The Unspoken Role in Community Management

The more I immerse myself in my role as a community director, the more something has become vastly apparent to me. I know I’m speaking from my own perspective here, but maybe this sparks some ideas for you.

Typically….

When we talk about community management roles, we’re often talking about the customer facing aspect. The idea that you are there to shepherd your clients, prospects, customers, and community at large to build a better relationship between them and your business.

All that is true. It’s the customer service role blended with sales and communication, both internal and external. I often refer to it as the bridge between a company’s community or potential community, and the business itself.

But there’s more.

I am more clearly focused than ever before on the idea that social business is what we’re striving for. The media is just the carrier. The set of tactics. The mechanisms behind the intent to connect. But that’s all on the surface, and if we leave the idea of Chris Brogan’s “human-shaped” business languishing at the front lines and dicker about whether it’s PR or customer service or marketing or whatever, without taking it to the foundations of an organization and engineering a new bedrock, it’s all going to fall flat.

I am also learning that as a communicators at our essence (part of what I think makes people like us suited to our roles and so passionate about what social media illustrates), we are uniquely positioned to help build that framework inside our company, and help other companies learn what that looks like.

So as community-minded people….

Think about your role as an internal communicator as well as an external communicator, no matter how officially that fits into your role. What can you bring to the core of your business, what can you make happen inside your own walls based on what you learn “out there”? How can you be the bridge between those silos in your organization, or the catalyst for conversations that no one has had before (but might desperately want to)?

There is opportunity hiding in routine. Even yours. Even mine. Even if it’s never been done. Even if community isn’t your job description, but it’s your passion and something you understand.

When we are embarking on new lenses through which to view business of all sizes, we have the chance to question what’s come before, and establish things that have never been.

Can community intent inform your actions?

I know it’s not always easy to change the mechanisms that have been in place. I’ve worked in bootstrapped non-profit organizations. I’ve worked in corporate environments, both rigid and more open, and both have their sets of challenges. Established brands and new ones. Change isn’t easy.
But one thing remains abundantly clear.

As a relationship builder, connector, communicator,  it’s my responsibility to take on the challenges of immersing my company in that however I can. Small steps or major innovations. I am a communicator. It’s what I do. Communication is the very essence of community building. Of all the social networks we love so much but are trying so hard to understand. It’s what separates misunderstanding from clarity. Ignorance from education. Stagnation from innovation.

I don’t deny the challenges. I don’t deny that we have work ahead of us. I don’t deny that the very foundations of business truly are shifting under our feet, and that paralyzes people with fear. I don’t deny that there are charlatans and shiny objects and fear and misunderstanding in our way. And I don’t deny that we will leave some lost causes behind.

But as communicators, as those with the deep-seated notion that a community mindset can bring the best out of a business, we can be the change-makers. We can form a gathering point for those ideas that need a place to take root. We can be the bridges. We can retool what we know, one bit at a time, by shedding the verbal shortcuts and excuses and using our skills to untangle the most thorny of challenges and the laziness of jargon.

If that scares you, if you’re focused on why that won’t work instead of how to jump the gate, stop now. Find an easier battle to wage. Focus on guaranteed “wins” based on safe ideas. There are plenty, I assure you. And many of them will live long lives and give you comfort and job security.

But for the rest: This isn’t marketing. This isn’t PR. It’s not customer service. It’s elemental business. So, why not us? And why not now?

image by colros

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  • http://intronetworks.com Mark Sylvester

    Amber, this is spot on and written with a great deal of passion, another attribute to make sure you have if you want to go down this path. I love your challenge at the end of the piece, that’s a great way to motivate people.

    My recent conversations on this topic have been focused on Intent as well and I see that is a big part of your thinking.

    When you talk about bedrock you are abslutley correct, and the audience for this post needs to be the C Suite, not the Cmty Suite – if the community strategy, neh, the social business strategy is not woven into the fabric of the business, it will not work.

  • http://intronetworks.com Mark Sylvester

    Amber, this is spot on and written with a great deal of passion, another attribute to make sure you have if you want to go down this path. I love your challenge at the end of the piece, that’s a great way to motivate people.

