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What a Community Manager is Not

What a Community Manager is Not. Before we tackle what a community manager isn’t, we have to ask: What is a community manager? 

In 2012, after 7 solid years of social media platforms and 20 years of internet forums and comment moderation, this actually IS an answerable question with shades of right answers and most definitely wrong answers, contrary to popular belief. If you’re going to say, “Well, it depends” then to you I say, you have not done enough reading. To fix that, here are some light resources by excellent sources (and these are only a few):

There. That’s settled. Can we all agree henceforth to stop saying, “It depends” and “There’s no clear definition”?

No, that wasn’t enough? I thought you’d say that, and am glad to have you challenge this.

If you don’t want to acknowledge the definitive resources above, I can understand that, so let’s look at it from another angle. Let’s think of all of the things that a community manager should have no part in—and why. This can go for everyone in the world of startups, agencies, freelancing, brands, and corporations. Companies may not necessarily need a community manager just because it’s a buzzword and everyone has to have one.

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 let’s say SEO, partnerships, content creation, and virality (content shares on social), then you should be looking for a internet marketer, or 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 be a community manager, and that’s OK.

A community manager is not a catch-all position. It is not a role that can handle all of your “digital.”

A community manager does work on social communities some of the time. However, it’s very important that this person is not the main person to handle your Facebook Page, Multiple Facebook Groups, Google+, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, Viddy, Quora, Tumblr, Linked In Page, Linked In Groups, Analytics, Blogger Outreach, Fourquare, and Blogging. Would you make your receptionist answer 75 phone lines? No.

If you are making this person handle all of the above, I can guarantee you that they’re not doing any of it extraordinarily well if for no other reason than they are overwhelmed. There are teams of people needed for a variety of functions. Are you a boot strapped startup?  Start small with the idea of scaling as you grow to include a social media manager (or 2) and a community manager, as well as a strategist for each side.

“Community” is not marketing, support, PR, product, or communications, but it sure plays a role in all of them, and should have a seat at the table for each area in order to bring the voice of the user/member/participant to the forefront.

It is not a position that must go to your recent graduate hire who was an intern last summer and “gets social” and it is also not something that gets folded into the seasoned communications pro of 25 years’ day to day functions. To be clear: the role CAN go to either of these two if they’re qualified. Oftentimes community does get housed in the above—but usually because executives don’t yet know what to do with it.

Community should still function as its own entity—with the business objective it’s housed in as its goal.

Community management in the past few years has come to swallow up social media tools in its job descriptions, but “managing accounts” is not the sole responsibility.

Why haven’t we gotten to the point of “Social Media Account Managers” yet?

“Hi I’m Stacie—and I’m the Communications Account Manager for Brands X, Y, and Z handling Facebook & Twitter, at So and So Agency”

“Hi I’m Pete and I’m the Visual Media Account Manager handling Pinterest, YouTube, and Tumblr here at Sample Company”

These sound so much clearer than “I’m a community manager.”  (Though I worry for all of the above should Facebook shut down or Twitter stop working because they’re all unowned properties—but that’s another post for another day.)

What other tasks are community managers not well suited for, specifically?

  • Brand awareness?
    Have your PR staff take this over (and educate them on being human, not PR spokespeople) with the community manager’s guidance.
  • Lead Generation?
    Community managers in general operate in an organic capacity, so leave them out of any of your paid initiatives when it comes to ad buying, affiliate marketing or partnerships.
  • Trying to acquire new fans?
    Have your internet marketing team own this branding & fan acquisition initiative and pair them with a SEO strategist/web data team/social media manager.
  • Determine web analytics?
    If you’re counting FB shares, Twitter shares, +1s, web traffic, blog comments, you’re not a community manager. Outside of “growth” what do those things tell you? Nothing of any value. But if you’re actively engaging in conversations, creating events & meetups to get your members together (virtually or in person), you’re in community. A community manager will work with the web data team to track all of these activities and see if they’re working in marketing/sales.
  • Managing your content?
    This could go in a few ways depending on the size of the blog, who the writers are (are they community members?), and how much content you’re producing.
  • Building out product?
    That’s for your tech development team. Community managers can be active with that team, though, to provide feedback, notes, and insight.
  • Trying to get your users/fans/members to talk to each other and keep coming back?
    THERE is where you find your community manager.

