The Evolution of Community Management – Pt. 2

October 22, 2013  |  Russ Martin  |  Comments

For community management to work, brands need honest and open communication

Most brands have been adding a community manager or two to the team, but because the position is so misunderstood, these managers find themselves facing a wide array of challenges that prevent them from contributing to full effect.

Part 1, The Origin Story and The Power Struggle, outlines how community management became a junior position, and why they now fight for a seat at the strategy table.

Transparency Required

For community management to work, brands have to be more honest
The challenge for many community managers, according to Rachel Happe, co-founder of the Community Roundtable, an American network for community managers, is that brands aren’t prepared to be as transparent as the social web demands them to be . Community managers are often under pressure from management not to say too much about customer service or product failings while under fire from angry consumers.

“It is a complex negotiating role,” says Happe. “Not in terms of legal negotiating but finding that fi ne line between what’s okay to share, how to say it and how to listen and respond, even in situations where you maybe can’t share everything.”

“The community manager needs to wear many hats. They have many roles,” says Scott Monty, global head of social at Ford. “Obviously, a brand advocate, somebody who speaks the language of customer service and knows how to be empathetic with customers. Also someone who is able to take corporate messaging and pass that along in a way that is consistent with the community’s language and the brand message overall.”

As global head of social media at Ford, which employs more than 20 community managers internationally, Monty does everything from tweeting social media and car news from his personal-meets-professional @ScottMonty handle to advising social strategy, leading Ford’s deep blogger relations initiatives, speaking on behalf of the company and advising the company’s customer service and marketing departments, which is seen by many as a dream gig. “Every community manager wants to be Scott Monty,” said one. (When told of this, Monty laughed and paraphrased Cary Grant, “Even I want to be Scott Monty.”)

Monty’s philosophy for community management is to maintain a flat structure and trust community managers, limiting the approval process to give them agency over what they post. Though community managers need guidance and training, he says too much structure, “means approvals are needed and somebody always needs to report to someone else,” slowing down the process.

“There are few issues that require client approval before addressing and the community managers know what they are,” he says. “They’re the face of Ford, they’re the ones that are interacting with consumers and we trust them to do what’s right.”

Reaching across the company

To be effective, everyone needs to talk to community managers
Because community managers deal with all parts of a brand, they need to have tentacles into almost every part of the business, a steep challenge when other departments don’t understand or value social media or community managers don’t have the clout to command quick, detailed responses.

“Most of the people internally in these companies don’t understand what the community manager is even doing, so they don’t get a lot of sympathy,” Happe says. “It’s really hard over time if you keep running up against brick walls inside the organization. You have to take a very philosophical view to survive without getting pulled into the undertow of corporate culture.”

The solution is for companies to drastically modify the way they communicate—a change Happe says is already underway—and give community managers more access to internal teams, from marketing to customer service, so they can get the information they need.

When Tyler Turnbull took over as senior vice-president of strategy and insight at Proximity Canada, one of the first things he did was move his strategy team from the 29th floor down to the sixth so they could sit next to the creative and technology teams.

Sitting in his office with Stephanie Fusco, a Proximity Canada community manager currently working on Visa, he gestures towards a row of cubicles. “When Stephanie is thinking about a content strategy for a client, she’s right across from the digital strategist on the business and very close to the brand planner on the media side.”

The collaborative set up, Turnbull says, helps the agency maximize on the impact of social.

“Many clients have now discovered [community management] is a fundamental role as a part of digital effectiveness,” says Turnbull. “With a lot of our clients, Steph is part of meetings from the upfront, even creative briefi ngs. She’ll be there to say, ‘Here is work that has a similar tone,’ or offer a post that’s in-line with the strategy we’re trying to pursue.

“It gives evidence to creatives to see what works and what doesn’t and is a great way to help define what the work should be in the future.”

Now available: Part 3 – The CM Glass Ceiling and 24-Hour Community Managers

This series originally appeared as “Community Management Fun & Games” in the Oct. 21 issue of Marketing. Subscribe today, and don’t forget to check us out on your iPad.

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