Social Media Manager vs. Community Manager

There is an ongoing debate. Most of the job descriptions out there are confusing the roles of social media manager and a community manager. Their tasks overlap and often one person is expected to do it all. Let’s clear this up right now: these are two different roles, and they should collaborate daily. Together, these professionals are an extremely powerful force for any business.

A history lesson might help here. The social media manager role came about at the time Facebook and Twitter were really picking up speed. In early 2009 the social media manager role wasn’t popular yet, and if you Googled “online community manager (CM) ” the information that came up was mostly about residential communities. The online CM role started in the multiplayer gaming industry in the mid 1990’s.

You maybe wonder how I know all this. My community building career began in April, 2009. I was coached by successful gaming community experts and given the opportunity to lay the foundations of my own digital style in an eLearning environment. I was tasked with building a community from the ground up by applying unique techniques and strategies inspired by the massive multiplayer online role-playing games. My first virtual community grew to 200,000 community members.

Let’s identify the key responsibilities for the two roles being discussed.

Social Media Manager

A social media manager (SM) is more of a content creator and storyteller. They’re strong marketeers skilled at customer acquisition. They are actively creating content to build awareness about the brand and grow its following.

Content planning and scheduling are two of their top responsibilities. They monitor its performance and interact with the brand’s followers who are engaging with the content. This may be why sometimes a brand confuses the roles of media manager and community manager. Media managers are a frontline face, but their function is to monitor, listen and respond to users in a social way while cultivating leads and sales.

They’re often skilled at social media advertising, but this is not a must. With Facebook being one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise, the demand is high, and many SM experts wear the advertising hat, as well.

While much of their output is in writing, visual content to accompany their posts is crucial. Social media managers craft marketing messages that speak on behalf of a brand to a specific target group within an audience. They can create social media designs using Photoshop or Canva. Video creation is becoming increasingly important, as well. What tools a brand uses to create content depends on their budget and team structure.

The Social Manager’s top areas of expertise:

– Content Creation & Management
– Strategic Branding & Visuals
– Organic Brand Awareness & Paid Advertising
– Social Influence & Leadership

Community Manager

A community manager speaks to the community itself. The community manager’s main function is customer retention. I refer to them as relationship nurturers. They’re a two-way-bridge between a brand and its customers.

Experienced community professionals are goal and ROI oriented. They deal with data and communication tactics to meet the needs of its members, entertain them and help them progress in their professional and personal lives.

A community leader communicates the members’ needs across an entire organization. They ensure that the company’s interests are sought after at all times by the community manager, yet this happens in a healthy and beneficial manner in relation to the community members.

A CM should be familiar with customer satisfaction research as a way of increasing revenue; for instance, the Net Promoter Score method. They act as the voice of the organization among its customers. They make sure the brand is hearing and implementing customer feedback. Remember, modern customers don’t just consume content and services. They want to be part of the creation process.

A community manager boosts the brand’s retention rates and propels growth by setting up a healthy ecosystem in which organic word-of-mouth and a referral system can thrive.

The Community Manager’s top areas of expertise:

– Ecosystem Creation and Management
– Loyalty Management & Gamification
– Community Support & Moderation
– Leadership & Virtual Team Management

In conclusion, daily check-ins and mutual strategic planning should take place. Clear goals and metrics must be set for both roles individually. They are both representing the brand on the frontlines, each to their own purpose, but following one and the same mission.

A Community Is Not a Tribe

Seth Godin popularized the term ‘tribe’ as a business analogy in his book, Tribes, we need you to lead us. In the book, he convinces us that in a progressively connected world one needs to find and cultivate a digital tribe, an army of followers. He says “a tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.”

In 2008 he began talking about the importance of companies surrounding themselves with tribe members and building tribes to connect with their followers. He says having a tribe is a powerful way to start a digital movement.

I love Godin’s marketing work and teachings, but I feel he went for the wrong word. I started to create digital communities in 2009 and what he spoke about had quite a bit to do with community building. So was tribe building a synonym to community building? It seems that many marketers tend to believe so. In my opinion, they are not even remotely synonymous.

I was wondering if I was the only one convinced that he didn’t go for the right term until I accidentally ran into Alan Weiss’s comment that Godin had “painted himself into a corner” with the use of a wrong term. For those who don’t know, Alan Weiss is one of the most successful consultants worldwide. He has published more than fifty books and worked for some major brands, some of which I am not a fan of, but we have to give him the credit.

It was Michel Maffesoli who first started talking about consumer tribes. In the late 1980’s he published a book called: The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. Yep, before the time of the World Wide Web. It should not surprise you, because we humans are social creatures. But, we are complex. It is easy for us to engage in acts of loyalty and cooperation primarily toward our inner circles, but we do so at the expense of people outside those circles. Our behavior is influenced by hormonal processes taking place in our brain. By nature, we seek a place of belonging. We could say that our primal instincts are tribal, but being primal doesn’t mean optimal. This is why I strongly believe there is a better way to build digital worlds, be it around a brand, hobby, interest, profession or a person.

Here is the difference…

Tribes are exclusionary, they have an us vs. them approach. Just try to get a Mac fan to get a PC. In tribes, the members of one side can often sound demeaning and condescending about the other tribe.

Building a digital tribe can bring great success to a brand. Apple is a good example of tribal marketing. But, building a tribe and a community require two very different approaches.

A tribe is focused on their ideal client. Brands who build a tribe craft a character that would appeal to their target audience. They have a very clear idea who fits in their group and who doesn’t. They are happy to have a transactional relationship with an outsider, but this is it. A flaw of creating an exclusionary tribe is that some of the leaders may go too far and push away a large segment of their target audience by over-focusing on exclusion rather than on attracting their perfect customer. A tribe environment is not ideal for social learning as it can often be limited to the beliefs of a single leader.

Communities are all about inclusion.

They are built around common interests, attitudes and goals. Their members can apply different approaches and tools, and are welcome to have opposing opinions. They are more dynamic and allow for experimenting and growth. Online communities are the ideal setup for a learning environment.

A perfect community building formula is a cross between both approaches. This doesn’t make them one and the same thing, it means that we can strategically take what works well from one and implement it into the other.

The fastest growing communities have a bit of us vs. them mentality while being open to new members. Having a highly targeted customer is a requirement for every business striving to deliver positive ROI.

The perfect digital environment is dynamic, and not a reflection of a single leader or brand. The best digital communities out there are shaped by the community members and grown organically. A community of practice is the ultimate way to surround yourself with like-minded people and to learn and progress in your personal or professional life. I apply a mix of tactics inspired by digital tribes, communities of practice and mastermind groups. A community is built by the people and for the people with the help of strategic digital leadership coming from one or more individuals.