The Emerging Role: Community Manager

I previously worked for a start-up called, Passenger, where I was as a Community Manager for brands like Nike, JcPenney, and ABC. While at Passenger  I posted to the company blog about the role of a Community Manager. Though the post remains mostly relevant, it does read much like an advertisement (ironic since at the time I clearly remember trying to ensure that it didn’t feel like an ad, but instead embraced the voice of the company, just as any Community Manager would do.) 

I’ve included my post below, and have amended it slightly to reflect my current views, noted in purple

Please note, that this was written while working for Passenger, not Yahoo!, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the company at this time. 

The Emerging Role: Community Manager

February 12, 2008 | Posted by Melissa Daniels

Thought Leadership

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I spoke today with Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research about the role of the “Community Manager”, in an attempt to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained in my time at Passenger. Shortly into the call, we came across the topic of client education and some of the key questions that clients ask when entering into the Social Media sphere. Among the most popular are permutations of, “How does this work?” “How long does this last?” and, “What will I get out of this?” 
Though these questions still come up, these are definitely questions that arise when you’re working from an agency perspective. When starting an online Community, it’s more important to ask questions like, “What type of content do I need to have available?” “How much time should my team devote to this?” and “What do I/we (the company) plan on doing with the insights we gain from our community?” before you even start your Community. The actual nuts and bolts can come later– the strategy and implementation is what truly matters, and is what sets one community apart from the rest. There are loads of examples of communities that thrive on lackluster systems but have dedicated CM’s feeding in lots of content, and regularly collaborating and implementing feedback. These communities are more successful (often tenfold) than the other communities with all the “bells and whistles” because their teams are dedicated and their users are aware of this.     

And of course, there’s always the question of “Who will be running this?” which brings me to, well, me”the Community Manager, or, CM.

This still remains a critical question. Who runs your community is a critical aspect of how your community is run. Whether you like it or not, your CM’s personality often trickles into your community’s communication, so be careful and  clear when making your hire. This person is going to be the voice of your brand, your product, and will be your day to day face to your users. 

So what does a CM do, and who exactly are they managing? At Passenger, each of the CMs are people who have a knack for tech, love to communicate, and each have been Passenger Certified in “bridging the gap” ” they know how to help you create a successful community and help you get over that digital hurdle to make it all work 

So let’s start there. 

How does this work? 

Sure the idea of entering into the Social Media realm is a little daunting. Ok, it’s a lot daunting. With all of the new tools springing up on a daily basis it’s hard to get a grip on what is a fad, what will stick around, and what is worth exploring a bit further.

This is still totally true. There are lots of social media tools out there, each clamoring to be the “next big thing”– it’s not imperative that you have a presence on EVERY site. But, it is imperative that you’re aware of as many mentions of your brand on those sites as possible. Go where your audience is. If you have a lot of people talking about your product on Twitter, you should definitely have a Twitter account to begin engaging these users. However, if you did a search for your brand and see that no one has mentioned your brand on Twitter, you might want to just stake your claim on your brand’s ID on Twitter so you don’t get “brandjacked.” 

If you’re here right now, you’ve probably decided on the latter and want to know a bit more. So, what does a Community Manager actually do, and where on earth do they get their community? Communities consist of a group of customers or potential customers ”anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand”each eager to share their opinion and influence a brand that they care about— this could be positive or negative. (They come to us via our client’s email lists, customer lists or contact information gathered through a variety of other customer interactions. From here, members are invited to join, engaged by the opportunity to have their voices heard and have an impact on the brand.) This portion is/was part of the Passenger recruitment and community strategy.

How you fill your Community is completely up to you. As I mentioned before, sometimes the most successful ways of engaging an audience is to go where your audience already is. A word of caution though, with this approach: if you’re going into a group, site, or community that is already established, first do some lurking before “jumping in”– get a feel for the tone and the social cues. If you jump in and start posting like a banshee, you’re bound to offend someone in the group and totally mess with the group’s mojo and come off completely disingenuous. If the group/site is already moderated by someone else, try reaching out to the established moderator first and introducing yourself. Because remember, no one likes a poacher. 

We then work hands on with our clients to iron out a series of objectives”these objectives aren’t set in stone, nor are they necessarily the main marketing objectives for their brand. Instead, these are a combination of large, far reaching business objectives and a desire to better understand their customer. Together, we work to create a series of events geared towards these objectives” they could be polls, discussion boards, or any other type of Event. Members are invited to attend and the feedback comes rolling in.
Sometimes the feedback doesn’t always come “rolling in”– and sometimes when it does come rolling in, it’s not the feedback you were expecting. Expect the unexpected. Prepare yourself for the best, and, for the worst. And, have a diversified backup plan. If you go into your community expecting to try the same thing over and over again and keep getting the same negative results, that, my friend, is called insanity. Approach your project with multiple options: this will create diversity and variety within your community, and, will also give you a backup plan… just in case.

