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Interview: Seamus Condron, Community Manager, mediabistro.com

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While the job title “Community Manager” is relatively new, it has gained traction and is being adopted by more and more companies looking to their community as “an active participant in pretty much everything they do, from marketing initiatives to product development,” says mediabistro’s Community Manager Seamus Condron.

In this interview, Condron talks about the things all good community managers should be doing (“It’s a constant practice of listening, engaging, and experimenting with your users.”), what role Twitter plays in community management (“The beauty of Twitter is that its simplicity allows your channel to be able to accomplish multiple objectives.”) and which community managers are doing their jobs effectively (“Saul Colt is one of my favorites. He used to be “Head of Magic” at Freshbooks.”)

There are often misconceptions about what a community manager does. What are some of the biggest misconceptions that you come across?


I think the role is still too new and evolving to identify any blatant misconceptions, but I will say that a Community Manager can take on different meanings and have different objectives depending on the organization. I’ve read and heard comments before from some who consider themselves “social media experts,” who balk at the role of Community/Social Media Managers, saying that an entire company should be community and social media proficient. That point is valid, but what some digerati fail to understand is most professionals, whether they’re a journalist, PR pro, marketing exec, or whatever, carry with them philosophies and practices that simply don’t work anymore in this era. They need to be retrained. And that’s where a Community Manager becomes important. It’s a role that’s going to be huge going forward, and it’s going to be evolving differently depending on the company and industry. And it’s not something you can just assign to an intern. Companies will need to understand the Community Manager role will be as important as a CFO or other traditional role. Some organizations will probably learn that the hard way when they have a community/PR crisis and nobody to attend to it.

In your opinion what are some of the things any good community manager should be doing?

It’s a constant practice of listening, engaging, and experimenting with your users. A company, new or old, simply can’t be successful unless they make their community an active participant in pretty much everything they do, from marketing initiatives to product development. A good Community Manager needs to have their finger on the pulse of the conversation that happens around the brand they represent, whether the conversation is happening on their company’s website, Twitter, Facebook, random blogs, etc. They need to be able to digest all that chatter and disseminate it quickly. Based on the feedback and behavior of the community, you should make suggestions for improving practices, offerings, etc. Sometimes you might feel like you’re being dismissed, but as long as you keep relaying the feedback of the community, it becomes easier to convince others that something needs to be addressed.

You were just involved in the launch of “TK,” an open blog featuring content produced by the mediabistro.com community. What is the goal with TK? How as the response been so far?

The success of our Twitter channel suggested that we have a lot of people who might be interested in participating in a user-generated content initiative. UGC is here to stay, and it’s becoming a fixture in journalism and other forms of media. We wanted to capitalize on the momentum that Twitter has generated and start developing more community facing initiatives, and the first one is this blog. As I see it, the act of paying it forward is core value of social media, and the more our users can learn from each other through the content they produce and share, the better. But it’s not an easy task. Twitter took a while to grow, and this will too. The response has been very good, but there’s a big difference between a tweet from someone saying “great idea,” and and an actual contribution to the blog. We’ve gotten several really good posts already, but we’re eager for more. In the coming weeks we’re going to be developing some cool promotions to help foster participation. I’ve got high hopes for this project, so we’ll all be working hard on getting the word out about it.

In terms of the use of Twitter in community management, ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick said, “it’s not an effective broadcast method. I think it’s better for biz dev and market monitoring than for straight up marketing.” Do you agree?

The beauty of Twitter is that its simplicity allows your channel to be able to accomplish multiple objectives. Individuals and organizations are finding new ways to leverage it all the time. I think it’s ignorance when you hear “Twitter is not effective for this.” What works for one person or company may not work for another. While I agree that Twitter solely as a direct marketing is usually a recipe for disaster, you need to be open to trying things with your community. If you regularly engage your users and show that you value their input, they’ll have no problem telling you when something you try doesn’t smell right. Our feed is has distinct editorial characteristics, and it’s a conversation platform first and foremost, but we also experiment on the marketing side of things, whether it’s tweeting about an upcoming conference or course, or bigger experiments like our Tweet Jobs service that’s in beta mode. It’s the Community Manager’s job to listen to the users and measure the effectiveness these kinds of initiatives, and refine them based on the community’s feedback. That was my long version of saying I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Kirkpatrick (who’s a brilliant guy by the way). You need to be open to trying things. Social media is too new to be setting things in stone.

What other companies have hired community managers that you think are doing their job effectively?

Like I said, each organization has its own community objectives, so I don’t think it’s fair to say what is and isn’t effective. But there are folks out there I definitely follow because they’re just really smart people who understand how community works in their respective area. In many cases I don’t even follow the company they work for. I follow them as individuals because they provide so much value for me. Saul Colt (twitter.com/saulcolt) is one of my favorites. He used to be “Head of Magic” at Freshbooks, and now he’s at another company. I’ve never been a customer of either company he’s worked for and probably will never be, but Saul is just someone who does a great job at practicing community through his expertise, humility, and humor. Those are important characteristics for a Community Manager to have. They’re often the voice of your company, and a voice needs to be worth listening to. But as far as companies, I’ll just say that that future news organizations will feature the Community Manager prominently. We’re already starting to see them being hired at newspapers that are ahead of the curve in regards to evolving in the digital age. That breed of Community Manager will be responsible for training journalists and other staff, and they’ll be the bridge connecting the news room and the audience. That’s the area I’m most excited about for Community Managers.

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