Debate: Do All Community Managers Need Social Media?

Photo cred: Rishi Bandopadhay

Seems that a lot of people are under the impression that all community managers have to use social media.

Social media is one tool.  It’s one of the many tools available to marketers, community managers, PR professionals etc.  It is not a requirement for all roles that a community manager could possibly take on.

On twitter, I had a long debate with Alana Joy on this topic.  This discussion led to this post on the ever insightful social media explorer.  This is my response to the twitter debate and that blog post.

We’ve cast this term “community management” over an entire range of roles and responsibilities.  Honestly, most of this debate could probably be settled with better defined roles within the “community manager spectrum”.

There’s so much more to it just than social media outreach and engagement.  Today’s community manager might be responsible for anything ranging from customer service to marketing to event management and the list goes on.

Can social media help all of these potential roles? I don’t know…maybe it can.  Is it required in order to be successful in each of these roles? Nope…

Debate the semantics of social media all you want but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re talking about the twitter and facebook type sites…not email, forums etc…

To give you an example, I spoke with my friend Justin, who has several years of community manager experience and is currently the community manager for Here’s Justin’s take:

“I focus primarily on internal communities. Turning “owned communities” (an ugly term for “on my site”) into rabid evangelists who love the people who are there as much as where “there” is, will defend it, contribute to it, and go out on a limb for it. Managing, engaging and leveraging “owned” communities vs. external communities are two distinct skill sets. Both are needed, just like you have “PR” and “Advertising” as two separate but related industries. Internal communities and external communities are two different beasts, meet different business needs and have different tool sets.

One of the communities I managed was a casual gaming site.  My goal was to take the community that we had (~400 people when I was hired) and turn it into an asset. The community produced content, moderated our forums, ran tournaments, produced plugins and dealt with cheating, abuse and customer support issues. My job was to manage the community we had and to leverage the shit out of it. It was someone else’s job to do user acquisition, but once they were on the site, they were mine.

Am I a social media expert? Far from it, and I’m ok with that. I don’t use it in my day to day job because it’s not my primary value driver at this point. Is it incredibly valuable to many many organizations – most definitely. Will I ever need it? Maybe. Will I definitely need it? Probably not.”

Justin’s full response can be found here.

Justin doesn’t use social media in his community management role because it doesn’t make sense for his objectives.

When looking for the community manager that I’d like to achieve these kinds of goals I’d look for someone who:

  • Understands the userbase and the content related to the userbase.
  • Can create a platform where members of the userbase can interact and connect effectively.
  • Can effectively engage with users.
  • Understands the advantage to the company of turning a userbase into a community.
  • Can organize events and projects to strengthen the community.

…none of which require the use of social media.

It’s easy to think that social media is ubiquitous to those of us who spend hours and hours on these platforms every day.  In reality though, even with their enormous stats, not everyone is using social media and those who do aren’t using it as religiously as one might assume.

It’s definitely popular and it’s definitely a growing trend, but to call it a ubiquitous form of communication is ridiculous.

So before you blindly slap on “social media expert” on your next community manager job description, take a serious look at what you’re really trying to build.

Have at it.

12 thoughts on “Debate: Do All Community Managers Need Social Media?

  1. Man, it’s like you’re reading my mind. I’ve had all of these thoughts in the past few weeks… and no time to write them down. I posted on twitter awhile back about Community Managers, or those who do social media at work, if they should consider specializing. I do public relations social media-ing, or I focus on customer service social media, or event marketing using social media. Basically still doing the usual job but knowing how to implement social media, if necessary to the position.

    A community manager really is just a fancier sounding project manager b/c all of the same skills and needs are there. The only reason “Community” got thrown into the mix is because some really successful businesses needed to manage all of the people interacting with their service (think… Nike & Nike +). If you’re not actually interacting with a crowd of people, you’re not necessarily a community manager, you’re a project manager.

    1. It’s true. There could be project managers that are working on community focused projects. Whatever you want to call them, they’re not the ones that are interacting on social media.

  2. I completely agree with your community manager job description and that a community manager doesn’t HAVE to be engaged in social media, I also feel it’s important to interact with your users where they are rather than force them to come to your site or community. Not only does it give you another opportunity for interaction, but it also opens your community up to potential new members from those who aren’t involved in your existing community but are “related” via social media connections with those who are.

