Is the community manager clueless?

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Is the community manager clueless?

Today I heard a very curious comment from a Chief Innovator Officer. He was very upset about the fact that their community manager was totally clueless to what was going on in the company. It got me thinking about the position of community manager as head of Social Media in a corporation. Companies, in their effort to stay up to date with this wicked speedy vortex called technology, have been hiring community managers to run their Social Media efforts, no questions asked. For many, Social Media is about having someone answering customers on Twitter or Facebook. Truth is, few managers really explore what this person should do. They just hire someone that knows how to write (presumably), which means, they’ll bring in someone from journalism school or a refurbished marketeer.

Now, how much does the community manager knows about the company and how much is he willing to explore? As far as I’ve seen, they essentially serve as customer service agents and/or internal PR members, relaying information that is sent to them from different departments, eminently marketing and sales. In truth, the position is much more than managing the community, or lets put it this other way, community management isn’t just about responding to complains and furious users. It’s about uncovering true, emotional and empowering stories, outside the company and most importantly, inside the company. It’s about becoming true organizational storytellers. They should be hunting for stories, they should know what’s going on around each department.

It actually reminds me of how differently the IP department at UC Berkeley and Stanford work, or used to work two years ago. At Cal, if you are a scientist and you want to spin-off a research, you’ll need to go and talk to the IP department, get them to license the discovery, and then, after a lot of paperwork, get approval. The whole process averages one year. At Stanford, the IP guys, visit each lab every week and ask the teams if they have something they can licence or spin-off. While this is a generalization and I’m sure there are specific cases on both sides, what I want to illustrate is the different mentality that each school showcases.

Community managers should be out there asking each team of the company if they have something cool to tell, and while this might seem like something time consuming or hard, it’s actually quite easy. Yesterday I did this experiment, and this is what I got back:

Anyone can do this at their companies. Now, the trick here is to start teaching the teams what qualifies as an interesting story. I’m a firm believer on the following quote by Mr. Franklin:

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

Which, in our example means, that we shouldn’t be bugging the teams to give us stories. We should be showing them examples of what’s a cool story and what’s not. We should be teaching them that what happened to them last week was actually pretty amazing and that there is a great story there. Finally, we should get them involved in the storytelling process, get them to write the stories and show case them on the public Social Media channels of the corporation. Of course, this new role of a community manager as an organizational storyteller presumes there has been a change in the way corporations deal with the flow of information within their ranks, something that just hasn’t been the case so far.


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  • Douglas Crets

    Very thoughtful post. If I may add three observations.

    1. It’s not that they just hire someone who can write. Sometimes it is not even that. It’s someone who “knows how to use social platforms and technology.” What is missing here is one very critical component — they should be hiring someone who knows how to manage relationships and in a professional way, regardless of familiarity with the company’s lifespan goals. In fact, the error of the community manager being clueless is the fault of the CIO, who should have a training program so that everyone in the organization is familiar with this issue.

    2. Often, companies — especially larger ones or ones that are just starting out — hire a community manager uknowingly. They really think they hired a social media manager or strategist, but they are soon to realize that in fact, there is no strategy for social unless there is a willing community to engage. That’s the job of both the strategist and the community manager. That person in a big corp and / or a just starting out company is sometimes the same person by virtue of circumstance.

    3. The trouble in many companies is not the alignment of the values of the company with its employees. It’s the firewall that exists between the company, its employees, and the consumer. In a digital macro environment, there really is no firewall. The company likes to think of its brand as the firewall, when in fact, in a permeable digital media environment, the “umbrella” of the brand is actually a filter that makes integration with external values as easy as breathing and communicating. When a CIO or any manager hires a community manager to push out brand messaging, they make the horrible error of assuming people give a shit. People do not. Unless you give a shit about them. If you have a smart community manager, this is his role — to teach the company about how much they don’t know about the people they really need to know, the customers.

    • Alex Barrera

      I can’t agree more Doug! Fantastic comments!! Really appreciated!

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