The Evolution of a Social Media Community Manager
One of the most unappreciated social media jobs is that of the Community Manager. I know – I used to be one. In fact, my love of all things community is what launched my career and eventually brought me here, to be the Director of undoubtedly one of the best teams of social strategists with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. In a webinar next week, I’m going to be discussing all things community, and if it’s anything like the panel I was on at SXSW earlier this year, it’s going to be a learning experience you won’t want to miss.
How Building Online Communities Started
The very first community I ever moderated was one I built back in the early 1990s. My father had been working for Cray Research, the supercomputer company. He saw that there was amazing potential in the world of computing and decided to retire our Tandy and
shove DOS down my throat gently nudge me into learning more about computers. Fortunately for both of us, I fell in love with technology and our story has a happy ending.
Armed with this new skill, I began to explore the world of the BBS. For those of you not old enough or as immersed in computer geekery as some of us, BBS stands for “bulletin board system,” and it was one of the earliest forms of social networking. It wasn’t long until I had friends from all over the country, and coming from a town of barely 1,000 residents, my 14.4 modem was my ticket to see the world. U.S. Robotics FTW!
Keep in mind that at this time, AOL hadn’t yet started spamming people’s snail mail with CD-ROMs; it was barely a glimmer in someone’s eye. GeoCities was still a couple of years away (any fellow displaced residents of Colosseum reading this?) and the Gopher protocol had just been launched as a pre-cursor to the modern-day browser. In fact, it would be two years before Netscape came about and three before the first version of Internet Explorer ever hit the shelves.
I was 14 at the time, which I think more than qualifies me for early adopter status. It wasn’t long before I had a network of friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with today. Over time, the BBS became my social life in many ways. Relationships were formed and were far more genuine that I had experienced in real life. People were becoming members of my BBS and I found other BBS communities. To this day, I keep in touch with some of the people I met on “The Wizard’s Lair,” the over-the-top and somewhat emo title of my board. Social media and electronic interaction was in its infancy and there is and was nothing more exciting to me. While my father was thrilled I had taken to online computing like a fish to water, I know he wasn’t thrilled with the expense. The “world wide web” at the time cost $8 per hour, plus long distance.
The Evolution of Online Community Management
Fast forward a couple of decades and I was still moderating communities. I cut my teeth in modern community management with a couple of stellar ladies at LiveJournal, moderating a wedding planning community. We have hosts of stories about the characters you meet while managing a wedding planning forum, including many with one of Encyclopedia Dramatica’s most notorious entries, Aria Star. Before I knew it, social networking for business had arrived and businesses were looking for anyone who could tell them anything about non-email communication on the web.
The problem was that most of us who knew a lot about the social web were very young. While this in and of itself isn’t a problem, it’s very hard to convince a man holding a Ph.D. in Marketing from Stanford that you know more about marketing in this medium than he does when you aren’t even old enough to legally drink beer. Eventually those C-Suite execs decided it was better to just let the interns do their thing than to admit that they needed some hand holding, and community management as a career took off like wildfire.
Community Management Is Not Just For Interns Anymore
While this position has certainly gained credibility in the recent past, it’s still one of the least respected positions within one of the sexiest areas of marketing and communications. Community managers always work. They’re online the vast majority of their day, living and breathing your brand. Community managers work on holidays, they work on weekends, and I have yet to meet a community manager who hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night to check on their community.
Yet, and I feel fairly comfortable speaking for my tribe, they are often under-appreciated, overworked, and patching together a myriad of free or low-cost social tools because their employer won’t invest in an enterprise-level system. When you consider the job they are tasked with, this kind of thinking is illogical. Community managers are cheerleaders for your brand. They are the front line people delivering your brand message day in and day out. Community managers are the ones who can stop a potential PR crisis in its tracks because of their inside knowledge of your hard core fans. And, should a crisis occur, they have the trust of the community to set things right. If you’ve hired the right community manager, I can guarantee that they can rattle off your demographics faster than any members of your executive team. Why would you trust all of this to an intern?
Community managers are a unique breed. They wear the hats of customer service, PR, marketing, communications, and then some. My goal with our webinar next week is to help make the lives of community managers easier, and to show them some of the tricks I’ve learned in my nearly two decades of managing online communities. I’m going to show off a case study about what effective community management can do for a brand in just a few months. And, I am not even going to blink when a community manager steps away to RT a follower.
In the meantime, stop hiring interns as a cheap solution to managing your community. If your brand is serious about social marketing, or even serious about its message, the community manager is not the place to cut corners. Hire a professional (or our agency!) to do the job right.
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