Your community manager should be a professional. But in which field ?

Summary :with a profile that’s still hard to define, community managers look like rare birds. The only certainty is that they should be true professionals. But in which field ? Knowing social environments, the way they work and their rules seem to be a prerequisite. But, having a closer took to what people really expect online, a good knowledge of the industry and real front-end experience may look at least as essential for a good community manager. Is it sensible for any organization willing to go beyond insubstantial chatter and have a real logic of service toward their customers to rely on people who never met a customer and are unable to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand what they feel ? Obviously not.

A couples of week ago a job offer for a community manager position showed up in my twitter timeline. It grabbed my attention and raised a questioning on what skills should a community manager have.

The offer details the skills the community manager should have and, among them, “Knowledge of the travel industry (a trump)”. I stopped on this item. If one think that the role of a community manager is to push messages that have been written by others, say “hello, we’re there” in twitter and facebook, chat with the audience as long as the topic is not too sensitive, it’s true that mastering social tools is enough. But if community management is supposed to be a part of a service driven approach, I’m doubtful.

We know, since the issuing of an IBM report earlier this year that enterprises are wrong about what they think their online audience expects. While they think customers (in fact nothing proves they are only customers…) need more closeness, to be a part of a community, the audience only wants information, discounts and services when they have an issue with what they bought. The social channel is a shared one and customer service is not its least use. In short, instead of communities, love stories and idle chatter, community managers should expect to be sent to the coal mine. It’s even more obvious in the travel industry as this survey shows.

“Airline companies are sending a lot of tweets. They sent over 25,000 in July alone, but users only tweet at these companies for a few reasons. Largely, users want customer service — 86.2 percent of users follow airlines for that reason. Only .02 percent want a social conversation and only 1.6 percent tweet about airline food and entertainment.”

Any customer who once ended up in troubles because of an airline or hotel issue is in fact in a crisis situation. People often mention Zappos as a successful example of a company able to do anything to solve customer problems and sell happiness. That’s true they’re awesome at that. But as I often say, not everybody as the luck of selling shoes. There’s few things in common between a late shipping or the wrong size being delivered and a cancelled/delayed flight, ruined vacations. The customer is not in the same situation, the problem is more difficult to fix, helping costs much more etc… This reasoning applies to many industries that are much more critical than books or clothing selling…

So, let’s come back to the “knowledge of the industry would a trump” point. Knowing what customers feel, understand how the whole system works to understand why things went that way and how to react is a minimum to me. In a recent discussion with peers, we were wondering how many people in charge of community management or social media have ever had, in front of them, a disappointed, desperate or angry customer ? So, not only a good knowledge of the industry is essential but also a front-end one. I’m not talking about knowing what a customer is but what is a client in a specific industry, for a specific kind a product and the context that comes with. Any social media team should have such a person and if it’s a one-person team, this person should come from the front-end world.

I recently had a passionate discussion with a young community manager “saved my life” a couple of time and whom work I find exemplary as a returning customer. I asked him why he has such a “customer-care-centric” approach in is work. The answer was meaningful. “Before working at the communication department, I was at the front end. So I know customers, their expectations, their state of mind, what they feel… Now I’m at the com’ dept but I will never forget what it means to have a customer facing me, sometimes happy, sometimes angry, sometime in distress, looking at me and with no possibility for me to avoid dealing with his situation”. What’s interesting is that, even being a Yer, he’s never been an heavy social media user before he moved to his new position…but he quickly understands how these tools were powerful to do a job he knew quite well. In short, he’s a social CRM by himself (what proves that the philosophy matters more than tools…).

Easy going leader “Club Med Style”, hard selling person or guardian angel ? Depending on you vision, your community manager will need different skills.

So, yes, community management is for professionals and if we sum all the required skills they look like rare birds. But, if something has to  be priorized, is it better to have a social media expert or an industry expert who knows what a customer is, needs and feels ?



Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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