February 12, 2015

2015 Is the Year of the Community Manager

Is 2015 the year of the community manager? If the stratospheric growth of Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD) is any indication, the answer would appear to be a big, fat “Yes!”

First things first: a little background. Initiated in 2010, Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD) is held on the fourth Monday of January and celebrates the hard-working people who use online spaces to engage members, donors, customers, and other stakeholders on behalf of their employers. As leaders at organizations continue to recognize the shifting expectations of the people with whom their organizations interact, there’s increasing demand for on-staff community managers to initiate, monitor, and moderate conversations, as well as integrate community efforts into business processes. If you’ve ever received a reply to a Twitter, Facebook, or blog post from a company you’ve done business with about a customer service issue, you can thank a community manager.

From humble beginnings, this year’s CMAD—the sixth annual—boasted 24 consecutive hours of Google Plus Hangouts on 24 different topics, featuring 132 panelists from 13 countries, a live studio broadcast, and 20,000+ social posts that reached more than 132,000,000 people. There were also dozens of community manager meet-ups held around the world where they swapped stories, learned from one another, and did that social networking thing the old-fashioned way—face to face.

For the nonprofit audience, one of the more relevant parts of CMAD was a Google Plus Hangout called “Engaging Communities with Purpose,” moderated by Tim McDonald. In this panel discussion, we heard from community managers at nonprofit organizations such as No Kid Hungry, SFTech4Good (sponsored by NTEN, naturally!) and even a shoe company called TOMS, with a do-good ethos baked into its culture.

But it was actually a TOMS employee, Sarah O’Brien, who provided perhaps the most salient point of the day for me. She spoke of how her department makes it a point to share the stories of the individuals who are positively impacted by the purpose-driven outcomes of her community efforts. All the Retweets, Likes, and Shares in the world aren’t as impactful as the stories of people whose lives are improved by the community’s existence. So Sarah’s department brings those stories into real life by relating them to the executives at TOMS.

I had the pleasure of being a part of this panel, too, and shared a few tips on specific ways to bring your stories to life in the office that I’ve seen work over and over in my experience as a practicing community manager and community consultant.

  1. Realize that much of your job as a community manager is managing internal politics by demonstrating value. Despite the increasing awareness and professionalization of community management, understand that the majority of your executives and co-workers still don’t get it. Many of them think you play on Facebook or Twitter all day long. To gain their respect and prevent your projects—or even your job—from being called into question, you need to draw a direct line between your work and business or purpose-driven outcomes.
  2. Take screenshots of your community fulfilling its purpose and include them in your reports. Whether that’s one member helping another solve a work-related problem, a member offering to increase their level of giving, or a member volunteering for a specific program, all of these are the proof that your community is contributing to your organization’s intended outcomes.
  3. Ask for air-time at staff meetings to show your value to the organization. Sure, you have a wide audience online, but if you work remotely or in a large office, you may not have the ability to show off the good work you do beyond your team. Request time at staff meetings to deliver reports and help your team understand the way you connect members to purpose or business outcomes.

You can watch the entire “Engaging Communities with Purpose” Hangout at your convenience on the CMAD website.

Even though appreciation for community managers was flowing during the sixth annual CMAD January 26, 2015, the reality is that an understanding of the value that community management brings to organizations is far from widespread. To build more appreciation and respect for your role, demonstrate the value you bring to the table by telling stories and communicating how your job directly affects the life-changing outcomes your organization pursues.

Ben Martin
Tags: Community