So what DOES a community manager do?

Communication, moderation, guideline writing, engaging day to day online (forums, owned communities, blogs, newsletters) and offline (events, conferences, meetups), strategy, working with the social teams/marketing/support/product/PR/management, surveying, customer service, and a variety of other activities.

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About the author

Jenn Pedde

Jenn is a Co-Founder of The Community Manager and the Editor-In-Chief. She’s also an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. You can find her almost anywhere online, but specifically on #CmgrChat every Wednesday from 2-3pm ET.

34 comments
DaveYouTern
DaveYouTern

Great article. Like Adam mentions below, I also find myself wearing a lot of the "what a CM is not" hats in your post. The challenges are fun, but I definitely agree that you can do a much better job if you're able to focus more on your CM duties and have some of the SM duties like acquisition handled by another department.

Slava.K
Slava.K

Exellent article, thanks :) Now I just have to convince my boss in all of the above. lol

AdamHendle
AdamHendle

Beautiful post. As a CM of a small startup (9 and counting)  I do find myself doing basically everything you listed a CM are not well suited for and honestly, but I really enjoying being apart of tasks outside of "community management tasks". That being said I completely agree that it's extremely hard to be really good and engaged CM when your day is filled with tasks not directly related to your core job. At this point for me it's all about finding the right balance between these tasks to help our startup grow and be a great CM.

econwriter5
econwriter5

Seems endemic of our increasingly indecisive, non-committal society. Like the popular song, "So call me. Maybe."

SheenaMedina
SheenaMedina

I love this post. So many people at companies (large and small) are quick to throw the role of "Community Manager" into the function of a department we all know and are comfortable with like PR or Marketing or Communications, but this thinking is shortsighted. The real opportunity here is to re-think the way we have traditionally structured our businesses from the inside out, and ask yourself this: Does this department/role/function still make sense today? And take it even further: Will it make sense tomorrow? A lot of what you're describing here is systematic inertia.

The reason we have so much trouble defining the role of Community Manager is because we actually don't want to do the harder work of restructuring the way companies/brands have communicated and engaged with their audience/customer since the dawn of the modern age. For some reason, the conversation has become: How can we, as a brand, make our customer think we're relevant? When instead companies should be asking: Am I doing something that people actually care about? And if so, how do I build a relationship with those people? This is where you truly need a community manager to step in.

I totally agree with David Spinks when he says it's not that a community manager CAN'T do all of the above (or shouldn't). The crux of the issue is that we need to re-think relationship building in the digital age. In order to do that, we need to have more dialogue surrounding topics like this. And then turn that into action. Well done Jenn. 

MikeFraietta
MikeFraietta

We're also not tech support (in case the lady at the end of the hall or my Uncle Timmy Tubesocks reads this).  I can't get beyond Control+Alt+Delete on PCs. 

Great post, Jen! 

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

Really happy you're taking a stance on this and getting a conversation started Jenn.I just want to add... I don't think that community managers CAN'T do this or even that they shouldn't.  I think that in some situations, people are asked to take on multiple roles and that's okay.  

The point is that just because a community manager is asked to do these things, does NOT mean that all of these things fall under the role of a community manager.  

You can ask a community manager to design a website... that doesn't make web design a community management technique.

Community managers are often multicapable individuals who are asked to do a lot of different things.  But if you're a community manager that's asked to do marketing, that means you're working as both a community manager AND a marketer.  That doesn't mean that you can just roll them both up into community.

40deuce
40deuce

I'm going to have t disagree with you here, Jen. Pretty much everything you mentioned in the section of what community managers shouldn't do are things that I do... as a community manager.

Brand awareness? I leverage our marketing efforts, our already existing community and every networking opportunity I get to help spread the awareness of my companies. Lead generation? The whole point of me trying to increase our awareness is so that we can get new leads and new customers. Content? Who knows content better than the person most in direct contact with your stakeholders? Of course I create content for our brands and then help to spread it. Analytics? Well, this one may be out of some community managers' range, but being that one of my brands is focused on analytics, I of course understand our analytics and then use that to report back to our higher-ups.

For me, I believe that a community manager can do any of these things. It really just depends on what the goals are for that brand and what their community manager is capable of handeling. I think that everything you mentioned above is in some way or another very much related to the community and the community manager should play a large role in everything that has anything to do with their community (even the product building, although more for ideas on this one).