    My recent conversations on this topic have been focused on Intent as well and I see that is a big part of your thinking.

    When you talk about bedrock you are abslutley correct, and the audience for this post needs to be the C Suite, not the Cmty Suite – if the community strategy, neh, the social business strategy is not woven into the fabric of the business, it will not work.

  • http://www.marketingshindig.com Nick Shin

    Great post on a topic that really isn’t touched upon very often. I like your focus on ‘intent’ and providing this from your own perspective. I like what you said here, “Communication is the very essence of community building.” Simple and obvious, but so very true.

  • http://www.marketingshindig.com Nick Shin

    Great post on a topic that really isn’t touched upon very often. I like your focus on ‘intent’ and providing this from your own perspective. I like what you said here, “Communication is the very essence of community building.” Simple and obvious, but so very true.

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Amber:

    You had me at…this: “I am a communicator. It’s what I do. Communication is the very essence of community building.”

    3+ months into this new gig, I’ve learned so much (a lot from you), but the communication piece is really what it’s all about, right? Interacting and engaging with other humans, teaching, learning, talking, listening – using tools to help facilitate all of this. But it all boils down to communication.

    I agree that as community managers we are in a great position to also create change, although sometimes it feels like we are just chipping away. But not all change needs to be dramatic and sudden. Sometimes it’s about the small wins. My day is successful if I get someone excited about email marketing or a group of people to see the value of a killer blog post. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be about email. I find joy in helping others and seeing other people happy.

    Part of my role is internal cheerleader. I need people within my organization to be fired up (in a good way) about email marketing. I need them to take an ounce of my passion, find their own, and roll with it. Some days, it’s getting someone pumped up about writing while other times it’s facilitating a conversation, an interaction.

    I think I may have just gone off on several different tangents, many of which may not be related to the topic above. Ha ha. Either way, your post has made me think. That – in and of itself – is communication!

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Amber:

    You had me at…this: “I am a communicator. It’s what I do. Communication is the very essence of community building.”

    3+ months into this new gig, I’ve learned so much (a lot from you), but the communication piece is really what it’s all about, right? Interacting and engaging with other humans, teaching, learning, talking, listening – using tools to help facilitate all of this. But it all boils down to communication.

    I agree that as community managers we are in a great position to also create change, although sometimes it feels like we are just chipping away. But not all change needs to be dramatic and sudden. Sometimes it’s about the small wins. My day is successful if I get someone excited about email marketing or a group of people to see the value of a killer blog post. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be about email. I find joy in helping others and seeing other people happy.

    Part of my role is internal cheerleader. I need people within my organization to be fired up (in a good way) about email marketing. I need them to take an ounce of my passion, find their own, and roll with it. Some days, it’s getting someone pumped up about writing while other times it’s facilitating a conversation, an interaction.

    I think I may have just gone off on several different tangents, many of which may not be related to the topic above. Ha ha. Either way, your post has made me think. That – in and of itself – is communication!

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • http://www.sonnygill.com Sonny Gill

    Very well written, Amber. Definitely a lot to chew on but one thing that I’m glad you made clear is the internal responsibility and change that is required of us that are here for the long haul and want to make a change for the business, inside & out.

    Thanks for this.

  • http://www.sonnygill.com Sonny Gill

    Very well written, Amber. Definitely a lot to chew on but one thing that I’m glad you made clear is the internal responsibility and change that is required of us that are here for the long haul and want to make a change for the business, inside & out.

    Thanks for this.

  • http://www.thesocialorganization.com Rachel Happe

    Having been working with some exceptional community managers now for a bit, one thing that is pretty universal to those with more experience is that they spend a lot (maybe even a majority) of their time teaching and encouraging internal colleagues and leaders even with their ‘community’ is made up of customers.

