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You may not actually be a Community Manager – and that’s ok.

Photo cred: Lauren Close

Social Media is not Community Management and  confusing the two may ultimately be damaging to both industries.

David Spinks wrote about a conversation we had back in October where I claimed that Community Managers don’t need Social Media to do their job, and a bunch of people took different sides.

Phil Wride brought a similar topic up a few days ago, with a little more gusto. And Evan Hamilton touches on this discussion in his presentations. So I’m definitely not the only person thinking about this or making this claim.

So, why do I think that Social Media isn’t Community Management?

Simple – win scenarios. For most (not all) Social Media professionals, they “win” if they maintain a conversation with every person who touches a brand to personalize that brand and create an engaged audience.

For most (again, not all) Community Managers, they “win” if they put themselves out of a job because their users are talking to each other (not just to the community manager), evangelizing the brand and defending itself to the point that the Community Manager is no longer needed.

I’m a visual person, so for people like me, this is Social Media – people talking with the brand:

And this is Community Management – people talking with each other:


(Don’t know where they “borrowed” these pictures from, but I “borrowed” them from here and here, respectively)

The metrics for both are different. The goals for both are different. The tools for both are different. The success factors are different. So why on earth do we keep calling them the same thing?

My thoughts on why: It’s easier to measure Social Media success because you can quantify followers, retweets, click throughs from external sites to owned sites than it is to quantify “community”, but the title Community Manager is more desirable than Social Media Manager so it’s better for recruiting.

Job postings have evolved over the years as new tools and roles come out, but the titles haven’t evolved. 8 years ago, “Community Manager” job postings were looking for moderation and online event organizing (quizzes, little games, giveaways, etc.).

When Facebook came out, they shifted slightly to talk about engagement and reputation management. When Twitter hit, there was a short period where they basically read “we need someone to do the twitters because everyone knows you need to be on the twitters”.

Now, they mostly read like PR and marketing positions with brand management, blogging, maintaining social network profiles, etc. – it’s broadcast media with a little bit of communications thrown in. For example, a month ago, I was sent a job listing for a “Community Manager” that read:

“The NY Community Manager will be responsible for launching all marketing plans for the new service (in soft test now with launch date set for July), to include social media, viral marketing, event marketing, etc.”

Not a single mention of building an actual community, just talking and selling to an engaged audience.

So, why is this a bad thing?

Because as some point, someone’s going to realize that expectations aren’t being met. I wouldn’t lump Advertising and Marketing and Sales and PR and Customer Service under one title because then none of them would meet the single set of expectations set forth for all of them.

So, why is it a good idea to mix up Community Management and Social Media? If we do, we can only all fail as we all fail to meet a muddy but single set of expectations set forth for all of us.

Be proud of what you do. Own who you are. Claim the title that makes sense:

If your job is primarily to talk to lots of people, you work in Social Media

If your job is primarily to get lots of people talking to each other, you work in Community Management.

 

Either one is ok,  but mixing the two up can only be bad for all of us.

 

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About the author

Justin Isaf

Justin is a community management consultant. He founded Communl which mentors and trains in-house community managers to make them more awesome. He has been doing the community management "thing" since 2003, which has including everything from launching communities from scratch to running the largest actively managed community on the interwebs.

39 comments
larboz
larboz

Is there a potential difference between a community manager, who is still the go between between a mature community and acompany or organization, and a community builder who's job it would be to start up the community for a company or organization?

Are there scenarios down the line where these could be 2 different positions?

GeoffBarry
GeoffBarry

Agree with the argument, but disagree with the distinction you draw between community management and social media. I think it all falls to our application of the tool. Social media can be used to define and develop a community, and not just develop flow to a single point, or brand. Point being, social media can be either, and can be used to strengthen connections between community actors.

SM is merely a set of communication tools. In the hands of marketing, PR, or CM it becomes something entirely different.

The rec you received can call that role whatever they want, but they're doing their hiring process a disservice by naming it a CM role. It's clearly a pure marketing role.

rhappe
rhappe

Justin - thanks for taking this subject on and thanks to Alexa for surfacing it. I've been on a similar kick for a few years (here's my first post on it: http://www.thesocialorganization.com/2008/07/social-media-is-not-community.html) but I really like the simple distinction you make and the associated graphics. Community building is all about getting people to build relationships with each other, not necessarily with you. Both are really important but they are optimal for different business outcomes... do you want awareness or do you want loyalty or advocacy, as one example.