I actually think I'd freak out and feel completely left out of the loop if I didn't do all these things that you say I shouldn't be doing.

Cheers,

Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos & Marketwire

JanetAronica
JanetAronica

Not really the main point of your (awesome) post, but +100 on this statement - "Though I worry for all of the above should Facebook shut down or Twitter stop working because they’re all unowned properties"

LinkedIn could totally be someone's... maybe an entire team's 24/7 job at a company if they really all focused there and just decided to kill it on LinkedIn. Between ads, managing groups, managing the company page... all of that is SUPER time-consuming. But I don't know if I would want to do that career-wise. Surely the skills you build really focusing on one thing like that are applicable elsewhere, but I still don't know that I would want to pigeon-hold myself like that.

For me, I know I would simply get bored (and kind of overwhelmed by the communication) doing one platform all day every day - hence why I've chosen to pursue a broader product-focused marketing role over a social media one now. But I would be interested to hear people's perspectives about what the career path is like when you do focus your role on platforms like that.

KellyLux
KellyLux

Hi Jenn,  We've  had conversations on this topic before and I know you're right on with your assessment of what a *true* Community Manager does.  But, as is the case in my situation, many who are involved in this kind of work are asked to do many of the things you have outlined above as NOT being what a community manager does. For instance, we don't have a 'marketing' team. Responsiblities are spread throughout the organization. I really do think it depends on the organization, and does not necessarily have to feed into the traditional siloed corporate structure.

I know you didn't specifically mention education, but I feel like in this field there is a disconnect between being a community manager, being a social media manager, social media strategist, etc.  I have to wear all those hats (and more) and I agree that it is extremely difficult to do any of those things as well as I want to when the role is not well-defined and the expectations run the gamut of communications/marketing/pr, etc. I may not be a community manager as the industry has defined it, but I do consider community management to be a big part of my role.  

Great post, and I hope it ignites lots of discussion! 

sprouticus
sprouticus

Interesting post, Jenn. This sounds like it might work for larger companies, but I'm not sure it would fly for smaller startups. I've been employee #4 and right now I'm #10 and there is quite literally no way I could get away with those kinds of community boundaries. I do whatever is needed of me and the more I'm able to learn outside my core role as community manager just makes me a stronger asset for the company.

JPedde
JPedde

@AdamHendle Thanks!   Yea, for startups it can be a "I wear every hat possible" kind of situation.  However, for a start up to grow and get out of the start up phase, you have to think strategically about what the position entails.  It's about load balancing really.  

frankthomas
frankthomas

@SheenaMedina

Many companies "are quick to throw the role of "Community Manager" into the job description of PR, marketing or even receptionist is because they don't see the ROI value that the CM can provide.

They view it as an expense instead of an investment.

Then when a part time CM is distracted with other duties the BELIEF that it is not that important is emphasized because of the poor ROI of the limited time invested.

Just my 2 cents :)

JPedde
JPedde

@SheenaMedina Thank you Sheena!   I'm in love with your eloquent response.   Especially the "Am I doing something that people actually care about?  And if so, how do I build a relationship with those people?"   Because to me -- THAT thinking, right there, means that all else will trickle down to the traditional departments that are still needed.

JPedde
JPedde

@MikeFraietta lol thanks Mike!!   Yea, with me and PCs its like that scene from Zoolander where they jump up and down on the desk smacking it trying to get to the files inside of it.  ;)

JPedde
JPedde

@DavidSpinks Yea I think you're right and maybe I failed to make that distinction clear.  I just really wanted to get at the fact that a community manager is not a monkey wrench or that weird little tool that IKEA uses to make EVERYTHING.  We should start to focus in on the exact roles a CM can be great at and can own instead of always having to clarify what it is we do to each other!

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@40deuce curious, what specific things are you working on that you would consider to be purely community focused?

I agree that a community manager can do all of these things. But I wouldn't say that those things fall under the role of a community manager.

Obviously in small, startup teams, people have to take on multiple roles.  That said, if anyone in the company takes on too many roles, especially outside of their core responsibility, they're not going to be effective.If someone's core responsibility is community, all of the things that Jenn mentioned in this post are NOT part of their core responsibility.  If someone is spending more energy on these other things than you are on community, then I'd argue they're not a community manager.

