Were there communities before Facebook?
The primary focus of our Google+ hangout and our theme for this week was the “History & Evolution of Community Management.” One of the questions discussed was what “platforms” we personally used in our earliest community participation. AOL Chat, ICQ chats, and LISTSERVs were mentioned. My personal earliest memory is of a private bulletin board service put up by a friend in 1992 that a group of us used to discuss the software we were developing for a non-profit group. This conversation also reminded me of a story that my mom told me about her early “community group”. When she was a teenager, she would write a paragraph about what was happening in her life and send it to one of her friends. The friend would add what she was doing onto the letter and send it on to another friend, and so on, until it completed the circle and came back to my mom, who would add onto it again and repeat the cycle. Consequently, I believe community groups have been in existence for a long time even though the underlying supporting technology might seem very primitive by today’s standards.
The State of Community Management Today
The proliferation of communities over the years has created a much more diverse set of communities. Today there is a group for almost every niche topic. It is much easier for “birds of a feather to flock together”; however, it is also more difficult for a single community to meet the needs of all of its constituents as it grows larger.
Sourcing Strategies for Community Management
Building a strong Community Management team is not as easy as it may appear. A small sole-proprietor in a start-up company may need to do everything him/herself out of necessity. A large brand may find it easier to outsource community management duties to a company specializing in these tasks, but may risk losing the authentic “voice of the brand.” Steve shared examples from his internship with a community management company where he had to spend several weeks studying up on the businesses he was to represent. Early on, all of his posts were reviewed before they could be released. While the best way to learn about a community is to actively participate, there is a great deal of upfront work that goes into getting to that point. Reviewing the Social Media Maturity Model can also help a new community manager understand where his company or brand is in the life cycle and provide guidance as to how to best engage the community.
Communities for Brand Mascots
Brands with mascots bring their own challenges. The community manager must “become” the character for which he or she is speaking. Being “in character” as Captain Crunch or the Geico Gecko every day can be difficult, but creating a mascot with a strong persona can lead to audience growth and help build an energetic community for the brand. Customers tend to become more engaged and enjoy interacting with the mascot. Keeping the brand in the forefront of customers’ minds can lead to increased sales.
Who should be a Community Manager?
Are Community Managers born or made? While community manager capability can be improved by the right training and on the job experiences, there are certain characteristics that good community managers are born with. Chiefly, a desire to interact and connect with people, not just via social media, but face-to-face as well. In this respect, my natural inclinations cause me to gravitate more toward that of social media manager than community manager. Social media managers are more likely to enjoy developing marketing strategies and measuring results with analytics than spending most of their day interfacing with people.