Who Is (and Who Is Not) a Community Manager?

Against my better judgment, I’m going to wade into the debate over how we define “community manager.”

More than two years ago, Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable wrote a blog post where she did a nice job summing up the difference between community managers and social media managers. I had the pleasure of chatting with Rachel over lunch last month, and one of the topics of conversation was the fact that we’re still having this debate two years later.

A recent Twitter chat entitled “Social Media Manager vs Community Manager” underscored the lack of consensus around the terminology we use. Few of the participants could provide a meaningful distinction between the two functions. Several wondered aloud if such a distinction exists. If those in the field can’t tell the difference, how can we expect the wider business world to understand?

We can’t. And that’s a problem.

There is a difference between community managers and social media managers. It’s important for those of us in the field to come to a consensus about that difference, if for no other reason than to clarify expectations with employers and potential employers.

Take a look at job listings for social media managers and they’re pretty much what you’d expect. Listings for community managers, on the other hand, are all over the place. Many (perhaps most) of the job listings for “community managers” indicate that the role is primarily responsible for the organization’s presence in social media.

If the previously mentioned Twitter chat is any indication, some people who engage in what I would call social media management take offense if anyone questions whether or not they ought to be called “community managers.” So let’s be clear about something: This is not a value judgment. It’s simply about coming up with accurate terminology.

Here’s the terminology I favor:

If you oversee a group of people with a shared interest that engages in peer-to-peer communication online, you’re a community manager.

If you manage your organization’s presence on services like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, you’re a social media manager.

There are also distinctions to be made under the umbrella of community management. There are internal community managers that oversee online communications within an organization. There are support community managers that oversee online venues where users of a certain product or service gather to get help and exchange tips. There are moderators who are responsible for removing objectionable content and can work in a community setting, a social media setting, or both. Each of these sub-specialties require their own set of special skills.

Also, there are skills that are common to both community managers and social media managers. Both must be excellent online communicators. Both must be comfortable being the face of the organization. Both must be able to effectively communicate the needs and wants of the audience to the rest of the organization.

But, in the end, community managers and social media managers are different.

So what do you think? Can we agree on titles that distinguish between people who have very different jobs? Are my definitions the right ones?

Please add your comments below.

Photo credit: konradfoerstner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *