I recently bumped into a post putting community managers on their guards : if they can’t demonstrate / deliver any ROI they may face very hard times in a near future.
In the one hand I share the idea according to which, “external” community management (that is not the same thing as community management for internal teams), despite many famous successes, is not that fruitful. But I’m far from thinking community managers are responsible for that.
We are forced to assume that when goals are not achieved, the guys at the end of the chain are often the only to be blamed. But statistics show that, generally, when something goes wrong, it’s not individuals that are responsible, nor any external cause, but the system in 90% cases. I don’t think that these figures that date back to Deming’s work in the 80s have changed since then.
I think that the problem is not the community manager himself, even if this new kind of job, still not well defined yet, isn’t given to the right people at the beginning (but it’s also the system’s responsability to identify the right people and make them improve their skills), but very definition of community management.
I think that, if we dare look at things honnestly, many companies copied what some visionnaries successfully did without understanding the underlying logic. While the first build new business models involving clients and general public, others put community management things on the existing. And despite their goodwill it doesn’t work or not as well as expected.
Let’s consider two situations, A and B.
Situation A. I have a product, I want to sell it, and I ask someone to mobilize those who believe in it, those who may be interested, and to make in order to those who are convinced buy, skeptic understand the problem is not the product that is bad but their vision that is wrong, and everybody say nice things about both the company and the product. In brief, a communicating fireman is hired and parachuted in an existing process. This only fact can make us thing that the company is conscious that its system can generate fires and that someone have to say that fires are nice.
Situation B. I start from the market where I identify a need. I think that my producti may satisfy it. Or that I can conceive a new product that matches the need. But, instead of doing things the old way, “pushing” things saying “buy or die”, I try to find which part of my target may like to talk with me about that. And I try to know who the other part would listen. And why those to who they would listen would listen to me. For each of them I take his needs, and only his needs, into account, and not what I want to sell. Some just want to be heard because they don’t want me to try to sell what I have but to produce what they need, to improve my offer. Some others only want to know more about the company and the product in order to be considered as informed people by their ecosystem. Some are only venal and may bring you all the help you want provided they can make money because of that. As a matter of fact, the community manager is the voice of the company on the market, but also the voice of he marketi within the company, working on aligning both offer and demand.
Finally, very few need the traditional sales speech or don’t like too salesy ways of doing things. They want advices and trust. Sale will be a side effect. But there also will be an impact on innovation, support, quality, understanding of the product by the market, brand…
According to you, in which system will the community manager deliver the more value ? In the one where he’s only hiding unsightly things or in the one where he plays his part in the offer’s conception. In the one where he builds an adhoc ecosystem or the one he widely covers a large audience. In the one where he delivers a message or the one he also listens to feedbacks.
I would not be suprised to know that community managers that deliver the higher ROI are in the second situation. Of course, skills are needed but, if the system is not adapted it won’t be enough.
Perhaps the conclusion may shock delicate eyes but…
..community managers are not the vaseline companies put on an old suppository but an advanced post for R&D, communication and business development, fully integrated in the company’s business model and that is able to impact both operations prior and further on the value chain. It’s someone who has a global and cross-function vision and impact, not an intern stolen from the agency at the corner of the street.