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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.

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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.

Trackbacks

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  6. […] Hire for the jobs you need to balance the talent you already have, not the titles that confuse you and what people think they want. If you are hiring for the very specific things of SEO, partnerships, content creation, and virality (content shares on social), then you should be looking for an Internet marketer or a social media manager to perform these specific marketing tasks. If your person doesn’t seem to fit in “community,” then find another title to fit the job you need. You may not need a community manager, and that’s OK. […]

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  12. […] members, often strengthening online encounters by hosting offline events (Vanessa DiMauro, Justin Isaf, Jenn Pedde).  In other words, a community manager builds, develops, and sustains […]

  13. […] Justin Isaf stated in You may not actually be a Community Manager – and that’s ok., “For most (again, not all) Community Managers, they “win” if they put themselves out of […]

  14. […] Justin Isaf stated in You may not actually be a Community Manager – and that’s ok., “For most (again, not all) Community Managers, they “win” if they put themselves out of […]

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