While there's no denying there are similarities between public social media networks and private online communities, there are also very distinct differences.
According to online community research and consulting firm, The Community Roundtable, communities and social media fit different types of business strategies. While social media and public social networks align best with less intricate markets and products, online communities are designed to support companies with more complex relationships, products, and customer support needs.
To support these two divergent environments, it is important to understand that community management requires different skills and specialties than social media management - a fact that some companies realize too late.
In a haze of excitement, fear, and jargon, organizations often confuse the two. Rather than seeking out candidates who embody the qualities and skills necessary to be an effective community manager, companies often settle on social media specialists.
It has unfortunately become a common situation: a company or membership organization hires a social media rock star to manage their new private online community, only to have their project set back several months when their new manager tries to implement a Facebook-style strategy.
While it might seem logical at the time, the goals of your private online customer or member community are not the same as the goals of a public social network site, like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. The tools and strategies aren't the same and neither are the reasons that your customers or members visit and participate in your community.
This distinction has become increasingly clear as the need for online community managers has grown over time. Though an ideal community manager has a strong understanding of social media, the science of relationships, and how networks grow, there are numerous other skills that go into building a successful private online community.
If you are an online community manager today or you're planning a career in that field, recognizing and showcasing the following skill set can help set you apart in a community manager job interview. You'll demonstrate an understanding of the finer points of the position beyond network growth.
If you run an organization that is building a community to maintain stronger relationships with your customers, members, or partners, the following skills are important to incorporate into your online community manager selection process.
Not only does a community manager need to edit and curate content for their private online community, they also need to be able to communicate effectively with customers or members. Getting information into the community and out to members is a crucial element to making sure people stay informed and engaged.
Your private online community is only as good at the need it fulfills. A strong understanding of product management will ensure that the purpose of your community is continuously aligned with solving your customers' or members' biggest and most pervasive problems.
Providing access to experts and prioritizing your market's needs helps keep your community valuable to your target audiences.
Almost every decision a community manager makes is driven by data. The ability to understand and analyze online community data to take action to improve the health of the community is a core quality for an effective community manager.
Strong analytical skills are essential to successful steer your online community so that it delivers benefits to both your customer base and company.
In the same vein as strong written communication skills, community managers also need to be ninja-like in crafting effective email subject lines, body copy, and calls to action. Often, getting people to return to and participate in your private online community means getting them to convert on targeted email campaigns sent from your community platform.
Recruiting customer advocates is a big part of running a successful private online customer community. As a manager, you need to be able to identify the community members who would be a good fit for the various roles in your reference program, whether it's as small providing a quote for your website or as involved as co-presenting a conference session.
Your community can be a double-edged sword when it comes to customer relations. You can't always control the feedback your customers or members might band together to provide. However, an effective community manager can also leverage the community to properly address industry issues and garner support in times of change.
Having better relationships with customers and leaders in the community can be a big help whenever a public relations crisis occurs.
The best online customer and member communities exist to help their members succeed. Create a plan or system to leverage the content, discussions, and exerts in the community to help your target audiences see greater success in their roles, whether as customers using your products/services, or as association members working to get ahead in their careers.
Even the best community manager can't do it all, so a willingness and ability to delegate responsibilities is important. You need to be proactive with your plans and hold others accountable for their role in implementing them.
Along the same lines, community managers have to be strong leaders. Learn to assert your expertise and have the data to back up your ideas when making your case to stakeholders or advocating for the community to executives.
Also, don't be afraid to pull rank to get things done. You are ultimate responsible for the success of the community and the relationships maintained within.
Your community doesn't just exist online. Part of effective community management is creating a bigger sense of community beyond your online space. From marketing to event registration to the actual running of the event and conferences, community mangers need the knowledge and experience to plan an event from start to finish (though, community managers often have help from dedicated event managers). I
Ideally, participation at in-person events and virtual gatherings within your online community will work together to increase engagement across the board.
Finally, as a bonus 11th quality - and perhaps the most important on the list: patience. Community building is a lengthy process and, though the long-term benefits are substantial, short-term successes might not be as prominent.
Stay focused on your goals and patiently wait for results to validate your strategy and hard work. Without patience, it's easy to get caught up in the desire for instant gratification but your community will benefit from your ability to remain confident throughout the process.
To be a successful and effective online community manager, you need more than stellar social media skills. While a strong understanding of social network growth is a great start, the best community manager candidates will bring a wide range of non-social media skills to the table. Use this list of qualities to distinguish yourself from social media managers and demonstrate a complex understanding of the community management position at hand.
By showcasing aspects like your strong writing skills, ability to plan events, PR savvy, and clear understanding of analytics, you'll show the company hiring that you have what it takes to leverage their private online community to achieve measurable business objectives.