    I will caution here, however. There are indeed a lot of unspoken roles and responsibilities of community management as well as unarticulated expectations. It’s also a role filled with people who are go-getters who are very capable of many things. But, change management requires a lot of time, people, and resources. A lot of companies have vague thoughts that their small group of community managers can do this… which is a dangerous trap. Build an internal advocacy group before doing anything else… and then educate them on what it will take to really deliver cultural change. And yes, it can start with small efforts and examples but don’t feel like you should be able to do it alone.

  • http://www.thesocialorganization.com Rachel Happe

    Having been working with some exceptional community managers now for a bit, one thing that is pretty universal to those with more experience is that they spend a lot (maybe even a majority) of their time teaching and encouraging internal colleagues and leaders even with their ‘community’ is made up of customers.

    I will caution here, however. There are indeed a lot of unspoken roles and responsibilities of community management as well as unarticulated expectations. It’s also a role filled with people who are go-getters who are very capable of many things. But, change management requires a lot of time, people, and resources. A lot of companies have vague thoughts that their small group of community managers can do this… which is a dangerous trap. Build an internal advocacy group before doing anything else… and then educate them on what it will take to really deliver cultural change. And yes, it can start with small efforts and examples but don’t feel like you should be able to do it alone.

  • http://12commanonymous.typepad.com/ Lauren Vargas

    And this is why it is such a pleasure to work with you…

    Beyond everything else, we are communicators. If we do not use our skill sets responsibly to foster and nourish healthy and strong internal communications, despite our best efforts on the consumer front, we will not succeed. Passion will only drive you so far. The community role requires patience and perseverance…and the ability to work with all the working parts of an organization and publics.

  • http://12commanonymous.typepad.com/ Lauren Vargas

    And this is why it is such a pleasure to work with you…

    Beyond everything else, we are communicators. If we do not use our skill sets responsibly to foster and nourish healthy and strong internal communications, despite our best efforts on the consumer front, we will not succeed. Passion will only drive you so far. The community role requires patience and perseverance…and the ability to work with all the working parts of an organization and publics.

  • http://wordswillsaveme.wordpress.com Teresa Basich

    I really think community management starts inside an organization. Yes, on the face of your role you create a bridge for both customers and internal departments to connect, but, in developing a seriously meaningful social business for your customers, that social aspect has to be practiced inside the walls of your organization.

    This might be an odd thought but I think this conversation of internal community management fits in line with your previous post about transparency. Maybe transparency also = practicing what you preach, eating your dog food, drinking your Kool Aid, etc. Does that make sense here? Especially with firms standing on the front lines of social business development — the tool providers, the agencies, the guys making this movement happen at all.

    THIS is what I want to do. THIS, the internal bridging and wall breaking, is what excites me. Okay, so I’m nervous about getting into it, but I really, really love it, and I love that you put this out there because it feels like this has been a sorely neglected aspect of community management. Great post, A!

  • http://wordswillsaveme.wordpress.com Teresa Basich

    I really think community management starts inside an organization. Yes, on the face of your role you create a bridge for both customers and internal departments to connect, but, in developing a seriously meaningful social business for your customers, that social aspect has to be practiced inside the walls of your organization.

    This might be an odd thought but I think this conversation of internal community management fits in line with your previous post about transparency. Maybe transparency also = practicing what you preach, eating your dog food, drinking your Kool Aid, etc. Does that make sense here? Especially with firms standing on the front lines of social business development — the tool providers, the agencies, the guys making this movement happen at all.

    THIS is what I want to do. THIS, the internal bridging and wall breaking, is what excites me. Okay, so I’m nervous about getting into it, but I really, really love it, and I love that you put this out there because it feels like this has been a sorely neglected aspect of community management. Great post, A!

  • http://madbaker.com/ Mark

    Very well said. But if you’re going to really succeed, internal change has to happen, right? Or else the link between the company and the community will crack. You’re dead on that there’s an opportunity (and an obligation) to push the change forward.

    …as an aside…that picture looks so familar. Actually, it’s from the building where I work in Saskatchewan, Canada. Now that’s not something I see everyday in my blog reader! :-)

  • http://madbaker.com/ Mark

    Very well said. But if you’re going to really succeed, internal change has to happen, right? Or else the link between the company and the community will crack. You’re dead on that there’s an opportunity (and an obligation) to push the change forward.

