SO, HERE’S THE THING (starting with the bottom line first): Being a community manager is something you have to be born with. You can be trained in the tools of the trade, but the essence has to be there. In that sense, if you are a social media manager, who also does “customer service” online, you may be called a “community manager” officially, but it doesn’t necessarily make you one. If you are a “glorified office manager” in a hub, managing the community of people there (on-site, offline), you may want to call yourself a community manager, but it doesn’t make you one.
If you take a course or a workshop of a few hours listening to buzzwords such as “engage” and “keep calm” – it may give you a piece of paper on which is says you are a “community manager”, but it doesn’t make you one.
What DOES make you a real “community manager”?
Two things, and two things only: Your ability to listen actively and your flexibility to adapt. In other words, you are only a community manager, as long as the community says you’re one.
If you post on Facebook and even go so far as to actually reply to your fans when they engage, you may be a budding community manager. But if you fail to grow with your community, recognize your community’s needs and to fulfil them – you’ve lost the right to be called a “community manager” altogether.
A Community is a living organism
It has to be because, after all, it’s made of People. A Community grows, evolves and learns. It becomes more and more sophisticated and with that it wants more and other things. It may start with a group of people gathered around a similar interest or cause, who are satisfied with some content and an answer here and there. But as the community tightens, the more engaged it becomes, and the more they will demand of you – their community manager. They will want more and better content, they will ask for more and better channels of communication, they will start offering feedback and ask for more services, products and features. They will demand to be made a real part of the brand you represent. And if you fail to provide that because, well they taught you in the course that you only need to reply to feedback or say “hi awesome people” in the group every day…. Then you lose your status as their community manager, because you fall out of their grace. If you think that it is not your place or your role to produce and create content, to provide technical support, to do PR, to create a full and complete strategy for the brand’s online marketing (a strategy that includes and relies on the aspect of community) – then you lose your right to be called a community manager.
“Community Management” – a gift, not a trade
Community Management is not a profession (certainly not the “hottest profession in the start-up world” as I have recently seen it dubbed in a promotion for a short course claiming to give you a new profession) – it’s a calling and an essence. You can’t do Community Management for a living. You have to be a Community Manager. And it’s not just for start-ups or games too! A true, genuine, authentic and good Community Manager is something every brand needs, in every niche, anywhere in the world.
So let’s talk about “Active Listening” for a moment
You see, there is listening and then there is listening. No, I haven’t lost my marbles (yet). Most people listen in order to reply and react (from the gut). Very few are true active listeners who listen to understand.
A Community Manager, by nature, listens to understand. He or she has a born ability to read people and emotions even online, in a written chat or post, he or she has a born ability to read between lines & words, and understand what the person on the other side of the keyboard actually feels or thinks. You can call it empathy, telepathy, good reading comprehension skills …. I believe it’s a combination of all those skills and traits together.
The difference between a regular ole’ social media manager, or a not-so-good community manager, and a real community manager is what they understand from the community and how they act upon it.
Example (a real one from an ex-client)
Customer complains on Facebook about a malfunctioning product, which took months to arrive, saying he tried to email the company and got no reply, tried the company’s user forum (the go-to for support) and got no reply…
The social media manager will do the following: (maybe) acknowledge the post, say he or she are sorry to hear and will forward the feedback to the company. Then (maybe) hide or even delete the post and (maybe) bother to really forward the feedback to someone in the company. In too many cases I see, such complaints go ignored and the social media manager will simply continue to post self-promotional posts of the product on Facebook (again I remind – the example is real and so are the responses analyzed in it).
The Community Manager will do the following: Reply to the customer at length and in public, assuring them their complaint will be forwarded and followed up; forward the complaint to the company along with a suggestion for compensation to the customer; copy the customer on the forwarded email; create a post for the blog about “how to get support” and maybe even a solution to the issue the customer encountered (if there is such); post on the company forum with instructions on how to solve the issue and/or how to reach the community manager for support; follow up with the company on the complaint and the resolution; make sure the customer gets an answer and a resolution (solution to the issue or compensation, or even both if the case warrants it); post the case resolution on Facebook for all to see how it was handled.
Get the difference?
The Community manager has to be able to not only listen, but to understand and act upon that understanding.
The set of skills a community manager has to have is immense:
And that’s just a partial list….
This is why I believe no course can teach you to be a Community Manager, but if you feel you were born to be one, I will gladly train you as one.