Are Community Managers Truly Benefiting Companies? Without Any Metrics, Who’s to Say?

August 16, 2010

Much gets said about community management—it is, after all, a pivotal function in ensuring that an organization actually has a community of interest and nurtures that community. But what do community managers really do for a company?

Jeff Nolan recently posted a thought-provoking piece on his blog, Venture Chronicles, where he noted that community manager positions are one of the hottest jobs on the market. As marketing operations across all industries look to build brand equity through conversations with, and building of, communities of interest, having someone at the helm is crucial.

So far, so good.

Companies need people to fill these jobs, but what’s also interesting is how badly people want to fill these jobs. Nolan suggests that the reason is due to a distinct lack of performance metrics around community manager positions. Instead, the mentality around community management falls more in line with a “we’ll know it when we see it” mentality, he says.

I reflected upon this recently after talking to the community manager of a large organization about their role. I was trying to get a sense of how much direction was attached to the job and how much was simply a case of throwing some resource at a perceived problem and hoping something would stick.

Interestingly enough, this person could give me facts and figures on the organization’s Twitter followers, regale me with stories of how they handle “all the social media for the executive team,” and woo me with tales of the latest marketing campaigns, simultaneously broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other properties.

What this person couldn’t give me, however, was any real sense of what community management was doing for their organization in terms of business benefit. Information was also lacking as to what metrics were even appropriate for measuring their success (or lack thereof) and whether the role was a brand tool, or simply a sales one.

So far, not so good.

While it’s important that a community management role isn’t overly prescriptive or process driven, some structure needs to be built into what community managers are doing. To this end Radian6 published an interesting post suggesting key areas of influence for a community manager:

Once upon a time, managing a community meant hanging out in an online location – be it a forum or a chat room – and moderating chat. Approving comments. Handling some support issues. Dealing with trolls, helping people with questions. That kind of thing. But community management, at least the way we approach it, isn’t just online issues management and discussion moderation anymore. It’s a far more fundamental business role, one that ties together responsibilities from a number of different places, both online and off.

Radian6 breaks down those areas of responsibilities as such:

  • Online Engagement – listening, monitoring, communicating
  • Business Development – lead cultivation, issue identification, and broad product strategy
  • Internal Communication and Collaboration – advocating internally for customers
  • Content Creation – blog posts, whitepapers, and case studies
  • Measurement and Reporting – engagement monitoring, communication activity monitoring, and trend analysis

Finally, Radian6 wraps up the role saying this:

To us, this role is a hybrid discipline – a mix of sales and customer service and communication – and is really silo agnostic, functioning as a hub for many different disciplines inside the company. Online engagement is part of the role, but so too is the integration of that online world with offline efforts, business strategy, and even the culture of our organization. Our vision of community professionals is that of spokespeople, communicators, networkers, brand ambassadors, and representatives of their community all wrapped into one. We believe it’s a role businesses should take seriously, and hire and incorporate community professionals that have a broad set of business and interpersonal skills. It’s not just the online forum moderators of yesterday.

Which is helpful from a definitional perspective, but still doesn’t help give clarity around metrics and measures of success. So…in the spirit of crowdsourcing and leveraging the collective wisdom of the community, what are the measures you feel are appropriate for community management?