This year's must-have accessory for any business or marketing team seems to be a community manager. Over the past two weeks, I've had nearly a dozen emails - either direct or via LinkedIn - from companies who were calling upon my network to find Social Networks Managers, Community Relations Executives, etc. [If you're of the right breed, skip to the bottom for information] I couldn't help but think about how much things have changed in the past few years.
What's it like being a Community Gal?
I don't care what fancy title a company makes up, I'll always boil them down to being the Community Gal/Guy. I was once asked why I "lowered" my job title to Community Gal, when one of my previous employers had hired me with the title "Blog Goddess". I mean, wow, Goddess? That's a shiny title, isn't it?
If you can't see the issue with the Goddess title, then you've failed the first test to becoming a good Community Gal/Guy (CG).
In my opinion, being the community's main link into an organisation requires a lot of humility. Maybe, just maybe, having a humble and simple title like "Community Gal" was a daily reminder that I wasn't hired to stand in my ivory tower telling people how GREAT the company/product was. I was there to sit in on conversations and listen. Like a sunflower, I faithfully turned to where I should be every day, no matter what happened.
As Toby Moore said today at Amplified 09 East: "We have 2 ears and one mouth. Let's use them at that ratio." Listening actively means there's a lot of feedback to filter, summarise and turn into actions for the rest of the company, whether from a technical, ethical or business relations management perspective.
Being a CG also requires thick skin. There are some real bastards out there who will absolutely not sugar-coat their views of your business. They've always been there, but social media now gives them an easy way to make themselves heard. While it's important to listen to those users and act upon their feedback wherever possible, anyone taking those comments too personally will lose sleep over it and feel like crap.
I know, I've been there. Nearly failed the second test myself.
However, the thick skin can't be accompanied by a thick skull. If you're a stubborn mofo who assumes that anyone disagreeing with you is wrong, you've failed the third test.
So being a CG is both the best job and worst job in a company.
Why so in demand, suddenly?!
As I mentioned in my introduction above, the influx of CG roles has been unbelievable lately. It's like everyone woke up two weeks ago and decided they should recruit their own.
For most of these companies, it'll most likely be the first time they put any thought into how to interact with their community. From cursory glances at the many job descriptions thrown around, many companies seem to allocate very minimal budgets to their new-found passion for social media, hiring junior to mid-level people.
Nothing wrong with that, I'm all for the youff getting to experience great new roles. I got to where I am now because some people were
mad smart enough to give me a chance to setup their first blog back in early 2004. It was a complete and utter failure because neither company or market were ready for it. Since then, I've setup community outposts everywhere I've been and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in the process. But we've also achieved great things through spending time listening to the community's feedback.
That's the wonderful thing about young, creative people - they might be a bit green but believe me, they can be passionate!
So it's a question of balance then; someone youthful* enough to understand what excites and engages your users. There is no maximum age to "getting it" when it comes to community, but younger people often have an affinity with technology - I don't think anyone could deny that. However, experience can help avoid making a complete cock up of an outreach campaign through having a deeper understanding of the risks involved.
[Note: By youthful, I don't necessarily mean based on birth date, but rather in mentality. My grandpa was in his 70's and was still more young at heart than many 25 year olds I know!]
Finding the right balance is key. Every company will experience a crisis at some point and a very junior team member may not have the experience to deal with it best. In the same way, someone with little knowledge of social media may not spot some great opportunities to build new relationships.
This is an area where I believe mentors - whether internal team members or external consultants - can make a world of difference to how successfully a business can be in their first year of active community interaction. A few hours a week with a skilled mentor can help your CG become far more confident and resourceful.
Would you want your PR Manager to be a £20k fresh graduate with no experience of dealing with customers or journalists? Then why opt for that in social media, when your CG probably touches 100 times more people in a day than your PR department does?
So here's my advice
1. Build your team with a cool head
Find someone who has a passion for your industry, not the first girl who says she knows how to use Facebook.
2. Have someone dedicated to community relations
If the CG is torn between a number of roles, he/she is more likely to drop the ball at an important time. If it's not possible to have someone doing just that, ensure that community management remains their top priority.
3. Give your CG a support network
If your product is technical, ensure the development team are aware that they'll occasionally need to provide insight when the CG reports bugs or enquiries. There's nothing more demotivating than feeling that no one in the company is willing to help.
4. Provide guidance
Whether it's through the existing marketing team or an external consultant, your CG should have someone with experience to sanity-check ideas with. The book of social media remains largely unwritten so the best way to check something's a good idea is through a good ol' natter over coffee.
5. Set realistic (and useful) objectives
Getting 500 Twitter followers is pointless if the followers are spammers or people who'll never become your users. Social media is much less about numbers than a traditional marketing team might be used to.
It's more important to have reached out to 10 bloggers who'll love you and talk about you, than ship your press release to hundreds of people to whom you're only vaguely relevant.
6. Be open to your CG's feedback
This is a tough nut to crack, but the feedback coming from the community might not always be rosy. Be open and welcoming of it, and accept that people will occasionally suggest things you think are stupid or useless. Don't close up or start to ignore those reports - you might just miss some real gems.
As you've gathered by now, I'm a strong believer that there's a big future out there for people who are passionate and interested in being the main point of contact for an active community.
If you think you're that person, please connect with me on LinkedIn. Use the intro box to tell me what makes you tick and what you're passionate about. When companies next contacts me looking for a Community Gal/Guy, I'll introduce you to each other.
I hope that, in doing this, I can help top notch companies find someone who'll help them nurture the relationship with their community, whether budding or already fully-fledged.
[Image Source: "Yellow sunflower. Blue Sky." by wabberjocky on Flickr]