Online community management is an emerging field that is growing in popularity every month. While this is good news for the wealth of opportunities available to community managers, it also surfaces a problem that many people face once they begin managing online communities for businesses or nonprofit organizations.
Community Managers Don't Get the Respect That Is Owed to Their Role
It is important to point out that no one is denying the enormous impact having a community manager in place has on creating healthy and growing online communities. In their annual report on, "The State of Community Management," The Community Roundtable found that having a dedicated community manager clearly led to higher community maturity. So, in an age when community managers are growing in demand, how can you prove your value?
The answer is rooted in understanding that online communities must serve a bigger purpose for a company than simply bringing people together.
Now, that might seem a little confusing without any context, so let's back up a bit.
As important as the role of an online community manager is, there are two "engines" needed to achieve meaningful results.
The two engines rely on each other. You cannot leverage the engagement, stronger relationships, and social data in your online community (Engine 2) if the community is not active and your target audience does not participate (Engine 1).
On the flip side, your organization will question the value of your online community strategy if it is active (Engine 1), but not producing business-level results for the company (Engine 2). When this situation persists too long, it often results in shuttered online communities and out-of-work community managers.
In order for business leaders to continue investing in an online community strategy, both elements need to work at a high level.
You know how important online community managers are to a business or membership organization. However, since the emergence of this field, we've seen some structural flaws in how companies hire and direct community managers that put the people in that role at a disadvantage.
The problem is that, typically, online community managers are solely focused on that first engine. Their primary job is to create a healthy community where customers or members find value and return often. Unfortunately, not to minimize the role of an online community manager in the slightest, buy that sole engine doesn't achieve business results.
For instance, launching and maintaining an online customer community does not magically result in higher revenue per customer, lower support costs, and valuable product feedback.
The problem is that most companies don't have someone who is focused on the second piece of the puzzle. They bring in an online community manager to run Engine 1 (creating an active online community), but don't empower them to be an integral part of Engine 2 (leveraging the community to improve business performance).
So, what does this mean for online community managers?
While online community managers shouldn't be responsible for both engines (keeping a community healthy is usually more than a full time job), they should be mindful that these two engines exist and need to work together. While others in the organizations should execute the marketing, sales, support, and product development strategies, online community managers can quarterback the effort and education within the company on the role their online community can play in virtual every business initiative.
Tying yourself more closely to the business side of online community strategies can help you get the respect, recognition, and results you deserve.
This can be a sensitive subject, but too many online community managers are relegated to corners of the company where managing the online community platform and responding to community members is the extent of their influence. The following guidance is intended to warn both community managers and executives of the growing disconnect between community managers and the companies that they serve.
Everybody wins when online community managers get the respect that they are owed. So, take charge of your role, career, and community management destiny! There are an array of actions that online community managers can take to reframe their own paradigm, position their role, and educate stakeholders to bolster the part that online communities (and the people who manage them) play in their organization's core business.
Once you understand that successful and impactful online communities have a purpose bigger that simply building community, you can more easily link your everyday community management processes to measurable business outcomes. Be the person who does their job through the lenses of both engines.
You don't have to be the person who owns the business goals and is solely responsible for business outcomes, but you should be deliberate in your online community management plans and demonstrate that you understand managing an online community is about more than curating content and generating member participation.
There are some aspects of business that community managers may have to learn in order to translate how a healthy and growing community improves the performance of the organization. While you shouldn't be expected to know everything, educating yourself on the finer points of how your community is being leveraged to achieve business goals can help smooth out the process.
For instance, be able to discuss the importance of customer retention and the cost effectiveness of different sales and marketing processes. Understand how data is interpreted and be prepared to use your knowledge of social business to recommend solutions.
You might have a different skillset and background from many members of your senior management team, but you aren't from two different planets. Communicating with the business side of online communities goes beyond simply understanding various business processes. It also requires you to "talk the talk."
Rather than reporting solely in terms of the health of the community, frame your updates and ideas in a business context. Communicate how what's happening in your online community correlates to the business objectives of the company.
Online community strategies are fairly new to most companies. This is both a threat and an opportunity for community managers.
Since the role is often undefined, community managers have the opportunity to position themselves as either a key part of the business or a singularly focused social media geek. While the latter is often pigeonholed as a specialized marketing function, online community managers should aim to have a seat at the business strategy table.
If you can't define your community management role in the organization, it is likely to be defined for you by someone who may not know as much about the importance of building and maintain relationships through community. If this happens, it could take years to get a seat at the table.
Position online community management as a strategic role by viewing online communities as business initiatives â€“ it's as simple as that. Define your role as the facilitator of a business initiative from the very beginning so that your position will be treated with the respect it deserves. Work to communicate the two-engine model and what your particular role in the model should be from the very start. This will help to manage expectations and avoid people making the mistake of seeing your in-the-trenches community management activity as the entire process.
This is where you carry through how the online community activity is translating into business outcomes. By showing what is happening and what the results were across the two engines, you can more easily demonstrate how your role works in the big picture. Your job is about more than just managing the community processes and motivating member engagement. It's about working with the business side of the organization to deliver measureable results and achieve business goals.
Your job can be stressful. Your job can be difficult. And, all the often, your job doesn't get the respect it deserves. However, a large part of the reason that people in business might not see the full value of what you do is because they don't understand how closely it ties into what they're doing as well.
When the two sides buy into the big picture (i.e. the two-engines), managing the community becomes part of the overall business strategy. By working to internalize this model and position yourself as a part of the results-driven business operation, you can generate more respect for your position and tie your effort to achieving better business results.
You know how important your job is to the success of an online community and you know how important an engaged online community can be to the success of a business. Following the advice outlined above makes sure everyone else knows it too.