I could have sworn I’ve seen articles like this one annually for the past couple/few years. I have to admit it’s a bit odd seeing your job touted as the “next big thing”. (Especially for multiple years running.) I’m also not holding my breath. 🙂
It always seems a bit incongruous to me, too, since, by necessity, community management is anything but glamorous or A-list-y. It’s one of those jobs where things are going well if people don’t really notice you doing much at all, or you can fix problems before people get loud about them.
Part of what has bothered me the last while, in my own job, is that it doesn’t feel like I do much community management at all. Of course, that then necessitated thinking about what, exactly, community management is, since I am one, and have been doing my job…
What it came down to was an imbalance in actually doing the variety of tasks and responsibilities that make up my job, or any community manager’s job. That article outlines any number of things, many of which focus on proactive or outreach-related functions. Part of the issue is that, while those are the most touted community management responsibilities, that’s only part of the story, and the more glamorous one at that.
What had been bothering me was that I’d been doing an awful lot of reactive work — customer service, explanations and documentation for things we launched, etc. I’d have loved to have time to read blog posts, leave comments, update our Facebook presence, etc. But I also wasn’t planning to start working 24/7, either, so priorities had to be chosen.
Which led me, combined with my year-end review and thoughts of how I want to develop in the coming year, to my own ponderings about where community management as a job and as a profession are headed.
Certainly, it’s still a cutting edge position. Sure, there are a few people out there who’ve been building and managing communities for years, but rarely was that their job title or what they were explicitly hired for. Nowadays it’s becoming a more common role in tech and at startups, but only beginning to be considered at many larger companies, and unheard of at plenty more traditional businesses. (And there are many companies that don’t need it, frankly.)
Bigger companies have many of their own challenges in trying to figure out how to adopt any form of community management. The issue of scale alone is daunting. To scale well you need resources, and to deploy resources effectively you need order and process. But part of what often makes community management effective is that it’s a single point of contact and it’s not bogged down by approvals and processes. What needs doing gets done.
How do you re-create that freedom and enfranchisement in a big company? I’ve no idea. I’ve been exposed to too much politicking and dick-swinging and turf-staking, to be honest. How do you develop and maintain good relations in a big company between community management personnel and other departments who couldn’t dream in a million years of having that degree of freedom and maverick culture?
It’s a catch 22 — the better you are at your job, the more resentment you potentially engender in people you rely on to help you do your job well and get better at it…
Even at small companies, like the one I work at, I see community management splintering and amalgamating with existing functions. Sort of colouring and changing things like marketing, communications, and customer service to have community management’s personal touch and holistic culture.
The proactive and reactive functions are the first I see separating. As aforementioned, often there simply isn’t time to do it all, and when a paying customer has a problem, spending quality time with your RSS reader falls off the radar.
However, again, even in a smaller company, division of responsibility weakens the community manager’s value as a catalyst and central hub of knowledge that can be quickly employed/deployed. You never have to have meetings with yourself, but you do have to consult to provide information, give approval, etc. when there is more than one person performing community management (or any department’s functions).
I think, too, for companies with more mature community management roles, the position will develop to include a lot more filtering to determine what gets addressed. This will become a critical analytical skill involving an interesting blend of psychology, communications, customer service, and business development abilities.
It’s a fact that everyone, companies included, has to say no sometimes. But it’s a huge boon to brands and business growth to have someone who knows both when to say no, and to whom, but can also do it in a way that leaves the community member satisfied, despite not getting what they thought they wanted.
Community management hiring will also become interestingly specialized. Certainly, by now, there are a few of us out there with community management experience on our resumes. But we all come from different backgrounds, in education and work experience, not to mention age, personality, preferences in company types and industries, etc. Soft skills will continue to trump hard skills or job experience in community management hiring, but being able to recognize the right soft skills, personality, and cultural fit is an important and rare enough skill in a hiring manager to begin with.
Not everyone is suited to working at a Fortune 500 company, just as not everyone is suited to the startup lifestyle and the many-hat-wearing job requirements of a single-digit employee number. But there is value in strategizing and hiring for community management at both of those ends of the business spectrum, and in between.
And even among people suited to community management (thick-skinned, articulate, fond of helping, patient, organized, good memory, social…) there are vast differences in the required roles and hard skills companies are going to look for.
Is the community management external- or internal-facing? Is it a social network, non-revenue-generating user base or paying customers? Does it serve an individual department or division or the entire global employee base? Does the community exist already, or is the community manager’s first and biggest challenge to build it? Who does the company want to attract? Whether fledged community or just a group of employees, what is the mood or culture among them? Is there camaraderie and positiveness, or division, resentment, and resistance?
That’s just the beginning of the people questions, not even touching on determining where the community chooses to live and interact online, what technologies they embrace, what modes of communication they prefer, how much interaction with the company they want, and in what formats, what their response expectations are, etc.
And have I mentioned trying to figure out how to define community management goals and success yet?
So no, community management doesn’t tend to bring a lot of glory or recognition. Firstly, there simply isn’t time. And secondly it’s a job that’s often like being a parent — you’re there to get things done, help people learn, help users and the business develop, fix problems, etc. — you’re not there to be everyone’s buddy. (And since community management often requires saying no and/or enforcing the rules, you never will please all of the people all of the time.)
Now, unfortunately the lack of visibility of a lot of community management makes it hard for those who want or need to learn about it to sort things out. Sorry about that. However, at the same time, the folks who get into community management are, conveniently, precisely the kind of personality that will answer questions or help solve problems extensively and in detail — just ask.
Also fortunately, some excellent community management professionals do make the time to blog, speak, and otherwise shed light on this developing profession. I mean to from time to time as well… And hey, if 2010 really is my year, maybe I can negotiate for some minions… and a star on the Walk of Fame, of course… 🙂