Wanted: More Community Managers

Last week, I wrote a memo for a client that got me thinking about the role of online community managers and how crucial they can be to the success of any social media strategy.

I am more convinced than ever that successful social media strategies for organizations can't be only about the creation of Facebook fan pages, organizational blogs or  outbound communications tools.

Social media are about interaction and relationship: A social media-focused program cannot therefore fundamentally be about the creation of social ‘objects'. It has to have at its center a commitment to reciprocal exchange, which starts from the four principles of dialogue introduced in William Isaacs' book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together; they are listening, suspending, respecting . . . then voicing.

Reciprocal exchange needs a platform it's true. Social networks, photo and video sharing sites, blogs, microblogs and other digital amphitheatres are places where the distribution of ideas, messages or images can happen. But they aren't the provenance of interaction: This belongs to people.

As  I wrote in that client memo, approaching communities and influencers from their point of view (as opposed to pushing corporate content) requires embedded interaction. And that interaction can be mediated successfully only if there is someone to start and participate in it . . . the community manager.

Jeremiah Owyang from Altimeter Group explained the role more than three years ago, but there is still little confidence in the central position of a community manager in an organization's social media strategy. Confidence may be the wrong word: belief, commitment or understanding may all be closer to the truth. 

I can understand the problems some organizations will have with hiring an online community manager because it means an extra salary or at a minimum a redefinition of somebody's job that this new role infers. But if you accept there is power in harnessing the energy of committed people -- and their social graphs -- to further your product strategy, service or cause, then giving someone the mandate to be your voice in online communities, to listen, share and help members of these communities just makes sense.

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