"Candidates come in saying they're community managers, but all they know how to do is tweet. It happens time and time again. I think this is a systemic problem."
Similar sentiment has been expressed to me by founders from fledgling startups to massive corporations. "What do community people actually do?" Yet everyone thinks they need a Community Manager as companies like Flickr, Yelp, and Reddit credit their internet greatness to their communities. Even amongst our own people this is a topic of debate.
Here's why: "Community" has become a catch-all term to encompass light-touch customer support, online moderation, user research, social media, content creation, event management, and more. Basically any role where the company interacts with users/customers/members. The trick is that these tactics differ depending on the function of the product and the maturity of the company.
When a company's first starting out it doesn't make sense to hire different people for all these efforts, so we say "Community" and dust our hands of it. This is problematic because with certain terminology come expectations and with expectations come metrics, and we need to be sure we're measuring against the right things... or you might as well just empty out your desk.
Here's how I think about it:
Marketing has many shades: brand marketing, product marketing, content marketing, search engine marketing, guerrilla marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, etc. All these channels further one goal: to get people to use your product.
While many Community tactics overlap with marketing, the core difference is the audience. Are you speaking to prospective customers or people that already know and use your service? Email and social media are mediums for information and ideas, tools used to connect and engage with people. With social, some of those people may be existing users, others are ripe for the recruiting. Same mediums, different goals.
Marketing gets new users; Community makes sure they're happy and never leave.
In business-speak, we're talking acquisition vs. retention. But when you're committed to making people happy they often become your evangelists. This is the holy grail for community folk. As people trust the opinions of people closer to them, harnessing social proof can be of great benefit to a developing community. This word of mouth can be dialed up by incorporating viral loops e.g. user-to-prospective-user invites. In this way, Community initiatives can drive growth authentically.
Community people think about the value of connecting users to one another. What will they share? What will they learn? How can we foster certain behaviors that will move the needle for the company? Because they most certainly can.
Start with sentiment analysis: how do users feel about your product? Use these insights to improve product functionality and communications strategy. Measure how long it takes users to get ramped up. See if this time decreases with more contact. Track support ticket ratios between engaged and disconnected members of your community. Get a data person to help map this out. Better yet, learn how to query mySQL. Share this information.
We can shape the conversation accurately by talking and writing about what we do and why, but most importantly by showing in numbers how community adds real value to the users we're advocating for and the businesses we're building.
Thoughts? Anything to add? Let's discuss!