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Op-Ed: The Evolution of the Community Manager

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We’ll try to take a quick breather from the Super Bowl madness and provide this op-ed from Natalie Marsan, media director/community management at MRY. As you can gather, community management is the topic at hand and we will let our newest scribe drop some science.

Community Management is no longer a job title. It is a discipline. In fact, it is a new discipline born out of disruption. So, four years into Community Management Appreciation Day, where does this discipline fit in the industry? What does the career ladder look like? Why should you care?

As Community Management evolves, so must the roles within the discipline. If you can say ‘yes’ to any of the following statements, the likelihood that one community manager (CM) will be able to do the job is erroneous. An entire Community Management department might be in your business’s future.

●        Your brand has a large customer base and communities spread over multiple owned channels.

●        You service multiple markets, potentially in different regions of the world.

●        You are seeking new forms and innovative solutions for capturing customer insights, and you think social media is a likely place for gathering those insights.

●        You have diverse customer segmentations.

●        Your brand has a broad share of voice in your industry.

●        You think the future of customer service is more sophisticated than just solving issues as they emerge.

A Community Management department will include not only CM’s and a Director of Community, but most likely a senior CM and potentially a supervisor, as well. While the CM’s themselves have the unique position of being on the frontlines with customers, they also need to remain at ground level. More senior roles within the discipline will have the sensibility of a CM, but also the hindsight of what works and what doesn’t – as well as the luxury of the bigger picture perspective. The most senior team member will need to maintain a bird’s eye view of the health of a community, as well as where the brand stands in broader conversations online.

Ultimately, the most senior role ensures, or more accurately obsesses, that the community is driving value to the brand and that the brand is driving value to the community members. These CM leaders also:

●        Bring a strategic focus to the community management discipline; ensuring insights from the community are driving strategic decisions over time.

●        Set new standards and further enhance best practices uniquely tailored to their (or their client’s) business.

●        Draw out key insights from the highest-yielding content and trends in community voices and sentiment. Conceptualize and optimize content accordingly.

●        Ensure that relevant team members are getting the information they need, deciding on roles and responsibilities, and overseeing day-to-day operations. They keep a close watch on the frontline to make sure the entire team is adhering to strategy.

The broader industry implications are where the conversation gets really interesting. Those in the CM department are your customer’s number one advocate. They are the eyes and ears of your organization, and this unique position gives them a natural customer-first perspective. They’re a wealth of information. As we move towards more connected workplace environments and away from disabling silos, effective collaboration becomes a new pain point. The solution set involves understanding where the sweet spots are: who to go to for what, what discipline to rely on for which solution, which stakeholders need to be present to ensure that all bases are covered. Understanding where a community management discipline fits within the broader organization means knowing how it can positively affect business in general. The implications and potential for positive impact and innovation involve other roles not only in marketing, customer service, PR/corp comms and CRM, but also in product development/R&D, strategy, creative, and legal.

So what are the key things to know regarding the evolution of the community management discipline?

Making Community Management a shared function of the entire enterprise is the recipe for a successful business of nearly any kind, and quite possibly the best way for everyone from execs down to stay connected to their customer bases. But the implementation of that reality (for most big businesses) is still a thing of the future because organizational change is slow. The easiest path is to build a strong Community Management discipline within an organization – one that has the function of education and collaboration in its charter, and one that knows how and when to involve key business members in the practice.

CM’s have long complained that Community Management is not a dumping ground. But it should also not be reduced to a uni-focused practice. It is not a specialist’s discipline, but rather that of the generalist. As the importance of direct-to-consumer content marketing grows, as customer service becomes more sophisticated, as big brands are increasingly expected to know their most frequent online fans by name, so too does the purview of those in Community Management.

So what is my advice to business decision makers?

Determine your business’s level of commitment. Do you truly want to be customer-first? Are you ready to take action based on what the insights tell you? If so, then consider investing in a Community Management discipline, but understand that the discipline crosses multiple departments and is likely not a sub-function of any one of those departments (marketing people, I am speaking to you).

Ten years into this field of work, we still have a long way to go. The evolution is huge, but the potential is still bigger. I cannot promise that a Community Management department will solve your needs. But I still believe that this is the future of business growth. This is the future of the authentic, connected business.

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