Last week, I attended a Social Media Club NYC event (@smcnyc) about the evolving role of a community manager. The special guest moderator for this event was Todd Olmstead (@toddjolmstead), an associate community manager at Mashable. The three speakers included: Tim McDonald (@tamcdonald), the community manager of HuffPost Live, My Community Manager founder, and TalentCulture’s community manager; Ilana Kaplan (@lanikaps), senior associate in community management at Digitas and a music journalist for magazines; and Edward Ford (@essencebc), enterprise community manager at Thomson Reuters.
The event started with a quick lightening round question: What is the distinction between a social media and community manager? McDonald responded by saying, “One is a bulldozer (social media manager) that pushes and another is a magnet (community manager) that pulls.” The event continued with the below questions and answers from the speakers:
Q: What are your duties like as a community manager, and what do you manage?
McDonald: HuffPost has a community management and social media team. The social media team is responsible for the social media channels of the brand, and our community managers are responsible for the visitors on the site. For me at HuffPost Live, this includes a lot of our commenters, our moderation team, and working closely with our production team and building up our database for our guest directory. I say to those not as familiar with social media, a community manager is simply a connector. I connect people; I connect ideas; and I connect brands together.
Kaplan: Right now, I work on about two brands. I have also helped out with pitching different brands to get their social business. Every day I manage the engagement between the brand and consumer for a bank and alcohol brand. They are different communities and have different sets of rules. I work with the creative team to come up with copy and images, as well as go over the strategies for each brand, which is constantly changing.
Ford: I focus internally at Thomson Reuters. We have a social intranet and it is built on Jive software. My job is really about education and awareness. This means making sure employees are aware that we have an internal social collaboration tool, and helping them understand how to use it effectively. In addition, I manage a taskforce internally that brings together community managers that primarily manage external customer communities as well. We share best practices, lessons learned, and we try to bring in external speakers to provide insight on the industry.
Q: In the last couple of years or so, what are the biggest changes you have seen with community management that bring us to where we are now?
McDonald: There are more community managers today than there were even a year ago. I think we are starting to see the position mature a lot, as well as starting to see that it has to be more than just an entry-level role. Community managers need to have the level and knowledge to communicate with all these different departments that we (speakers) all mentioned. Some companies – not all – are beginning to recognize this shift and move in that direction.
Kaplan: It is becoming a universal role across communication managers in college. For example, I majored in journalism and thought I would be a writer, but my writing abilities transformed into what is current today, which is social media. I think it will grow from here on out. Also, since I started as a community manager there is a heavier emphasis on engaging with consumers on an individual basis rather than replying to a couple of comments.
Ford: It is indicative of an overall shift towards a more social way that entities interact with their constitutes. Entities and corporations became large and they couldn’t communicate in an individual manner with their audience, and the different solutions have made the technology behind connecting with individuals a lot easier. There was a realization that someone has to be there to manage those communities and relationships.
Q: Do you have someone on 24/7 doing community management or are there off-hours?
McDonald: We broadcast live 12 hours a day, but we have live moderation 24/7. The number of comments decrease when we are not broadcasting live, so my role decreases during those periods, but I am still on-call 24/7. I have rarely been woken up after midnight or called before 10 a.m. (when we go live).
Kaplan: Because of one of my brands is a bank, I am unable to respond. They are on from about 6 or 7 a.m., and they are the ones who check it. For the alcohol brand I manage, I am the one who responds, but there is e-moderation as well. However, I try to answer as frequently as I can.
Ford: Our team is geographically dispersed, so we are fortunate that we do have somebody almost around the clock that is checking. The different time zones really come in handy for when a group on the internal social network receives hundreds of responses.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you face as a community manager?
McDonald: The biggest challenge I see is being able to scale quickly. It is all about the personal and not mass communications that we make, so as an individual you can only have certain connections at one particularly point in time. Therefore, for me it is scaling, but scaling smart. For example, one of my big focuses this year is to go out and create awareness out on college campuses. AOL has a big college campus recruiting team that brings people into our building to give them a tour, so it would be great if I could capture them and explain to them what we are doing. They (AOL recruiting team) have different objectives than I have, but I can leverage their connections to get what I want out of it.
