The Community Manager and the Great Social Media Juggling Act

I began thinking about the role of a non-profit organization’s social media community manager as one of authority. Kind of like a parent. S/he should promote a safe home to air ones views, I thought, free from undue criticism or unwanted solicitation while feeding family philosophy and maintaining family rules.  This is a very restricted and one-sided view at best. Upon further investigation I found a much broader and more nuanced view.

First and foremost the community manager is an interpreter between the cause and the on-line community. Sometimes new topics, programs, or events will be introduced. Other times it’s more appropriate to comment on those already on the table or simply compile the comments of the community. The community often requires further humanization of the brand (mission or cause); the organization must see the people inside the community statistics. This is how trust is gained, relationships are forged and loyalty is cultivated.

S/he also may need to manage the tone and pace of the conversation, keeping it moving and civil, engaging all members so the community doesn’t wander off and new members are motivated to join in. This is the trickiest part, because it takes some knowledge of human psychology and the art of tact. Attention to tone can turn an idea into a movement as the world observed of the social media managers that played an instrumental part in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

On the practical side there are other duties vital to community management that have nothing to do with actual interaction with the community. Searchability can’t be ignored. If they can’t find you in the social media haze, they won’t come. Monitoring tools help the organization to track the success of interaction and marketing strategies and how those translate to program participation and services utilized. New social media platforms need to be explored for potential applicability.

Given all of the above the community manager should play a central role, accessible to all workers. This role might be served by an outside consultant or an additional duty for a present worker with the proper expertise. It may be a part-time position or a full-time one dictated by the objectives of the organization and dependent upon workload or the comfort level of workers and executives with social media. S/he may or may not interact directly with the online community.

In a small organization, such as those most us in this class are involved with, community interactive duties are probably best left to each department as community members like to get to know the people who actually provide the services and programs. In that case the community manager should play a behind the scenes role helping with the more practical aspects of community management that program coordinators and service providers haven’t time for. S/he should be the “go to” person within the organization assisting departments and individual workers and giving feedback as needed. The community manager is not necessarily the brand creator but is certainly the brand monitor and in some cases may be the brand keeper.

So here it is: the juggler analogy. Picture a circus tent (on-line social media). The circus organizers have previously circulated the word that they would be in town at this location on this date so the excited audience had no trouble finding it. The band of jugglers (your organization), the main attraction, is in the ring. The band is actually made up of several smaller groups (departments or programs) that stand around the ring and a group in the trapeze overlooking the whole tent (executive offices). Each group tosses objects (information, programs and services) to and accepts them from the audience (social media community). They may also toss objects to each other and to other groups. Some of the audience members and fellow jugglers pitch slowly or a little to one side or the other of the jugglers’ reach. Others fire objects in hot and fast. Some are very close to the jugglers, right in the front row. Others are way up in the cheap seats. The jugglers accept all objects at whatever speed, from whatever part of the tent and pass them to whichever person is best capable of handling that object at that time. One juggler (the community manager) stands in the center of the ring. The central juggler observes the mood and reaction (feedback, statistics) of the audience to objects tossed out to them and from time to time gives cues (suggestions) to his fellow jugglers to drop some objects and introduce new ones. S/he may also step in to help a group that is in trouble. Although s/he is at the center of the ring s/he is not the focal point; s/he may in fact go almost unnoticed by the audience. But her/his fellow jugglers are keenly aware of her/him. The central juggler is in essence the control point of the juggling experience for the entire tent.

Whew! Tennis anyone?

Susan Gigot-Klein is working toward a Master of Nutritional Science degree at UW-Stevens Point and is the creator and coordinator of Woman Food, a nutrition awareness program offered by the Wellness Center of Door County.