Don’t tell my mum I’m a community manager, she believes I play piano in a brothel

Summary : There’s a tendency to call “community manager” any person that communicates online for an enterprise…even it the activity has nothing to do with communities. This excessive use of a buzzword seems to start worrying applicants that want more precisions on the nature of the work and how it articulates with “real” operations. A search for sense and perennial positioning that also comes with the fear of seeing this title being a millstone around their neck, now and in the future

NB : the title of this post is inspired by a book written by the advertising leader Jacques Seguela at the time the advertizing industry was in its early days and did not look very credible. The title was ‘Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising, she believes I play piano in a brothel”

In the last months I saw some contacts asking me things about the same concern. Enough for me to think that there must be something really important around. Each time the question was quite similar : “I’m about to get a new job, I’m close to the end of the recruitment process and we’re discussing the job description. I don’t know why but I’m very uncomfortable with this community manager thing. What do you think ?”.

The first idea that came to my mind is that they were lucky enough to be discussing with enterprises that were open minded enough to refine the job description and even the job title with the people on the short list regarding to their understanding of the challenges and opportunities. And that’s already a good point.

Now let’s focus on the core issue. It seems that more and more people fear that once the trend will be over, they’ll suffer from the buzzword nature of the community manager job. What makes them be very cautious about what the work is really about and wonder if having such an job mentioned in their CV will have a negative impact once fashion will be over.

The problem with community management is that it’s a position being held by people with very different profiles, from interns to experienced 40/50 years old people. Surprising ? Not at all because the title apply to many possibilities in terms of job description and experience. From the “young guy talking in the micro” to the experienced manager leading a global strategy. If I had a look at what real experts say, we can learn from the Community Roundtable that, in fact we have :

  1. Community specialists
  2. Community managers
  3. Community strategists

Let me add one more specie : customer service professionals who are being called community managers by anyone for the only reason they now operate online. I recently talked with one of them who told be with a bit of irritation. “I’m not a communication person and will never be. I’ve been put a ‘community manager’ sticker on at the time I began to use online tools. But if I’m a CM, the guy answering on the phone or the one solving clients’ problems in our shops is a CM too ! What I see is a dangerous shift toward a job that’s not mine, with goals that may be contradictory to mine. Maybe we have an online community…but what I see is thousands of individual cases to be solved”.

This diversity is poorly understood by enterprises that often think that’s all about the same thing. Not surprising that experienced people now start to make things clearer when they’re being offered such a job.

The people I was talking with were having, in my opinion, a very relevant questioning. In addition to the job (managing what ? A community ? A community strategy) they were also raising questions about the scope and goal.

– scope : will my job be an online only one or will I have to operate offline. If it’s about mobilizing an ecosystem of stakeholder, the online part should be a part of a global program aiming at doing much more than creating and managing communities.

– that leads us to the goal. Communities…but what for ? Communities or stakeholders ? What do we want to do with them ? For what shared value ?

What lead these person to conclude : “in fact I should position my job in a ecosystem, stakeholders and value approach. There are many kind of stakeholders to mobilize, in different ways, for different purposes. Online activities are only a part of the job and some actions will be 100% offline, others 100% online, some will be a mix depending on the target and the need. It the job is confined to online communities we will miss a huge part of the challenge and spend a lot of energy on it without even knowing why. I need to be vigilant on the job description and title. It will even be better than a buzzword title that means both everything and nothing and won’t help my partners and colleagues to understand my mission. It will make me more credible”.

Interesting thoughts on the very nature of professional community managers and their role in a logic that goes beyond fashion.


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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