Thanks for the post!

mgoble
mgoble

I completely agree with Justin. When you hire your marketing communication firm to be your Community Manager that make no sense. You are hiring Social Media experts to help you market your brand.

dshanahan
dshanahan

This is an awkward "argument"...people don't "work in social media". What do you do for a living? I do Social Media? No. Are there people out there arguing that Community Managing or Community Building (two very different things: http://blog.dshan.me/2011/05/25/defining-community-building/) ARE Social Media? To me that feels like someone saying "Oh, I'm a Phone Caller".

I think you're talking about Marketers, as distinguished from CM. Or PR. ?

DanMcKee
DanMcKee

Excellent post. I agree that It's time for differentiation between the two titles. Community management is evolving and hypothetically the job can be done without social media, however why would anyone make that choice? Community members, even of the internal self hosted variety, are using social media. As a CM, it's my job to go where the people are. I've got to be using social media on a regular basis or I'm missing out on opportunities for community growth. It's my belief that the job position where the community manager sits in a vacuum and only communicates within a dedicated community, void of outside social media influence, is evaporating.

DanielleWarby
DanielleWarby

I did community management long before social media came along and that's kinda the key really. SM is a tool you can use to help manage a community but it's not an integral part (though it can be of course). I try and educate clients in the difference and at the end of the day it comes down to identifying what their goals really are.

I disagree with the statement that you get to a point when a community manager is no longer needed tho! You're always watching, monitoring, guiding, solving and taking on feedback.

primesuspect
primesuspect

This is so accurate, and spot-on. Thank you for writing it. The frustrating thing for some of us is that many, many companies are hiring "community managers" without having any clue what that means; what they really want is a salesperson or a social media marketing person. Sure, idealistically we can all go into those interviews and educate them, but that won't get you hired.

rodicka
rodicka

Great job of getting it straight. One point to add: "getting lots of people talking to each other" often takes time, years in most cases. So in the meantime, we community managers end up "talking to lots of people". (As Gary V. says, its a marathon, not a sprint.) Therefore, intentions and goals, as well as realistic expectations are an important element to add in to this distinction.

nickcicero
nickcicero moderator

Love this post, a great description of the gray area that is constantly put on SM/CM.

amirad
amirad

I enjoyed reading this post as I have recently felt the need to distinguish between Community Manager and Social Media. Though we might use Social Media tools, our objectives as Community Managers are different and it is important for Community Managers to level expectations.

NickRovisa
NickRovisa

The crux of this whole piece is right here:

If your job is primarily to talk to lots of people, you work in Social Media

If your job is primarily to get lots of people talking to each other, you work in Community Management.

Interesting thoughts, Justin. Enjoyed discussing this in real life with you. At first, I was defensive, but after thinking about it for a while, I am starting to see your point.

justinisaf
justinisaf

@dshanahan

people don't "work in social media"

Of course people work in social media. That's like saying people don't work in politics because they don't "do politics". There's plenty of people who "work in traditional media" so of course people can "work in social media". They'll have a variety of titles everything from social media manager, communications managers, community managers, interns, etc. and those titles may or may not be accurate, but they all work in social media.

The difference (still in the world according to me) between traditional media and social media is that the former is broadcast while the latter is broadcast, with replies.

"Are there people out there arguing that Community Managing or Community Building ARE Social Media?"

Yes, have you looked at the job postings for "Community Managers" recently? Many people might not be actively "arguing" it, but they certainly misunderstand and call a social media position a community management position.

And yes, I think most (not all) people working in social media are marketers. I also think they are exactly PR. 30 years ago, Public Relations set out to relate a company to it's public. Social media tries to do the exact same thing, just at a different speed and with different tools.

justinisaf
justinisaf

@DanMcKee

"the job can be done without social media, however why would anyone make that choice?"

Very few people do, and I'd posit that it would be a mistake for most community managers to do so (I've made that choice because that's my market niche and I've just doubled down on what I'm good at). I think I said below somewhere that there's a life cycle to a community and that social media can be incredibly valuable in an early stage community (by building a cult of personality around yourself though one-on-one communication with people on external networks as you build the critical mass needed to catalyze a community). It's hard to grow a community if nobody knows about it.

It's essential when you are in the community *growth* phase, but make sure you're always building community, not just broadcasting. And don't confuse the platform with the job. Many people think social media IS twitter, facebook, etc. when social media is what most people do ON twitter, facebook, etc. If you are using twitter to get people talking to each other, that's community management, NOT social media (in the world according to me at least).

Also, I'll disagree with you that the community manager who focuses on only dedicated communities is evaporating. If anything we should see more of them as people specialize and job functions separate. We should have people who are very very very good at increasing network density within owned communities working in parallel to people who are very very very good at personalizing a brand and driving people to an owned community. It's how we've been set up at the last two companies I've worked for and it's incredibly successful. Just take a look at HuffPost, we take that specialization to an extreme.

