Key Takeaways from Social Media & Community Management

Community Managers at TheCR Connect in Cambridge, 2015. Courtesy of The Community Roundtable.
Community Managers (myself included!) at TheCR Connect in Cambridge, 2015. Photo courtesy of The Community Roundtable.

About 2 years ago, I made a career shift that taught me a lot about social media marketing and community management. After nearly a decade of working in content strategy and marketing, I knew making a change over to community and social media management wouldn’t be seismic — there is a lot of skill-overlap in these fields — but there was still a lot for me to learn.

If I had to choose my three personal takeaways from being a Social Media & Community Manager, it’d be these:

No matter who you are, you have a Community — somewhere. Tap in to it!

So many companies are leaving priceless feedback and new ideas on the table because they’re not reaching out to their customer and industry communities. Many companies that have (for lack of a better term) “unsexy” products or solutions think there might not be anyone out there who cares enough about their offering to make up a community. I see many B2B companies fall prey to this mentality, but it’s simply not true.

If someone out there is buying your product or service, that means there’s someone out there whose job is potentially being made — or broken! — by the decision to bring you into their business. It behooves you to make sure they have a place to talk to their peers and fellow customers, get help, send feedback, learn more about the company they’re buying from, and talk to the brains behind the product they’ve purchased. Does it sound a bit scary to pull the curtain back? Absolutely, it does. But the risk is well worth the reward — more engaged customers and community means you have customers who feel like they helped contribute and build the thing that they’re investing in. That makes them future advocates for your product. With increasingly-educated consumers relying more on peer-to-peer recommendations, you can’t afford to leave potential advocates behind.

No matter how you define community management, content strategy is still part of the job.

It continues to amaze me how nebulous the title “Community Manager” is. From company to company, the role sits on different teams and can have wildly different functions — from support to marketing to product management. When I attended The Community Roundtable’s CR Connect — a Community Manager professional event — late last year, it was amazing how varied our roles were.  But there were many common themes and responsibilities that fell to each of us: Getting conversations going, growing memberships in our proprietary communities, sharing useful information to our community members, driving to defined business goals, deflecting support cases — the list goes on. But no matter where the role falls in the organization, Community Managers are curating and creating relevant content for various customer personas. This should sound familiar to anyone with a Content Strategy background, because the mission is quite similar to what many Content Strategists must do day-to-day.

Whether it’s user-generated, curated, or created by a documentation or marketing department, content is a big part of community management, and an effective Community Manager has (or should have!) Content Strategy in mind. So going into a Community Management role with a Content background can be quite helpful — and on the flipside, getting some Content Strategy fundamentals under your belt if you’re already a seasoned Community Manager is a great idea.

Community is anywhere. Community is everywhere.

At a community event -- all sitting together playing an multiplayer phone game called Space Team (a hilarious game that involves shouting nonsensical phrases at each other)
At a community event — the group I was with all sitting together playing an multiplayer phone game called Space Team (a hilarious game that involves shouting nonsensical phrases at each other). Photo by me.

Sometimes the Community Management role will be defined as someone who manages a proprietary forum or platform, often closed off from the outside world completely. And this is fine, of course! Some communities can only exist and flourish when they are selective and secretive. But many business communities are mostly-public and viewable to all, so why limit our definition of “community” to just one forum or platform? To me, the community a Community Manager serves — if they are public-facing — is anywhere and everywhere a conversation in their community takes place. This includes a company’s proprietary forum, and this includes social media. This even includes forums on other websites.  A community can live in a lot of different places, and wherever the Community sets down roots and makes a home, the Community Manager needs to be there too.

Most importantly — this includes In Real Life, face-to-face events.  I can’t tell you how many online connections and friendships I have that flourished only after meeting in person. (I’m hugely biased as I met my husband online.) Nothing replaces face to face contact and relationship-building, no matter how introverted you are, or your community members might be*. We’re still inherently social creatures that need real connection.

Social Media & Community Manager is an incredibly rewarding professional experience. I’ve met so many of our community members and customers from around the world; learned their stories, struggles, and triumphs; and tried my utmost to be the best advocate for their wants and needs within the company. I’ve been consistently awed by the community’s kindness and generosity, even when I’ve made mistakes. It’s cliche, but no two days in my CM role have ever been the same and I’ve learned something new every day — what more could you ever ask for in a job?

Community Managers of the world out there: You are worth your weight in gold. I salute you!

*Beer helps.