Community Management: Marketing or Customer Service?

Let me preface this post by explaining just a little of my background. I am not a snob – but I do have very set opinions of what a Community Manager is and does. I began my CM career as a volunteer moderator for a wedding website forum back in 1999. I quickly moved up to Administrator there, and helped manage a very robust site with more than 50,000 active women. From there, I branched out over the years into working as a volunteer moderator/administrator on many large computer help forums, sports-related forums and more. I even helped run a few IRC networks in my day. All of these things translated into a paying job in 2007 when I went to work as the Community Manager for Chris Pirillo. There again, I dealt with people – not products.

Earlier today, I happened across a job posting on Twitter for a Community Manager with a company I very much respect. I clicked through to the listing to check it out and was actually angry to see that they had listed the job under “Marketing” – two categories below the people they needed to hire in “Customer Service.” Wait, what? Since when did managing a community evolve from working with people into pushing a damn product or service? Say I’m behind the times all you want, but I think this is a travesty to the profession… not an evolution as some claim.

A Marketer deals with marketing products or services. A PR person deals with public relations. A Community Manager deals with people. Period. End of story. Managing a community isn’t supposed to be about trying to convince a group of people to buy whatever it is you’re selling. It’s about breathing life into them – connecting them to each other and giving them the platform and tools to change the world. Your company may be what brought them together, but do you really think they’re only going to stick around because you sell the best gadget for the lowest price? They want interaction. They want direction. They want to become a true community.

Many of you are going to argue that the role of the CM is changing to include marketing and brand evangelism. There again – I disagree. A Community Manager works with the people – talking to them, listening to them, interacting with them and helping to evolve and grow the hamlet. A Brand Evangelist is something completely different. These people are the cheerleaders for the company itself and the things being sold. They deal with customers, yes… in order to facilitate sales and keep them happy with product.

Can a single person do both things at once? Absolutely! However, slapping the title of Community Manager on a job description stating you want someone to help you sell yourself is just not cool. Call it what it is folks – a Marketer, a PR person or even a Brand Evangelist. If you want someone to work with people in order to help build a true COMMUNITY – then we can talk.

About Kat

"Building a community is not about connecting people to you - it's about connecting them to each other and giving them the tools to change the world." ~ me
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2 Responses to Community Management: Marketing or Customer Service?

  1. Matt Hartley says:

    I agree for the most part. :)

    At risk of splitting hairs, I guess the issue is more less perception of a role that is seen as fluid. Example: I work as a technology evangelist for one company. Yet as you explained above, no one is limiting someone with that title to any one set of duties.

    Most of the time, I act as a bridge between marketing and the software engineering. I handle in everything from community management (what I enjoy the most) to fixing issues with websites, then sliding over to guerrilla marketing and SEO.

    For folks like you and I, there really isn’t an “appropriate” job title for such a list of duties. I think the same applies with companies who generally don’t understand the distinction between marketing manager and community manager. These days, I’ve found it’s usually labeled one way with the other role implied within the list of duties. And therefore, it feels like the title dilutes itself somewhat.

    My take on this stuff, despite my own stubborn nature has been as follows. Folks can label me with any job title they like, so long as the work I provide offers those involved with lasting value.

    Knowing you are of the same mindset, I’d encourage you to revisit the issue with a fresh perspective.

    Who cares what the title is, as long as the value and interpersonal connections made are meaningful. Work from the heart, leave the job titles to those who care about such things. Because in the end, we both know that even if something is mislabeled, it’s still about the people within the community, not the personal views of some pencil pusher.

    Just one guy’s perspective on the subject. :)
    (Hopefully I am free of any serious typos above)

  2. Justin says:

    I totally agree with your points but I think what you’re missing is the feeling of many companies these days that they have to do more with less I can’t tell you the number of jobs I’ve applied for recently that lost the percentage of time required to fulfill 3 or more roles in one position.

    Ex: international student advisor. The main role would be to help students pass all their courses, but then you would also be acting as a property manager and travel coordinator, rather disparate roles where the person filling one role would not normally be expected to have experience in the others. This is generally a result of poor or lazy HR drones who don’t actually want to do work and want to use the list of unrealistic qualifications to deny everyone until that nonexistent “perfect” candidate comes along. Worse yet, they could even be using an automated system which looks for keywords on your resume, but because 3+ positions have been lumped together the system sees you lack some of these keywords and discards your application completely.

    My impression is that you have found a lot of your community management jobs through networking/wort-of-mouth, which is something I desperately wish I was able to do, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve generally found as you move away from networking for jobs to online applications the requirements for these jobs become more and more unrealistic. I applied for at least 3 jobs a week since March, and from all of those I had 1 interview, and it was through a recruiter. Next week I start a new job, which I got by meeting a recruiter at a career fair who said his cousin had an open position at his company. I didn’t formally apply, just gave the guy my info and it went from there.

    I think ultimately this says nothing about your skills and more about the will of the company, but I wouldn’t necessarily shy away from these positions, for 2 reasons. I see community management as customer service, since the community would also be your customers. This company might have people who handle emails and phone calls, but they tend to feel more robotic and cold where you have the chance to put a very personal touch into how the community is run. Secondly, you can gain some great experience to make yourself more valuable for future employers.

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