Are Community Managers Undervalued?

Way back in June, I was fortunate to have attended The Art of Marketing to see some of my marketing and communications idols speak. The morning was electric, but the afternoon kicked off with a panel discussion that was, in comparison, relatively subdued. And there was one comment uttered that left me incredibly unsettled. One of the panelists referred to community management as the new entry level position in the marketing world.

Entry level position. Let’s think about this for a minute. Companies are hiring recent grads with little real-world corporate experience to handle a very public role within their organizations.

Most articles I’ve read have discussed who should be in charge of social media and community management from an age perspective. Often, the younger employees (the Gen Y cohort) state that they should be in charge because they grew up as “digital natives” and understand how to make connections online. Many older employees are torn – either they don’t understand social media (and are not wiling or able to put in the time to do so) or they understand the role of online communications as a tool within their marketing mix, and are either willing to learn more, or delegate community management to another individual.

There’s no question that younger employees did grow up far more immersed in social media than those in the C-suite. They’re also likely quicker to adopt and adapt to new platforms than their older counterparts. But, much of the experience younger employees bring to the role of community management is personal. Chatting with friends on Facebook or sharing Tweets, Vines or Instagram photos of your weekend adventures is a very different experience than using these platforms to build brand credibility and engage online audiences.

Meanwhile, the senior executives have had years of experience developing strategies, identifying target audiences, market analysis – and they’ve likely been front line in responding to a crisis or two. These are experiences younger employees have rarely had before entering the work world. These are skills that are required to be a good community manager – especially since the online world moves fast and situations can spiral out of control quickly.

Personally, I don’t buy the age-based arguments. Community management should not be an entry level role, period. The employee in charge of your brand’s social media presence needs to be mature enough to handle talking online in your corporate “voice”, the potential for communications to quickly descend into crisis communications should an angry customer decide to use a very public forum to berate your company, have the technical abilities to be able to use the platforms and listening tools to their best advantage and finally, be able to either create or add value to your company’s social media strategy – they need to be able to own some part of that process so that they understand the responsibility they have to represent the company online appropriately.

Bad choices can (and have been) made when communicating online with customers and/or prospects by people of any age. What the role of community manager really takes is someone who has a considerable amount of tact and diplomacy, the ability to diffuse situations quickly and appropriately where needed, and a whole other range of skills (see my post What Makes A Social Media Expert?). And those skills need to be valued appropriately. It doesn’t matter if your community manager is an incredibly mature 20-something in their first job out of school or a 40-something who has been in the marketing industry for a while, but really “gets” social. Hire and compensate appropriately. And remember, the reputation of your brand depends on your community manager.

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