JPedde
JPedde

@40deuce Thanks Sheldon!   I'm not saying a CM 'CAN'T' do these things. or that they don't  I'm saying that the title of "community manager" doesn't fit those roles specifically.   My statement is that "Community" will do all of those things anyway if dont properly.  You're working on awesome content?  Make sure that the marketing, PR, and sales teams have it so they can use it in their more higher level functions.   People in the community are crazy in love with your brand?  Work WITH PR & the brand team to help them highlight it.    Community should act as a feeder into those other departments and should do everything they can to highlight people/customers/users to help out other departments.   

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@JanetAronica Everyone's job is based on some sort of platform.  Some are broader than others (email vs banking), but if their platform crashed and burned, they'd be forced to utilize the skills that they've developed, which are independent of the platform, and apply them elsewhere.

JPedde
JPedde

@JanetAronica Yea, I personally agree.  Although --- plenty of people are "Email marketing coordinators" so that's just working on one platform.   I think things are so constantly changing, it isn't outside of the realm of possibility that someone would just want to work on managing ALL of facebook's activity from ads, to promoted posts, to timeline management, to engagement...  etc etc.  

JPedde
JPedde

@KellyLux Thanks Kelly!   Yes, I purposely did not mention education b/c that's a giant mess.  Higher Ed functions in such a weird way that while it is a business, no school operates efficiently as one.  Plus, higher ed is all non-profit and that has it's own set of challenges.   In schools I think community management aligns more with communications than anything else.  

evanhamilton
evanhamilton

@KellyLux I think this applies to early-stage startups too, and I think that's ok. But as an org grows (perhaps if it grows, in your case) I don't think this is sustainable.

JPedde
JPedde

@sprouticus I worked at a company of 25 people for 2 years that was a multi-million dollar international organization. You most DEFINITELY wear a lot of hats, but that doesn't mean community has to go by the wayside.  You just have to have a plan in place to structure your time differently and to have a title that acts accordingly for the many things you do.   If you're a company that's growing (I started at the company I'm at now with 100 employees and we're almost at 500 2 years later) you just have to make sure you keep in mind how to scale.  

evanhamilton
evanhamilton

@sprouticus When you're small you definitely have to wear a lot of hats. But I've seen (with myself and others) CMs not get to focus on building community...and suddenly new hires have taken all the hats you wore as a good sport. Gotta balance the main thing you're trying to do with all the stuff you help with, IMO.

sprouticus
sprouticus

@evanhamilton totally agree. Community building is definitely my main focus and I never lose sight of that, but many of the things listed above as me "not being suited for" are a huge part of what I do to build community. Like blogging, building awareness, managing content and writers, digging into metrics to see how I can improve my reach, looking at new ways to acquire users, etc.

JPedde
JPedde

@40deuce I'd freak out if I wasn't in those departments either.  Which is why I say that you should have a seat at every one of the tables to make sure you're in the loop.    You're the go between amongst these activities.   I don't think you and I are really disagreeing here.  ;) 

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

I'd argue that those other things that you're doing to build community aren't actually building community.  All of that is marketing.  Of course, you need to get people in the door in the first place if you're going to build a community.

Community can be a tool to help you acquire users (community as a feature) but not in the way you describe.  Community acquires users by providing an amazing experience that results in increased word of mouth.  But blogging, content, awareness... that's all marketing.  That's getting them in the door.

Now true, in a startup, sometimes the same person is responsible for getting people in the door and taking care of them once they're in there (marketing followed by community), but that doesn't mean that both unique responsibilities should fall under the title "community manager".  That just means that person is working as both a marketer, and a community manager.

@evanhamilton 

evanhamilton
evanhamilton

@sprouticus @JPedde Sounds like we're all on the same page...now we just need to teach that gospel to all the folks getting buried in not-their-job tasks. (Eh @meghankrane?)

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  1. […] bad because more and more amazing community managers will be asked to do things that aren’t actually community, preventing them from doing the job they were hired […]

  2. […] reading Jen Pedde’s post “What a Community Manager is Not” – especially the comments – I started thinking about […]

  3. […] reading Jen Pedde’s post “What a Community Manager is Not” – especially the comments – I started thinking about the grey areas between the […]