The Evolving Role Of Community And Social Media Managers


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Community management is not new. People have been managing communities since communities and user groups were first created. Someone has always had to make sure that the community or user group is humming along like a well-0iled machine. The fast spread of social media has changed the role of a community manager, and has created a profession of a social media manager (or social media director – I use the two interchangeably).

So… what’s the difference between a community and social media manager?

Everyone has his / her own definition of a community manager vs. social media manager, and there are as many answers as people blogging and speaking about this (just see my recent Twitter exchange below)

Here’s how I see the two intersecting and diverging. I agree with Jeremiah Owyang on his 4 tenets of community management, which include being a community advocate, brand evangelist, savvy communicator / editorial content creator and gatherer / disseminator of product feedback from user community and industry. I think these four tenets can be used for both, a social media manager and a community manager. The social media or community manager is the consummate communicator, an ambassador for all parties: the product / brand, the user community, the internal employee community, the industry. However, I think the firmest delineation can be drawn up in the business goals that each is trying to achieve, which will drive the platforms used, metrics measured, types of content created.

A community manager is mostly concerned with building and growth of a community, he / she may or may not use social media, as the community may be on Ning, custom branded community or external outposts like Twitter and Facebook. The goal of the community for the most part is to grow the community, increase its engagement, to support the users. Thus, the metrics are going to be: membership growth, engagement, growing the tightly-knit ecosystem of relationships and customer service metrics. I love how Rachel Happe defines the differences here, and it aligns closely with my views. A community manager is the guardian and grower of the community, which is characterized by tight interlinking relationships between a significant percentage of members and an acknowledgment of shared purpose, while the core membership is active and stable.

A social media manager is mostly tasked with generating and sustaining buzz across social networks via content creation (blog, media and micromedia formats), where notions of community and relationships are a bit looser than in a structured community group, and where influence is also measured differently. Happe further explains that social media is characterized by socially-enabled content and a loose network with the content creator being the hub. Connections can be built and dissolved just quickly and a community can be organized within minutes around a YouTube video, or a blogpost; probably one of the most “sticky” community is a Facebook group. Content drives conversations in social media, whereas the community itself and its leadership structure leads the conversation in a more traditional community group. Don’t get me wrong, social media includes plenty of relationship building; not knowing the influencers around a particular topic, and not having a relationship with them, will not help you achieve your goals. However, it’s a lot more decentralized, with varying loci of control. Thus, metrics for a social media manager, while also focus on relationship building, are more focused on amplification of the message, creation of content that will foster conversation and responding to reactions to this content. Social media management also includes monitoring and responding to social media mentions about yourself, your competitors and industry, which is what we at Attensity360 are helping our customers do. Creating processes to route information gleaned in the last step, ensuring that the entire organization is “socialized” and on board, is a huge part of what a social media person does, and is rarely seen by the public.

The Iceberg Effect

Whatever the community / social media manager does, most of what is done is unseen to the naked eye, which poses a challenge to community and social media managers when describing their role or even reporting to their managers. We can only see about 20-30% of what a CM or a SMM does, because most communications are not public, from forming relationships and alliances with outside influencers, to daftly navigating and empowering relationships within a community, to getting everyone within the organization excited to adopt social media, to getting your projects funded internally, to putting internal processes in place. Rachel Happe aptly named this phenomenon as the Iceberg Effect of Community Management, which is a great read, as it highlights exactly how much work is hidden from the public eye in a position that is also very public at the same time. I think the Iceberg Effect is equally present in the jobs of both, the community manager and social media manager.

Internal Work

At my talk at Web2Open this week, someone asked me about a typical structure of a social media team at an enterprise organization. My answer was “well, that really depends” – it depends on how the organization is structured and whether you manage by geography, by product category or by brand. Therefore, if you have two major product lines catering to two fairly different demographics, you probably want to have two community managers with a social media manager overseeing the organization.

Step 1: Define Organizational Structure:

With whom should a social media manager work within the organization? An organization with a successful social media execution knows that social media is not a silo, and neither is it just a customer service function. In a healthy company driven by the desire to form an intimate relationship with its customers, social media is part of every functional group, and a good social media manager knows how to leverage and activate internal and external resources.

Step 2: “Socialize” The Organization:

A social media manager should roll out company-wide engagement best practices of engagement and ensure that everyone is representing the brand on social networks in a manner that’s “on brand”, as well as involve key internal parties in content creation. For example, my mandate as social media director of Attensity is to not only to create buzzworthy content, partner with thought leaders on creating this content (blogposts, whitepapers, webinars), increase buzz, but it is also to socialize and empower the entire organization to participate. The way I do that is through proper training, best practices and right processes in place for a true SocialCRM system. It is key to create a process by which all functional areas know how to work together to create a unified experience for the customer (for more on this, check out the slides from my talk on Attensity360 and Slideshare).

Step 2: Define Processes To Activate Resources And Respond:

Thus, the role of the social media leader is to ensure that all of these resources are activated and all messages are responded to in a timely manner with only relevant information that can enrich the customer experience. In a true SocialCRM-ready organization, each social media message finds an appropriate response from the right person, whether it’s a customer service rep, an engineering lead collecting customer feedback for product roadmap development, a social marketer managing relationships with influential blogger. This is why I am so excited about the product we are building at Attensity360 – not only are we using semantic analysis of unstructured text to route to the right resource, but also creating a company-wide engagement platform, deeply integrated with an internal CRM system. This platform is a place from which the entire organization can listen, respond, communicate internally and with customers, as well as track workflow around each conversation when necessary. For a social media manage as myself, this is a dream product that will make my life easier while improving the customer / peer experience.

Photo sources: and

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maria Ogneva
I'm the Head of Community for Yammer, the enterprise social network used by 100,000 organizations, including more than 80% of the Fortune 500. At Yammer, she is in charge of social media and community programs, fostering internal and external education and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter at @themaria or on her blog, and Yammer at @yammer and company blog.


  1. Maria, I think you’ve described and differentiated the two roles really well, while also allowing for them to overlap and mold to a specific organisation. And your “social media team” part is also good, perhaps the topic of a separate post?

    While your view is much clearer and I think better than many of the tweets you opened with, at the end I wondered what the successful companies were actually doing with regard to these roles e.g. Cisco, Dell, EMC, IBM? Do you have any insights there?

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Certified Social Media Consultant
    Melbourne, Australia
    My social spaces and places:


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