Monday, January 23, 2012

The Incredibly Difficult and Important Job of Community Manager

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day! The idea for this worthy annual event came from Jeremiah Owyang, and it is a terrific idea. Most organizations truly have no idea how much authority and power they have imparted on their Community Managers, and recognizing the people who fill these difficult and important roles seems very appropriate.

This blog post is dedicated to and inspired by the community managers on my team at USAA, who execute their duties with energy, creativity, passion and grace. Analisa, Jessica and Raul, with the support of Josh and Julie, have taught me a great deal about the challenges and rewards of the job. I would like to share that wisdom with you.

One of the great challenges of being a Community Manager is that few people seem to notice when you do something right, but everyone seems to know when a rare mistake is made. When your Community Managers keep all the spinning dishes from crashing to the ground, the outcome is an engaged community that grows steadily, avoids inflaming detractors and creates loyal customers. We ought to celebrate that with banners every day because those are the results that matter, but instead we tend to heap attention on those who spend the brand's dollars on a program that delivers 250,000 retweets or "likes."

When do Community Managers get attention? Their work becomes the focus of leaders and fodder for case studies when an uncommon mistake is made. Answer a thousand difficult and sensitive questions and you may get a pat on the back, but mistakenly post a personal message to the brand Twitter feed or respond with a frustrated and very human message on Facebook, and everyone from the President to the maintenance crew hears about it.

Another challenge that Community Managers face on a day-to-day basis is how much of themselves to bring to the job. A million blog posts tell brands the importance of being "real," "personal" and "human" in social interactions, but what does that mean where the rubber meets the road?

When your Community Manager is sitting at a computer looking at the brand's Facebook page or answering a question in a brand community, is it "I" or "we"? Are humor and emoticons appropriate or not? Can a Community Manager say "I'm sorry" or does that impart legal responsibility and risk to the company? Even with written brand standards, balancing the voice of the brand against the need (and desire) to make human connections is not easy.

The Community Managers at USAA are very cognizant of the need to balance their voice with the brand's. In the past, my team has debated things like whether or not they should append their names to the end of Facebook comments on the brand page. (We do so, now.) And when, in preparation of Community Manager Appreciation Day, I suggested we make a Facebook post to let our community get to know the team a little better, our Community Managers wrestled with whether or not it was appropriate to bring this much attention to themselves. We decided that our Community Managers embody the personal commitment USAA employees have for the military community, so later today we'll introduce our community folks with a post to the USAA Facebook page.  

It is one thing to struggle with the balance between being personal and being the brand voice, but it's another thing when your customers make that choice for you. We had one customer accuse one of our Community Managers of manipulating a Facebook contest to benefit her friends. The accusation was baseless and an expression of frustration by a person upset her entry was not receiving more votes, but no matter how much one can logically explain a customer's angry and accusatory post or tweet, it is still difficult and frustrating when it is directed at you personally. There is no situation in which it is more important nor more difficult to set aside personal feelings and bring the brand's voice.

I've shared some of the frustration of the job, but what about the benefits of being a Community Manager? There are some career advantages to being employed at the cutting edge of how brand building is changing; for example, USAA's Community Managers have had the opportunity to directly teach the association's president and other leaders about social media. It also is exciting to be part of every single campaign or important communication initiative within the organization. Plus, one important bonus for handling consumer concerns and needs in social channels is the opportunity to see detractors become advocates.

And finally, there's the autonomy and importance of the job--Community Managers are creating and reinforcing the brand through hundreds of public interactions a week. Your brand's advertising and PR is reviewed by a dozen executives before it is released, but the tweets, posts, comments and replies that fashion your brand in social media go directly from the hearts and minds of your Community Managers to your customers. There are few if any people within the enterprise who so personally epitomize and feel ownership of your brand like your Community Managers.

I hope the USAA Community Managers know how much I appreciate their hard work every day, but I am sure I fall short of bringing this to my daily interactions with Analisa, Jessica and Raul. Today my challenge to you isn't merely to thank your Community Managers on Community Manager Appreciation Day but to consider ways to bring appreciation throughout the year.

In your communities, every day is Community Manager Appreciation Day. Shouldn't it be the same inside your organization?


Lisa Pietsch said...

What a great post! Having been a community manager for an executive who seemed to thrive on creating damage for me to control, thank you! It sounds like you have a wonderful team. I'm sure the respect and appreciation you've shown them goes both ways.

Unknown said...

interesting article! i just wanna say that it's true that no one pays attention when you do everything right but everyone notices when you make a mistake, unfortunately people don't forgive mistakes.