Community is a broad term. Depending on the type of company the community is associated with, the term likely has different meanings.
In the world of software, community has generally been used to describe a group of like minded users who come together to learn, help each other build, and exchange best practices around the tool, platform, or technology they share interest in.
Alongside this community is another online community of people who gather to interact with a company’s brand on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
The Venn diagram of these two groups typically has a fair amount of overlap, however the way they engage with an organization and what they expect can differ significantly. These differences require unique skill sets that have resulted in the emergence of two roles: the social media manager and the community manager.
When considering who should support these communities it’s important to think through the different goals, metrics, and desired outcomes. This will ensure you build the right job descriptions and expectations to have the right person or people aligned to these important efforts.
A community manager is responsible for the management of an organization's online community.
Community managers are tasked with building, supporting, and maintaining a healthy community of users. Users, in this case, include both those who are currently engaged with the company’s products as well as potential customers who might be exploring or researching to determine whether the software is right for them.
Community managers work to understand the dynamics of their community and track success metrics such as community growth, activity, and impact. They also track qualitative information including which users are acting as champions, who is actively involved, what is the sentiment of the community at large, and what kinds of things they are talking about. All of this informs how they spend their time and where they invest their resources.
One important distinction is that Community Managers are not anonymous. They likely have their picture or a recognizable avatar in their profile, and they post under their own name. They act as a representative of the company or organization they work for, but are still individuals with their own personality, voice, and style.
Along with having a deep understanding of their community, community managers are also responsible for programmatic engagement. They likely chat with community members in both one-on-one and one-to-many online forums like Slack and Discord. When users have questions or they are new to a community the Community Manager helps them get the answer they need by sharing resources or flagging the question for follow-up by other members of their extended teams.
In order to reward and encourage members of their community to support others, they may build Champion programs or create rewards programs for users who meet specified criteria. This can be either externally defined for users or as part of a surprise-and-delight strategy to keep people engaged and motivated.
They might also schedule in-person meet-ups or help coordinate community events alongside other corporate events to create a sense of camaraderie that is uniquely generated in face-to-face settings.
Community Managers also serve an inbound function for their organizations by monitoring trends and discussions to provide valuable feedback to internal teams.
Product-led growth companies (PLG) in particular have become very good at understanding what their users are trying to accomplish and they adjust their product roadmaps and engineering resources to help solve these problems. Strong communities help to provide clarity on this topic and can have a significant influence on companies who practice community-driven product developement.
While these are some of the core areas of responsibility for community managers, additional responsibilities can include:
All this to say that Community Manager roles are expansive, varied, and usually highly-customized to the needs and dynamics of the communities they are supporting.
Community teams can sit in a number of different business functions. Many community managers report in to marketing, product, developer relations, and in some cases engineering.
Wherever the roles sit, the skills required to be successful are consistent. These individuals are strategic thinkers who are able to leverage data and community feedback to prioritize their work. They understand how and when to prioritize activities for scale versus honing in on one or just a few users at a time because it will lead to much broader impact.
Social Media Managers act as the brand. They implement a social media strategy and design social media campaigns to build brand awareness and affinity through social networks.
Sometimes called Social Media Marketers or Social Media Community Managers, their voice is the voice of the company and they are experts in using digital media to communicate with their community.
The role can be challenging as Social Media Managers must not only be able to understand their target audience and what topics resonate with them, but they must also be able to navigate how to leverage the brand’s social media accounts to deliver both good news and sometimes address difficult situations.
In a world with multiple social platforms each with its own nuances, strengths, and demographics, the Social Media Manager must know which medium to use to deliver the right message to the right audience. While this may seem seamless to the outside observer, it is not something that happens without planning and strategy.
Landing a message on TikTok, heavy on video, is much different from a good Twitter or Facebook group post. While sometimes the medium used on one platform can translate easily to another, that isn’t always the case. These marketers must be savvy about which medium to use where and must also be skilled in working across digital mediums to create the content they need to deliver.
Protecting the brand identity and ensuring consistency in voice and tone is critical. When Social Media Community Managers communicate they are speaking as the brand. It might be clear that there is a clever creative behind the content being produced, but what is produced is inextricably associated with the company, their reputation, and their values. Understanding how to balance this while effectively influencing their audience is a unique and challenging skill that should not be undervalued.
Effective social media managers tap into the hearts and minds of their audience to grow a brand’s following. The best will be able to convert fans into customers and show the impact of social media to the business. Sometimes, like a Community Manager, they will answer questions or address customer problems.
Given their charter, Social Media Managers are typically digital marketing roles that sit inside of corporate marketing teams. These teams are also responsible for functions like PR, brand, and corporate communications. They are measured by metrics such as growth, engagement rate, share of voice, and sentiment. Social listening platforms are often used to measure these outcomes and help provide the data necessary to plan and prioritize how they execute.
It could be and often in small companies it is. Both roles are increasingly strategic in today’s digital world and require adept advocacy and communication skills.
Ideally, given the differences in the function, metrics, and desired outcomes, these roles are managed by distinct people or teams of people. As stated in the beginning, community can mean different things in various companies and for disparate audiences. As you would have a unique strategy for discreet user personas you should also have specific strategies to effectively engage your communities as they grow and evolve over time.
The roles of the Community Manager and the Social Media Community Manager are distinct. Both represent the brand, but one is a brand ambassador and one acts as the brand itself. In the end, not everyone has the luxury of having separate roles for each community, but having a specific strategy for each, regardless of the audience overlap, is critical for growing and sustaining your communities.