Kaplan: Coming up with content that is constantly engaging, and trying to be fresh in a constantly evolving scene. Trolls are another a challenge – people that come back who are persistent and negative.
Ford: From an enterprise standpoint, I have a slightly different challenge. We are seeing some people who don’t understand how they can benefit from our social intranet. People were used to everything being in email, and there was no need to respond to a memo you received from your president or whomever, as well as collaboration was done in email. Our company has grown and teams are more dispersed, so there is a real need to connect and use a social network to do that, but people are in some cases reluctant to make that change.
Q: To what degree do you have to worry about acquiring new users versus engaging with the existing users?
Kaplan: It is a constant concern that we are always dealing with. Especially if a brand is rebranding, and then they generally want to do a paid campaign on Facebook and Twitter. We did a paid campaign for one of our brands, and we more than doubled our fans.
Q: Do you find a degree of pushback that you receive from brands where they don’t entirely understand the value behind doing this stuff (paid campaigns, etc.)?
Kaplan: I feel like it is always about the money and the purpose of spending on social media. However, at the end of the day that is where the people are. But at this point, there is enough pushback on the agency side to make the business happen.
Q: Huffington Post is a company that embraced social media for a long time, but do you see the pushback about community and social stuff?
McDonald: We view community and social as two different things. There has been a more of a pushback on community than on social. When you are getting impressions through social channels it is very easy to quantify. The value of engagement and commenters is a little less easy to quantify.
Q: Do you find that you are leveraging your personal brand into what you are doing with community management?
Kaplan: I probably got into what I am doing now because of my own personal brand as a music journalist. In the past, I Facebook posted and tweeted at many people with my work. I have gotten a lot of connections out of that. One of the brands that I work with now does a lot of music things, and I get to use my music knowledge. We also do work with sponsored stories, so I can use my connections there to get both my brand that I work with as well as my personal brand on the radar.
Ford: Definitely. I was brought in to be the face of our internal social network (The Hub). I really want to shine light on the great work people are doing. I have a weekly recap on The Hub where I post six or seven cool articles, videos, discussions, etc., that are going on, so people can see that. Working across with the different businesses, and their interaction and confidence in working with me is a bridge to help them explore the capabilities of the platform. My personal brand in the company is tied to the success that we have in getting people to engage, and in understanding the knowledge and ability of the platform. Also, our team has received a lot of exposure within Jive and other companies that are looking to have similar successful deployment results as us. This has been a great source of connections and interactions.
Q: What are some of the elements that helped bring employees to this social platform (The Hub) for the enterprise?
Ford: The launch is really important. Yammer was very prevalent within the organization, so we went to the employees that were on Yammer, and let them know we built our Jive instance and told them to go check it out. We then let them play around with it for a few months. They started creating groups and content, and some of them really loved it, so we kind of used them as our ambassadors. When we invited some of the others to join there was already a lot of content there. This accelerated adoption. Education is also very important, so we had many tutorials and sessions. We started with sessions about “how to use the platform,” but now it is more about use cases.
Q: Do you have any experiences where the company brand you are working with clashes with your personal brand?
McDonald: It is really about using common sense. It is about understanding what and when to say certain things. Something I had a challenge getting used to, because I wasn’t working in a big organization before, is talking to our PR person when I have speaking opportunities. I need to make sure they are aware of what I am doing.
Kaplan: I make sure to keep everything very separate. On my accounts I talk about things that I have accomplished or news bits, but nothing ever personal or emotional. I don’t engage with the brands my company works with. I haven’t been told not to, but I do think it is a conflict of interest. At my old job, I had to be very careful about talking about the brands I am working with.
Ford: I haven’t really had any negative experiences. The sensitivity for me, because it is an internal deployment is being careful about what I am saying and revealing. I don’t want to divulge proprietary information. However, I can still talk in general terms about what is happening. Another key point is where social media guidelines come in to play. It is important for companies to educate all employees, especially community managers, about what they need to do. For example, on your personal Twitter account mention in the bio that all “tweets are mine.”
