Community managers are like diplomatic ambassadors on a mission to convey a company’s brand—the external voice—in an open, accessible, and positive light.
*Update 07/28/2012: Perhaps it’s this feeling of too much sharing and openness on the Net why so many companies still fear social media.
The inherent transparency offered by digital conversations means the contributions of community managers will likely become increasingly important as more and more companies and brands tie their identities to social engagements with people online.
But the relative newness of community management and the growing popularity of social networks as platforms for interacting with customers perhaps explains why a clear-cut definition doesn’t seem to really exist yet.
Exactly what a community manager’s job encompasses remains somewhat open to interpretation as social media continues to evolve.
In essence though, community managers are savvy communicators in the most ideal sense, influential in nurturing the bond between people, products and services —a rather slippery slope on the Net.
Back in 2007 Jeremiah Owyang published a great post entitled The Four Tenets of the Community Manager in which he briefly describes several core concepts of the community management role. These definitions remain relevant to this day.
Interestingly we’ve seen a similar evolution occur over the past few years with the emergence of the UX field, specifically with regard to overlap among several disciplines including: art directors, visual designers, information architects, copywriters, and instructional designers. The common thread shared among these roles is to ensure the digital content is effective and appealing.
I imagine we’ll see a similar trajectory with community management as social media matures and a more clearly defined set of roles and responsibilities materialize.
While this evolution plays out it’s worth exploring some of the current parallels with more established fields, namely customer support. Christina Cacioppo makes an intriguing distinction between customer support and community management in terms of a cost (customer support) versus investment (community management) perspective.
Not surprisingly some people feel inclined to label community management as just a newer version of customer support (customer service 2.0, for the digital age). While I’m not going to delve deep into that debate I will say, at least from my perspective, one of the main differences is that customer support in the past and prior to the social Web generally wasn’t focused on proactively engaging consumers or necessarily nurturing relationships. Instead, customer service and support was primarily reactive in dealing with customer issues and complaints whereas community management could be seen more as a preventative measure.
September 2nd footnote:
OSL Marketing’s Jon Crowley and Jeremy Wright along with Dave Fleet of Edelman Canada will be spearheading a panel discussion at SXSW 2012 on community management. This should be a very interesting and informative session for anyone considering a career in digital marketing and social media strategy.