Distinct Differences Between Community, Social Approaches

The members of online communities are individuals, but they have a common interest (Prio/Flickr).

The members of   online communities are individuals, but they have a common interest (Prio/Flickr).

The functional orientations and work processes of community managers and social media managers may seem a lot alike at first glance, but it’s my belief that the differences between them play out through several subtle, but distinct differences.

These characteristics include:

  • the focus of motivation for speaking to and engaging others around the organization;
  • the flavor and character of the communications conducted;
  • the end purposes of the engagement efforts that are made.

From our readings this week, I’ve discerned that community managers center their efforts on cultivating conversations and building relationships in order to develop and maintain an engaged community that benefits both community members and the positive status of the organization.

Just as Vanessa DiMauro points out in Social Media Today, community managers are focused “on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration.” She continues that social media managers instead are involved in “listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms.”

Ryan Lytle presents another take. He characterizes the community manager’s functions, in “10 Qualities of an Effective Community Manager” as consisting of an enabling role. (I see this as a function akin to an advocate or an ombudsman.) Lytle says it is the community manager’s duty “not to continue to push a brand’s message, but to empower the audience and to give it a voice.”

Whether an organizational interaction is considered to originate in either high or low complexity market conditions are other ways to determine whether the community manager or social media manager avenue is the better approach for online communication.

Rachel Happe writes about this aspect in “The Community Roundtable,” using the example of a Sharpie pen manufacturer to illustrate the differences between the community manager and social media manager disciplines.

A low complexity market situation (the Sharpie pen producer-sales transaction) may require a social media management approach, she says.

  • That would be where online activity is more about pushing out product messages than about having Sharpie pen consumers converse with the manufacturer and with each other.
  • In this approach, social media management integrates business aspects into the community, providing a forum where consumers of Sharpie pens may be happy enough to tune into social media channels to learn about new products and promotions.
  • That might involve “listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks.”
  • These activities are much more marketing and sales-focused, thus the domain of the social media manager, according to Happe.

Such consumers may not be as interested in sharing their experiences and the benefits they find in using Sharpie pens as a member of a moderated community, however, she implies. That is why in the opposite situation, (a high complexity market and use case), the community manager approach may be the proper form of online communication.

  • This type of online community building would be called for when it is more important that there are inter-personal connections as part of the organization’s transactions, Happe conveys.
  • What community managers do for organizations is to “provide the feeling of a direct connection” to the organization, she says, providing an infrastructure where customers can “benefit greatly by interacting and building relationships with other customers.”

Echoing that belief, Richard Millington, in “Buzzing Communities,” notes that it is often the community manager who provides “the only link between the organization and its community.” He says that “if community members are able to directly interact with the organization’s staff, they become more likely to develop positive opinions of the organization; they begin to identify as one with the organization.”(p.185).

Given these various perspectives, here are two questions for your own reflection and feedback:

  • Of the organizations you interact with online, can you tell what approach is used in those communication efforts?
  • Do you receive different types of interactions from different organizations, and are you satisfied with the type of interactions you’re getting?





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