Not to beat an analogy to death, but PR didn't kill off marketing which didn't kill off advertising, which didn't kill off customer service. Social media wont kill off community management. They will just become separately recognized roles (which may of course be done by one person in a small company that can't afford both)

justinisaf
justinisaf

@DanielleWarby

"I disagree with the statement that you get to a point when a community manager is no longer needed tho!"

Yup, it is an unattainable goal. But it's what I strive for every day as a community manager - to build a self sustaining and self recruiting community.

justinisaf
justinisaf

@primesuspect Definitely skool them. That's what they are hiring you for. I hire a tech person to be smarter than me at tech, they're hiring a community manager to be smarter than them at community management. If they want a marketer, let them know. Every time I get a cold call about a job where the description is a marketing position, I tell them, and then they are more eager to get me to come in and talk to them.

If you know what you're talking about, it's good to prove it in an interview!

But yes, it is very very frustrating....which is one of the reasons I wrote this :)

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@primesuspect Or it will...because they'll see you know what you're talking about.

Most companies don't know that they don't know what they're talking about until you point it out.

justinisaf
justinisaf

@rodicka Agreed. There's a life cycle to a community and different tools are useful at different stages. In the early stages social media plays a large role in community building - you have to get people into your community somehow and social media is a good way to identify creators.

But, as @DavidSpinks says, it's always a function of getting people to talk to each other. #cmgrchat is a great example of using what is often seen as a social media tool to create a community - and then leveraging that community to create something like this

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@rodicka Asbolutely, interaction between the brand and the audience is really important in building communities. Just realize that that's a method, not the goal.

JPedde
JPedde

@NickRovisa I thought the same thing... the crux that is. I don't believe anyone works "in social media" as "social media" are just tools used for community management.

dshanahan
dshanahan

@justinisaf All good points; it's probably not worth getting bogged in semantics...I do appreciate a distinction between CM and working in Social Media, and that we're in a period in which those lines are blurred to the point of confusion. Yes, I've seen the job postings, and have the same reactions you do to the way these roles are presented and positioned. It seems in the CM space especially there is still some learning left as to what the responsibilities are for the role.

rodicka
rodicka

@justinisaf Understood this is a high-level conversation, because as we know, communities are unique in form and function and the level of interaction is often dependent on that. But agreed, its hard to think of an example where the goal to creating a community is not getting the members themselves to own it and run with it. @DavidSpinks In nearly every case, interaction b/c brand and audience is a critical method, but there are cases where the community takes on a life of its own, quickly, w/o the brand doing much at all - Instagram as an example. This is the exception, but fascinating nonetheless.

justinisaf
justinisaf

@JPedde

That's interesting...I'd disagree with that mostly...There's social media, and social media tools. I work in the media industry (doing community management), so why can't someone work in the social media industry? To me, that's like saying there's nobody who works in PR, there are only PR tools used by marketers.

rodicka
rodicka

@JPedde @NickRovisa Saying "do you work in social media" is like saying "do you work in hammers and nails". You don't work in hammers and nails, you work in construction.

AlexaScordato
AlexaScordato

@dshanahan I definitely see where you were coming from on your original point and mostly agree. I think until social media proficiency becomes ubiquitous amongst professionals, those of us who are early adopters or the first wave of employees with social media in our titles will continue to "work in social media". It's just a qualifier that allows us to differentiate ourselves from the pack. @justinisaf You'd really appreciate this post from @rhappe : http://community-roundtable.com/2010/03/differentiating-between-social-media-and-community-management/

justinisaf
justinisaf

@rodicka @DavidSpinks You're exactly right - there are in fact few examples I know where a community formed without taking a life of it's own. You can pour money, time and resources into a community, but if it doesn't own itself, it's never going to start. And on the flip side, you can do everything you can to stop a community forming, but it will anyway.

They are fascinating things, and that's why I love em :)

justinisaf
justinisaf

@rodicka

"or leveraging the power of a community with social media "

A conversation for another day, but most companies "doing social media" confuse an "engaged audience" for a "community". And that is one of the fundamental flaws of most positions branded as "community managers".

This post is focused on defining the goal of a position, regardless of tools or platforms, as the dividing line for two very very different roles within a company.

rodicka
rodicka

@justinisaf Good point, there certainly are jobs in social media. i worked previously for a brand that was primarily a Facebook app, and few years previous ran a niche social network. So yes, in those cases, I worked in the social media industry. I presumed the focus of this post was more addressing those brands not within the social media industry who are either leveraging social media for marketing, PR (or whatever business goals) - or leveraging the power of a community with social media and whatever other tools to get closer to their customers and get them interacting with one another in (in order to achieve said business goals).

Trackbacks

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