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Why community management is the key weapon in your digital armory

5 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Last year it emerged that 69% of companies either have or are planning to hire a community manager to their ranks. The rationale behind this development is clear. Investment in social media is booming, and with an ever-expanding array of tools and platforms for brands to use to engage with customers and stakeholders, community management is an essential skill.

This trend is reflected in a 2011 survey by Booz & Co. and Buddy Media, in which a strengthening of social media is on the agenda of 40% of responding CEOs and is a top marketing priority of a further 60%. More than three-quarters say they believe that social media efforts enhance their marketing effectiveness; 95% expect to invest more in social media.

I argued recently for the need for social media to have a clear purpose to enable smarter returns on investment to be measured. Once that purpose has been cultivated, however, your community managers are the people that will help you deliver on these plans. Effective community management allows you to move on from the build-it-and-pray approach many companies took toward social media in its early days and move toward having an engaged and empowered army of advocates that are helping to drive success at companies as diverse as Burberry and Lego.

Still not convinced? The Booz study mentioned earlier revealed that 50% of respondents felt they lacked sufficient community management resources. What’s more, 55% felt that this lack of community management left them liable to losing control of their brand. Respondents revealed that while social media offered clear benefits, having to be “on” 24/7 represented a clear challenge for organizations simply not set up to respond to issues so rapidly.

It is forcing companies that want to make the shift from “make and sell” to “sense and respond” to invest heavily in attracting the community management skills they need to thrive in the social world.

I recommend companies go still further though and don’t limit their community building development to a single person or department, but instead to develop community-building skills within employees from across the organization, and indeed in stakeholders from outside of your company. Here are a few reasons why you can never have too many community managers.

  1. You need 24/7 coverage. When people post on social networks, they want a response double-quick. The 9-to-5 workday doesn’t apply in the world of social media, and when you’re dealing with people from around the world it pays to have round the clock support. This could involve people from various internal departments from around the globe or it could involve bringing on board brand ambassadors to talk on your behalf.
  2. Speed and accuracy of response. Picture this scene: Your community manager sits in the marketing department (let’s say). They field a response from a customer requiring technical support. The community manager then has to send that to the internal support team, who then send a response back to the community manager, who then forwards it onto the customer. That’s a heck of a slow way to respond, and is ripe for miscommunication. It’s much better to equip people from across the organization with community management skills so they can talk directly to customers.
  3. Everyone feels the customers’ pain. It’s amazing how few people in large organizations have any interaction with actual customers. For many, the only customer they have is an internal one, so they have no idea if the end user is happy. They have no idea if they’re contributing to a happy customer experience or not. Social media can change that, opening up your organization to make it both more human from the customer’s perspective, while at the same time giving many more employees access to the kind of customer pain that is essential to innovation.
  4. It will improve internal performance. The workplace is currently undergoing some radical shifts. Not only are trends like globalization and flexible working meaning that teams are often working virtually, but Generation Y is entering the workforce en masse with the belief that influence and power is something earned by deed rather than position. Therefore being able to collaborate virtually and inspire colleagues to work with you on projects are key skills for the modern employee, and they’re the kind of skills any community manager will have in abundance.

Of course, all of that can sound like an anarchic free-for-all where no one has any semblance of control over what goes on. It is here that creating the right corporate culture is crucial in ensuring that everyone involved in your communities is aware of what’s expected of them and how their performance will be measured.

While such a shift is undoubtedly an uncomfortable one, if your organization wishes to join the ranks of the Legos and Burberrys, it is one they will need to make.

Adi Gaskell is a social media expert and blogger for Social Business News. He specializes in social media and community building.