Sunday, November 25, 2007

They aren't your communities to manage

I've been giving some thought to this idea of building "your" own social networks. My thinking was further confused this morning when I read Jeremiah Owyang's : The Four Tenets of the Community Manager. This is the corporate or organizational approach to community building. He lists these four commonalities in the job descriptions of the "community manager":

  • Community advocate
  • Brand evangelist
  • Communication skills/shapes editorial
  • Shapes requirements for future products/services

Keep in mind, I'm thinking out loud a bit, but this approach seems totally clueless and old-school to me. I'm not questioning Jeremiah- he's just reporting what he has observed. I have no doubt that what he describes is accurate. It reads to me like a strategy concocted by people who wouldn't know an affinity group if they saw one. People who have not been the ball themselves.

Here's my take on the responsibilities of the "community manager":

Advocate- An intermediary to be the voice of the community? You're going to create a new job to get-in-the middle between your organization and the community? People think this is a good idea? Shouldn't your goal be disintermediation wherever possible? In late 2007, I'm thinking you should be all about letting people speak for themselves. If it were my organization, I would want as many of our people as possible interfacing with the community and conversing in every conceivable way. I'd want this in every employee's job description. I would not want to make this any one particular person's job.

Brand evangelist- Isn't your best evangelist a satisfied customer? One person paid to evangelize your brand is supposed to counter balance the voice of the entire community? What brought the community together in the first place if they weren't already evangelists? Again, I would not want to make this a person's job. I'd want this in every employee's job description as well.

Message shaper- Are you kidding me? You're going to walk into a social network and try to "shape" the message? Corporate spin? Yeah right. How about open and honest conversation? Real dialog involving anyone and everyone who wants to participate.

Shapes requirements for future products/services - Ideation? This will be someone's job? You're going to create a single point of failure on something so important to your future? Again, how about it being everyone's job. If there is any one area where you need flatness, transparency, and openness it would be here.

So, let's return to the concept of the community manager. Whose "community" is it to manage? The people in your organization may be a part of a community, may have even participated in birthing it, may even be trusted members, but to think they occupy any special super-node is nothing short of delusional. Does making someone responsible for these functions absolve others in your organization from active participation? It's not a community if everyone doesn't feel free to participate as an equal. As soon as you make this someone's job you devalue the contributions of everyone. I'm thinking the whole concept of a "community manager" is a very bad idea.


Anonymous said...

Good feedback, a few points of clarification.

A few things. The Community Manager role is here and it's appearing.

1 Large companies have hundreds of products, coordination is required for all these touch points. Just because customers voice they want something, doesn't mean it's going to get done. It's unlikely that every product team is going to spend time watching the community, so this role helps to streamline this.

2 Yup, you're right. But customers don't always know what the company is up to.

3 Who said anything about "message shaping?" It's editorial shaping. That means they are getting the right folks in the company to get together and deliver content. For example, Microsoft's channel 9 program (and 8 and 10) has tons of content being created. Editorial is very very different than 'crafting messages' like PR.

4 I updated number four based upon feedback from others. Please re-read.

Shashi B said...

Good points.

" Message Shaping" What I understood is that the Community manager will make sure that the message is conversational and fits the medium. SThe message sgould also answer the question that is prominent in the users/customers minds.

I am not sure it is shaping the messages from others- its is shaping the message you want to out out on behlaf of the company,

Anonymous said...

The idea of disintermediation is attractive -- and liberating -- but it is not the full or whole answer.

You don't want *everyone* within the organisations interfacing with the community; business-as-usual work still needs to get done, and not everyone is either appropriate/capable. Putting it in the job description is a questionable decision: how do you track it? Who judges the quality of contribution? And how is ROI measured?

We still need marketing professionals; we need them to be Advocates and Brand Evangelists and Product Managers, for that matter. It's true: community-building skills should be promoted throughout the organisation. But it is still up to those who are experienced, interested and committed to be responsible for commercial success.

Brand-building is far too important to be left to amateurs.

Anonymous said...


I'm a former community manager for Panasonic. I didn't work for the company itself...long story.

I had to disagree with you. Basically because I think organizations are often not community ready. Or for that matter, contrary to what so many think, they don't have communities. They still have customer bases. And maybe that's what they're always going to have because they what they create isn't conducive to creating a community.

But the point I'm trying to make is that many of those companies that could have communities don't have them yet and they need some sort of intermediary to help manage the process. Many organizations are rule and process oriented, bureaucratic, hierarchical, etc.

You see it the same with the way they market products...they're 100% product oriented and 0% customer oriented. They need both.

So, yeah. A community manager has to act as an intermediary. A bridge so to speak. And that can be part advocate, part facilitator, part editor, That may not change your what you believe, but from what I experience most organizations view their customers as being very important, but still more so as receptors of what the organization wants to let them know about.

Kevin Gamble said...


> The Community Manager role is here and it's appearing.

I don't doubt that for a minute. I just don't think it's a particularly good strategy if you're truly wanting to engage with "communities". I would prefer an approach that was far more open, less hierarchical, and more conversational.

> It's unlikely that every product team is going to spend time watching the community, so this role helps to streamline this.

I don't see putting intermediaries between the communities and product teams as streamlining. I see it as making "dealing" with the community someone else's problem. I don't think this is where companies or organizations should be going.

> customers don't always know what the company is up to.

Whose fault is that? Is a community manager really going to solve that problem?

> Who said anything about "message shaping?" It's editorial shaping.

Good point. I missed the distinction.

> I updated number four based upon feedback from others. Please re-read.

Much better.

Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated!

Kevin Gamble said...


Thank you for your comments.

That's editorial shaping bullet is one where I'm going to need to do some more study. Jeremiah definitely helped to clarify the thinking there. More examples of this in action (like the MS Channel 9) would be good to see.

I guess I'm wondering how this fits in to a strategy where communication is socially mediated? These are things that organizational employees would reference in their conversations? That strategy would make sense.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Jonathan and Kevin.

While we would want the product teams to be active in the community areas, in reality, this isn't always going to be the case.

The same thing goes for Marketing teams, PR Teams, and Support teams --both which report back to the product teams with information.

The reality is, while we'd love for product teams to have many touchpoints, managing all the conversations is going to be challenging for them.

Kevin, you've added a lot to the conversation, thanks.

Liza said...

I think I have to disagree with you to a certain extent, at least as far as my job in particular goes...
As a community manager myself, I "manage" (talk to, care for, advocate for) a community of over 5k filmmakers and small studios. It's imperative for these folks to be able to get in touch with someone immediately if they're having trouble understanding a creative brief, If they have a question for the brand we're working with, if they don't know where to find tax forms... But also, it's important that our company has a voice and a face to "give" to the community as someone to help them and support them.
Not only do I communicate with our community, but I talk to upper level management about their concerns and excitement, and I recruit new members of the community.
So for MY company (a start up) it's such an important position that there are TWO of us here, full time.
To be honest, There really isn't anyone else in the company with the time or energy to do what we do... which is to be the face of the company to our users... without whom, we'd go under.

Hope this perspective helps!
and many thanks for your thought provoking questions :)