 

As a Community Manager, my main task is to make sure people are happy ”this includes my client as well as my community members.

Reality check: people aren’t always happy. There are loads of people in the world who are perfectly happy being miserable. Some of these people hang out in discussion forums. You’ll probably meet a few. Your biggest challenge and indicator of success is whether or not you can “cut through the crap”– there are loads of people who get long, rambling emails that rage on and on about how one minor change to a product ruins their life. Sure, the message is long and tedious, but if you can cut through the emotion and find the logic– you’re on your way to becoming a rockstar. That’s the role of the community manager. Cutting through the emotion to ensure that you’re delivering clear, focused results to your team that produce meaningful products, decisions, and communities. 

Each day we’re actively in our communities, reading posts, replying to messages, and noticing trends.

Your members are dedicated users– it’s important to always remember that your users are there, spending their free moments engaging with YOUR brand or product. Potentially, it’s their loyalty and insight that helps keep your company afloat. Remember to always high-five your community. 

Among the most important aspect of this role is doing just that ”noticing trends or patterns. That’s how we make this work. By listening to what customers have to say and streamlining this information into a series of more digestible community “sound bites” we’re able to bridge the gap between what the customer wants and is talking about, and, what the client wants and is also talking about. And remember, to always pay it forward: communicate the changes back to your community, and let them know their voice had an impact. 

How long does this last? 

Not to sound trite or cliché, but these communities will last as long as you want them to. All they need to survive is attention and a lot of honesty. Making yourself and your brand more real and human is the first step to finding online success, and the best way to ensure longevity.  Oh, and transparency. Never, ever, ever lie to a community. Ever. 

Cue the Community Manager. 

We’re here to maintain that relationship for as long as brands want to talk to their customers. (Which should be always.) Personally, part of the reason why I think Customer Collaboration is so successful is because of the personal touch involved. Actually placing a face to a name does wonders in real life it shouldn’t come as a surprise that within the B2C world, the effect is one and the same. In each of the communities I work with, as well as many of my peers’ communities, members feel a stronger tie to a brand when they know who they’re talking to. Being able to connect one on one with someone close to their favorite brand increases the value tenfold. 

It’s that added personal touch that makes these communities last, and makes brands want to maintain them. It’s also the ability to make a difference in something they’re willing to spend their extra time on. Remember, only 10% of users create 90% of the content online– but the rest of us consume it: be sure that the content they create is something you’d want consumed. 

What will I get out of this? 

Naturally, when dealing with a business, the “how much bang am I getting for my buck” question is bound to come up. Companies always want to know whether or not it’s worth it, because let’s face it, it takes a lot of effort to maintain any sort of good relationship”whether it’s with a customer or a friend or a family member”each take some amount of time, so understanding what the end is sometimes helps rationalize the means.

Measuring social media is becoming easier and easier as technology progresses. Amongst the most common ways of measuring community effectiveness is looking at engagement metrics, consumption, and sites like Radian6 (as I’ve mentioned before) do a great job of also tracking your online presence. You should also be sure to use sites like Google Analytics, to measure traffic and to find ways to optimize visits. 

Even with a background in emerging media and new marketing initiatives, customer collaboration is truly something that you don’t get until you’re in the thick of it all and witness the success of Customer Collaboration in full-effect. You feel an extreme sense of pride and ownership for something you indirectly (or in some cases, directly,) fostered. 

One of my clients recently held a series of events that inspired members to create and submit their own content. This content was then reviewed by the other community members, where they were asked to vote on their favorite submission. Once the votes were tallied, the winners had been decided and we ran into the eternal business question of, “So what?” and “Now what?” To make the community member’s feedback relevant, our client had one of their in-house designers review the submissions and critique them”all on video. Naturally, this video was uploaded to the community and shared with the winners (as well as the rest of the community). The feedback was astounding.

Encouraging users to engage with other users in addition to the brand creates a “sticky” environment that fosters a stronger sense of community, and, boosts engagement.     

The client was thrilled by the submissions from members, and members were thrilled to be heard by the client. Here, the gain was mutual. The client was given a look at what customers would buy if they were given the option of creating the products all on their own, and the customer felt as though they truly were a valued entity. If the value of making informed marketing and product decisions isn’t enough for you, the intrinsic value of a “job well done” certainly will be. 

All in all, community management is about knowing your audience, knowing your brand, and knowing where the two intersect. Finding a way to bridge that gap creates a perfect harmony between product and user. Good luck! 
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