    …as an aside…that picture looks so familar. Actually, it’s from the building where I work in Saskatchewan, Canada. Now that’s not something I see everyday in my blog reader! :-)

  • http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet Guy Martin

    Amber,

    These recent spate of your posts have really touched some great topics (and nerves)! I agree with all of the previous comments – the excitement that I personally get out of being a bridge (love that analogy BTW) and putting disparate groups together (in my case, business owners, project managers, software developers, and QA folks) is the reason I continue to get up in the morning.

    Reading your post also just gave me the stunningly obvious ‘Aha’ moment – there is no accident that ‘Communication’, and ‘Community’ share the same root word. Apologies to all of those out there that realized this before me. :)

    I agree with your exhortation at the end, with one caveat: those functions you mentioned are conduits through which we can inject the correct messages to achieve our means. It’s up to us to find the correct way to do that.

  • http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet Guy Martin

    Amber,

    These recent spate of your posts have really touched some great topics (and nerves)! I agree with all of the previous comments – the excitement that I personally get out of being a bridge (love that analogy BTW) and putting disparate groups together (in my case, business owners, project managers, software developers, and QA folks) is the reason I continue to get up in the morning.

    Reading your post also just gave me the stunningly obvious ‘Aha’ moment – there is no accident that ‘Communication’, and ‘Community’ share the same root word. Apologies to all of those out there that realized this before me. :)

    I agree with your exhortation at the end, with one caveat: those functions you mentioned are conduits through which we can inject the correct messages to achieve our means. It’s up to us to find the correct way to do that.

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  • http://blog.digitalingredients.co.uk Stefano Maggi

    You’re right. When tasks include connecting departments with each other as well as connecting them to the external ecosystem, what you do is not only marketing, communication or pr. Probably those are the quickest depts to get close to the concept of “being social”, but they’re clearly not the only ones.
    This means this approach must change the way companies shape their marketing, communication and PR, too. This is needed to be always connected and relevant to the consumer.

    To do this, inside the company you cannot think about “silos”: sales, market reasearch, advertising, promotion… You rather need to think about co-influenced skills: CRM, offline, ecommerce, service, retail…

    Community management should address this, which means – actually – evolving to social business.

  • http://blog.digitalingredients.co.uk Stefano Maggi

    You’re right. When tasks include connecting departments with each other as well as connecting them to the external ecosystem, what you do is not only marketing, communication or pr. Probably those are the quickest depts to get close to the concept of “being social”, but they’re clearly not the only ones.
    This means this approach must change the way companies shape their marketing, communication and PR, too. This is needed to be always connected and relevant to the consumer.

    To do this, inside the company you cannot think about “silos”: sales, market reasearch, advertising, promotion… You rather need to think about co-influenced skills: CRM, offline, ecommerce, service, retail…

    Community management should address this, which means – actually – evolving to social business.

  • http://www.twitter.com/intrinzinc patrickdh

    …and it is not branding

  • patrickdh

    …and it is not branding

  • http://www.whitneyhoffman.com Whitney

    It never ceases to amaze me at how people know and understand that things are changing, but resist it.

    My stepfather ran a printing supply house, selling paper to local printers. But as desktop publishing started becoming realistic, his kids urged the three brothers running the business to change- to grow and expand, seeing that the small, local printer was going to become a thing of the past. They refused, and the company eventually went under, as each of the smaller print businesses did, another nail went into the coffin.

    Failure to adapt didn’t save the business, it didn’t delay the inevitable. It just made the whole process more painful for everyone involved.

    The same thing is true now- small businesses, medium sized businesses, as well as the big guys, have to adapt to consumer expectations, including a 24 x 7 availability, at least online.

    The semantics argument, the “Where does this fit on our hierarchy/flow chart of job positions”, the “Who would this person report to” territorial arguments does not change the fact that community managers are going to become needed by more and more businesses. It’s going to be an expectation, and you can accept that, or not, and fall behind. Remember the story of the Printer Supply House that become obsolete, and how failure to adapt can make you a fossil faster than you think.

