Even if community management is still an unclear concept with changing boundaries, many senseful and insightful things are slowly emerging about it. A few weeks ago, I came across a very interesting web tv show about it (sorry…it’s in french). While watching the video, a sentence grabbed my attention. You know, the kind of thing that makes you think “yes…that’s it…he/she gets it all right”. The sentence was “community management is a processus” (and the author Sandrine Plasseraud from We are Social).
It’s possible that I’ll go a little bit far from what they said and meant on the video in the following lines but I’d like to go further in this discussion that I find senseful. As just once won’t hurt, I’ll mainly address external community management issues even if, as we’ll see, they have very little value if not connected to the inside.
Community Management is a processus
I’d like to apologize to those who like the pretended “freestyle” and “village fest” side of community community management, but not only it’s a processus but a processus that has to be tightly managed. Whatever are the autonomy and the seniority of the person in charge (and most of all when both are low), it’s about:
â€¢ defining the goals of the activity
â€¢ defining its scope, the issues to address and not address, what to talk about and what to never talk about.
â€¢ defining how information will be processed : what kind of information has to be pushed, what kind of information has to be pulled to internal business people and what to do with it, how follow-up will be managed, what kind of reporting, what actions ?
â€¢ Autonomy level : how far community managers can do, what kind of initiative can he take, to what extent can he speak in the name of the company.
â€¢ Organizing subsidiarity : when out of the autonomy scope, to whom must he refers, ask an anwer, a permssion, an action.
â€¢ Setting-up support for community managers : in the above-mentioned case, be sure that the person who’ll be asked something by the community manager know that answering and taking any necessary action is not facultative and that it should be done in a time limit that’s compatible with customer or audience’s expectations.
â€¢ Define the “online style” : what tone to adopt, how close and friendly can the community manager be.
I agree it’s a little bit constraining but that’s the price to pay to make community managers feel comfortable, make them sure they won’t be any mistake. It will also help the company to be comfortable with its communitu manager, trust him. Community managers need to know what they can and can’t do, that they’ll be supported in their initiatives and get the needed help in the same way that organizations need to be sure their CM won’t put them at risk. It’s a matter of reciprocal trust : guidelines are the best way to carry on while waiting for trust to emerge and each player to deserve it.
But that’s not all. The above statements make it clear that community managers are not isolated protuberances on the web isolated from the rest of the company but their actions have to take place within clearly definined and known business areas. If community management is a processus in itself, it has to take place within more traditional processus.
Community management is a part of one or many existing processes
If we don’t want community managers to be busy doing nothing in an unproductive and even dangerous way (in the case the CM is so isolated that they do not even know that they can jeopardize their employer), their action has to be integrated within more tradional scopes and processes. What someone who communicates on the web is to an head of communiocation, someone who listens to customers’ ideas for an head of innovation, someone who promotes the company’s products and services for an head of marketing…(you can add whatever you want to the list) without any cooperation or coherence with the people in charge of these business fields ? The answer is quite simple : this person is, at best, nothing, and is seen as danger in the worse case.
Let’s be clear : I’m not saying that the future of communication, innovation etc…is on Facebook or Twitter and that anything that has been done in the past has to be thrown away. Moreover, all the companies that successfully use these medias have something in common :
they did not decide to pay one more several people to babble on the web have the field while the rest of the employees are doing a serious work. They thought about what creating value in today’s economy and context meant. Because of that, they kept whole or part of the past but also added some new and relevant things according to this purpose. Social media did not become their mission nor the purpose of their internal processes but one more delivery channel, fully integrated in their global functionning.
Some examples in bulk
â€¢ Communication / marketing : getting in touch with people who seldom use traditional medias
â€¢ Innovation / R&D : real time feedback, bring the customer into the product design/improvement process, show they’re listened to and taken into account.
â€¢ Support : answer to client requests wherever they ask.
â€¢ Crisis communication/management : deliver a scalable message and use a channel that unblocks tradionnal channels in order to deliver a faster and better response to those that only use these “old” channels. Using twitter with those who are on twitter means less waiting for those who use nothing but their phone.
These are only quick and not detailed examples but the logic is easy to undersand.
By the way, why should organizations use new channels while customers should be disciplined and go where they are expected to.
â€¢ customers don’t want to queue in lane while the desk can come to them.
â€¢ customers are ATAWAD : any time, anywhere, any device. And they’ll favor and reward the businesses that have the same practices.
â€¢ customers who speak on these medias instead of sending an email or calling the customer care service do so for one reason : either they know they seldom get an good response (if not no response at all) or they don’t know how to get in touch with the company and express their frustration loud in public. Meeting them there is delivering a service they did not expect anymore and getting a chance to turn frustration into greatefulness.
â€¢ because interactions that happen there are scalable and anything that will be done thare will unblock traditional channels and improve their efficiency.
This is a complex notion that goes far beyond communication and forces businesses to rethink their internal plumbing, improve social media awareness and help managers and the owners of the processes that will use the “community and social media channel” to be comfortable with it and take the most of it.
In a next post, I’ll illustrate all that with an imaginary (but very credible) case.