managers out there. Anyone can be a part of an online community, but using one and building one are two very different things. Using one and managing one are light years apart in skill sets and mindset.
Imagine that you are in the automotive industry. You are about to hire various people to do the best job possible designing and building your next great car model. How successful will you be if your criterion for hiring is that the person has used a car before? Using and designing are not the same. Using and building are not the same. While you may (and should) care about and consider input from everyday users throughout the process, the ones with the ultimate responsibility and authority to design and build the model will surely be limited to those trained in, passionate about, and experienced with that aspect of the process.
Another example… You’re a business owner and you want to create or greatly improve your company’s website. To whom will you go for advice on what is possible and effective? Hopefully, you’ll go to those who are experienced in website design, marketing, user experience and any other aspects specific to your purpose for the site. You won’t consider going, for example, to your neighbor next door because he’s used a lot of websites before. It won’t enter your mind to have your social media-addicted family member create your business website just because she is online all the time. Using and designing are not the same. Using and building are not the same. Using and managing are not the same.
The analogies could continue: You would not, for example, leave the construction of a major business complex to those who have merely worked in offices before. You would not entrust the creation of a fine, multi-course meal for your wedding guests to a few friends who like to eat. You would not eagerly wear clothes made by people who like clothes but who have no experience in sewing or working with various fabrics and materials. Why, then, do so many businesses use such failed logic when it comes to community management?
I heard someone proudly mention recently that in her company those who have responsibility for their enterprise social network have “real roles” – meaning other full-time jobs and that nobody has the title or responsibility of community manager. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sorry that the company proud of that situation doesn’t understand the value a community manager uniquely brings to the table. I’m sorry that the company is not getting the most possible out of their internal community due to the absence of passionate, qualified community managers. It’s great that they have some enthusiastic users, but I’m sorry that the company doesn’t grasp the difference between using and building or managing. I wonder how much the company and its employees are missing out on?
My simple case for community management is this: It takes special skills and qualities to design, build and manage online communities, and merely having used one or more before doesn’t quality anyone for the role. If we understand that there is a difference in building, using and managing other areas of life from cars to websites, then it’s time we recognize that the same holds true in building, using and managing online communities. We need specific community manager roles to exist and we need training and professional development paths and opportunities appropriate for the role expectations so that those interested in the profession have a legitimate opportunity to break into the field and to succeed in the role.
When it comes to building, using and managing online communities, the typical community participants do one of those three things really well – they use the platform to connect with others. That is why they are there. They are, of course, vital because without them the communities would not exist. They are the reason we community managers do what we do.
The best community managers, however, know how to do all three – build, use and manage.
Your online community – whether internal for your employees or external for the public – needs at least one dedicated, trained, community manager.