Q: If you are responding to a user on behalf of a brand do you identify as yourself or the voice of the brand?
Kaplan: I respond from the voice of the brand.
Ford: When I was at McGraw-Hill and took over their external accounts on Twitter, I did have my name on the account. Part of the reason for that was a customer service aspect, so people could let me know if they needed something else, and it helped in establishing that connection. I think it depends on what direction the brand wants to take, if they want to have that personal connection.
Q: Any tips for going through the challenges of rebranding and dealing with the backlash that comes with it?
McDonald: We didn’t rebrand, but we were a new brand when we launched in August. You need to understand that people will be upset, so treat ever person that is responding as an individual. You may have answered the same question a thousand times, but treat it like you are answering it the first time. Also, we are always responding, but not necessarily with the information they are looking for – it is pointing and connecting them with the people that can provide that information. Another tip is to throw out the form letters and go into personally responding. In addition, I include “thank you” many times in my response.
Kaplan: You have to be patient with people, because a lot of times people just want to know you are acknowledging them. Many people spend a majority of their day on social networks, so they just want to be heard.
Ford: In addition, just to acknowledge that they were heard by someone is enough 80-90 percent of the time to kill the whole thing. A very small percentage of people will take it to the full extent.
Q: How do you deal with trolls?
McDonald: We have a great and experienced moderation team at Huffington Post. I work with them, and a lot of times when they are having an issue with something they will come to me. If we tried to reach out on the comments, I will try to send an email to that person, and then before we take the action of banning them (unless it absolutely calls for it) I will pick up the phone and call them. The phone call more than half of the time does the trick.
Kaplan: When I worked with a cookie company on a campaign where people started complaining, I had to create language for the complaints that was helpful and not redundant to every single person. Of course, after a while you are going to be repeating the same thing. Some of the people would come back, and at that point there is only so much you could do. If people are saying really negative things then you should talk with the brand to see if you should ban them.
Ford: It is a different dynamic internally, because you are using you name and are not anonymous in an enterprise social network. In most cases, your livelihood is attached to your name so you don’t want to behave badly. There are often emotional topics that come up, and you start to see people that are passionate on one side of the issue and begin to get a little bit more aggressive. I handle it by reaching out to them personally – it does a world of difference. This often diffuses the situation.
Q: Can you give us a prediction going forward how the community manager role will evolve?
McDonald: In three to five years, I see every employee in an organization doing what the community manager does, which is managing all the social media channels. The community manager position will elevate from just handling the social channels to managing the way internal employees are using the social channels. There will still be people that personally manage the social channels specifically for the brand, but we will have every employee in an organization being brand ambassadors for the brand as far as recruiting, customer service, etc. The employees will be using social communication channels to communicate with their customer base and contacts, because that is where their contacts will be communicating with them on.
Kaplan: I think it will become part of a job description for every single person.
Ford: Community in general and the community manager by default is going to be involved in more pieces of the business than they are today. I really see community as being central to the different aspects of business – product development, sales – these are just a couple of examples where a community manager will play a more central-business focused role as time goes on.
Q: Do you think brands will be more likely to bring their community management in-house as supposed to working with an agency?
Kaplan: It depends on the brand. If they bring it in-house then they will have to be educated on social. I don’t think they will be successful if they don’t have a tutorial or training.
Q: Have you tried running different content strategies on different channels to measure results in the communities that you are reaching, e.g., Facebook vs. Twitter?
Kaplan: We do all that time. Specifically, right now I am working on a campaign where we are marketing to two different demographics. We are marketing to one type of demographic on Facebook and another on Twitter. It has been interesting to see how much more successful Twitter has been over Facebook, even though we have been told to use the campaign’s hashtag on Facebook. In addition, it has been a paid campaign on Twitter, and there is no paid media behind the Facebook one. We see that all the time and it just depends on what campaign is going on.
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