    Developing and following a consistent communications strategy is key. Whether your community strategy is “social-media-friendly” or not is determined by your specific business case.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post – I look forward to more insights!

    1. Thanks for the comment Sharon.

      About interacting where the users are. A true community exists beyond any platform. If your community is reliant on a single platform, then it’s not really a community, it’s an audience.

      You can bring together on twitter and other social media platforms, but if twitter disappeared tomorrow, would your “community” still exist? If not, then it wasn’t really a community in the first place.

      1. @David, I think a better way to put it would be that a community exists despite the platform.

        If Twitter disappeared and so did your community then as you said, it would be an audience. If Twitter disappeared but your community moved to Facebook,, or even a mailing list, then it was and is a (strong) community and it is despite the platform, not because of it.

        1. You only need to look at robust forum communities to dispel this theory, so I have to agree with Justin’s wording.

          However, great post David 🙂 I think forum-based communities are a perfect example of a CM role that may not need social media skills.

  3. I completely agree that SM shouldn’t be a requirement for all cmgr jobs. If the community isn’t online, then it’s not important for the cmgr to be there. Sometimes I feel more productive at a cmgr when I stay off of social media and focus more on support cases through e-mail. At the same time, social media is a skill that is increasingly required for all jobs, not just cmgrs. It’s really more about knowing how to effectively communicate using all mediums. Even if the majority of your community is offline, if 1 person is slandering your company on Twitter you want to know the appropriate way to respond.

    The problem that I have with all of this is the lose definitions of the terms “community manager” and “social media”.
    – “Community manager” doesn’t imply online. The job will increasingly require online interaction, but there are plenty of physical communities that need cmgrs and the web has nothing to do with it.
    – To me, “social media” includes forums, blogs, comments…anything where people are publishing their thoughts online. In that respect, I don’t think that every cmgr needs to know how to use Facebook and Twitter. Communication online is inherently different than on the phone or in person. I’m sure you have heard “the medium is the message.” In today’s world, the Internet is a prime medium so it’s important to know how to share messages on it.

    So while I don’t think social media experience is a requirement for all community managers, it will always help and it is becoming increasingly more important as more communities make their way online. Why not be ahead of the curve?

    1. I agree that much of the issue is poorly defined roles and terms.

      I’m not saying that someone pursuing a career in community management shouldn’t understand social media. You’re right, more and more people and communities are moving online. They’re not all there yet, and that’s why non-social media based community roles still exist and are really important. If you’re building a career in community management however, you should definitely include social media in your professional repertoire.

      Thanks for your thoughts Jenna (=

  4. This is especially applicable in the association world (I’m the community & social media manager for an association) where the your membership IS your community. The association world is, for the most part, behind the rest of the business world in terms of social media adoption, so for many/most of them, “online community” means email listservs or online forums, not Facebook or Twitter. When and if these associations ever do decide to get with the times and create a more robust online community, many will probably implement white label communities that live behind the member wall. So for the community manager’s purposes, s/he would never have to worry about public social networks, because the goal would be to keep members on their private community, not bring people over from Facebook, etc.

    This is, I think, the difference/disparity between social media manager and community manager. There seems to be lots of crossover/confusion between the two roles and companies are understandably confused (hell, we’re all confused!) about what each of those titles mean and what the differences are. Rachel Happe wrote a good post about the difference between these roles–I’d running now or I’d post a link to it.

  5. I’m probably going to echo most of Jenna’s thoughts re: physical communities and poorly-defined roles here…

    I think an issue we’re having in organizations right now is that “community” is the sexy new thing to emphasize right now. Instead of hiring a marketer or someone to specialize in social media, they are slapping the community manager title on that person because it’s trendy and cool. However, that person in fact is your friendly resident PR flack. Or, in fact, that person is pretty much a full-time forum moderator – and I would argue that a community manager is a more senior role. Or, in fact, that person is answering support emails (which I think you should have the engineering team do…here nor there, that could take up someone’s entire day at some companies.) So, I think this is why it’s confusing. In some organizations, I think “community manager” is a trendy title given to what really is a social media strategist/manager (therefore, yes, you have to use social media) whereas in other organizations roles are a little more segmented.

    I think it’s worth noting that there having been community manager-type roles around for years. Donor relations at non-profits = managing your community with physical, paper, mail newsletters. Cruise directors getting everyone to show up at the Friday night luau then tell others how awesome their vacations were? I call that community management…

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