  • http://www.whitneyhoffman.com Whitney

    It never ceases to amaze me at how people know and understand that things are changing, but resist it.

    My stepfather ran a printing supply house, selling paper to local printers. But as desktop publishing started becoming realistic, his kids urged the three brothers running the business to change- to grow and expand, seeing that the small, local printer was going to become a thing of the past. They refused, and the company eventually went under, as each of the smaller print businesses did, another nail went into the coffin.

    Failure to adapt didn’t save the business, it didn’t delay the inevitable. It just made the whole process more painful for everyone involved.

    The same thing is true now- small businesses, medium sized businesses, as well as the big guys, have to adapt to consumer expectations, including a 24 x 7 availability, at least online.

    The semantics argument, the “Where does this fit on our hierarchy/flow chart of job positions”, the “Who would this person report to” territorial arguments does not change the fact that community managers are going to become needed by more and more businesses. It’s going to be an expectation, and you can accept that, or not, and fall behind. Remember the story of the Printer Supply House that become obsolete, and how failure to adapt can make you a fossil faster than you think.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    When I read your headline I thought “internal politics.” And while you did not exactly articulate it that way, I think that’s the gist of the message, based on my reality!

    The world sees one face but it is an entirely different job on the inside. I’m imagining it might be less of an issue at a company that is in the biz and “gets it” but with some of the companies I work with, this is a daily struggle.

    Thanks, Amber.

    @markwschaefer

  • Mark W Schaefer

    When I read your headline I thought “internal politics.” And while you did not exactly articulate it that way, I think that’s the gist of the message, based on my reality!

    The world sees one face but it is an entirely different job on the inside. I’m imagining it might be less of an issue at a company that is in the biz and “gets it” but with some of the companies I work with, this is a daily struggle.

    Thanks, Amber.

    @markwschaefer

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  • http://www.silverpop.com/blogs/demand-generation/ Adam Needles

    Amber, great call to action.

    What is striking is the reality that we’ve created so many different communication silos — especially in the B2B world (e.g., analyst relations, customer relations, PR, partner relations, etc. etc.) — that no one is talking to anyone else. And instead of becoming more engaged, we are only more disparate than ever.

    I like the reminder that engagement and community ultimately can be an opportunity to examine these silos and to find new ways to break them down and to work in a cross-functional fashion.

    I’ve been speaking a lot lately about how being successful in B2B marketing these days first requires understanding the modern B2B buyer — then everything else should wrap around that target … that audience … that community.

    http://propellingbrands.wordpress.com/2009/09/24/nailing-down-evidence-that-the-nature-of-the-b2b-buyer-has-changed/

    It’s great to put community … and our buyer at the center of the strategy. Modern technology enables us to do this better than ever. We just have to keep this focus in mind. So it doesn’t in fact actually distance us.

    Cheers,
    Adam

  • http://www.silverpop.com/blogs/demand-generation/ Adam Needles

    Amber, great call to action.

    What is striking is the reality that we’ve created so many different communication silos — especially in the B2B world (e.g., analyst relations, customer relations, PR, partner relations, etc. etc.) — that no one is talking to anyone else. And instead of becoming more engaged, we are only more disparate than ever.

    I like the reminder that engagement and community ultimately can be an opportunity to examine these silos and to find new ways to break them down and to work in a cross-functional fashion.

    I’ve been speaking a lot lately about how being successful in B2B marketing these days first requires understanding the modern B2B buyer — then everything else should wrap around that target … that audience … that community.

    http://propellingbrands.wordpress.com/2009/09/24/nailing-down-evidence-that-the-nature-of-the-b2b-buyer-has-changed/

    It’s great to put community … and our buyer at the center of the strategy. Modern technology enables us to do this better than ever. We just have to keep this focus in mind. So it doesn’t in fact actually distance us.

    Cheers,
    Adam

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  • http://www.haojiasing.com Hachya

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