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Successful Community Managers Share the Secrets of Their Trade

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The title “community manager” can be confusing. For a job position that’s existed for years, it’s still seen as an enigma in some corners.

The confusion may be due to the vagueness of the title, which doesn't detail the wide variety of hats that community managers wear and the range of skills they possess. Copywriting to customer service to data analysis to crisis management when something goes badly for the brand—all those tasks can fall under the jurisdiction of the community manager.

The title "community manager" is also not terribly descriptive when you consider that online communities aren't static things that can be "managed." It's more productive to think of communities as living organisms that constantly shift and reassemble themselves as users come and go.

To demystify the role of the community manager and shed light on what makes for a true rock star in the field, I spoke to four people: Tim West, social media manager at Jet.com; Andrée Boisselle, social community manager at Molson Coors Canada; Bram Kanstein, who until recently worked as Product Hunt's European community manager; and Laurie Brescoll, SoundCloud's senior community manager. They graciously answered all my questions.

What do you do in a typical work day?


AB: My work day typically begins with an hour of community management. At this time, I review the comments that came in from the evening and weekends. For Coors Light, we work with our creative agency to come up with fun comments back to fans (or haters) in brand tone. Creating and planning content takes up most of my time. We plan for our lager programs months in advance in order to make sure the messaging is consistent throughout all of our marketing elements (i.e., TV, social, product packaging, etc.)

For example, for Coors Light's football program, I sit in meetings on the TV commercials since they have a strong social call-to-action. People are being told to tweet using #TheFantasyLife, which will directly impact me as the community manager.

What do you think sets a great community manager apart? What would you look for if you were hiring?

BK: Knowing how to talk to different kinds of people is, in my opinion, the most important skill that can set you apart. You need to show humility and make sure you're approachable for anyone who needs your help or opinion or voice.

TW: What sets a great community manager apart is a strong sense of intuition coupled with the ability to take calculated risks. To have a grasp on pop culture, understand the way an audience thinks and behaves, and then produce content that caters to that is not such a simple task. Nearly all brands are given the same opportunity to chime in on happenings, and it's usually the ones that comprehend the holistic sentiment and take the smartest risk that come out on top.

LB: First and foremost, what sets great community managers apart from others is that they are passionate about the impact we have... Building from that foundational passion, strong communication skills, empathy, problem-solving skills, and tech savviness create a fantastic combination.

How do you measure your team's success?

BK: It's all about happy users. When you're growing a community, it's pretty much impossible to please everyone. The most important thing a community manager has to do is empower people and make sure that they feel they're a true part of the community they love. There are always people that complain, but if there are more people that are happy, then that's success.

LB: Customer satisfaction is our North Star. Memorable interactions with the community are key to loyalty and retention. A well-informed and empowered team drives service excellence.

What's the most fun part of the job?

TW: The most fun part about community management is being able to surprise and delight your audience with new campaigns that they sincerely enjoy participating in.

AB: I have a lot of fun "being" Coors Light. We work hard on brand tone, on being comical, sarcastic or sometimes edgy. We try to push boundaries a bit with the brand, and I enjoy posting and making comments that I wouldn't normally make as myself (like the response here).

What's the hardest part of the job?

BK: Well, your work day should stop at some point... But if people know you and appreciate what you do, they won't look at the time when they try to get in touch. Waking up with 100+ Twitter mentions is pretty intense.

AB: It's tricky at times to choose who we're going to engage with and how. We work closely with the brand teams to choose to react to whatever best suits the brand.

Which emerging platforms are you paying attention to?

TW: One of our favorite new apps that we're just beginning to play around with is a 3-D scanner called Seene. We're very excited by virtual reality at Jet, and Seene is one asset we're leveraging to bring our audience fun and visually stimulating content. Here's our first usage of it we did on #NationalCoffeeDay.

Can you describe the craziest day you had?

AB: My craziest day so far was April Fools Day 2014. Our post was Coors Light Sacks, a prank that told fans we were releasing Coors Light in plastic bags. We had a lot of comments come through, and we wanted to react to them in brand tone right away. We also decided to reveal our new "innovation" through a live Periscope stream. Since Periscope was a fairly new app, we were all pretty nervous about streaming live. We tweeted in advance that we'd be Periscoping, and we used dry ice to make the Coors Light Sacks look magical. We then did a Periscope for a few minutes that showed us opening up a fridge to reveal the "all new" Coors Light Sacks. It was a fun test and a pretty crazy day!

How do you tackle the challenge of reaching out on social media in your brand's voice instead of your own?

BK: That's how it works! Especially when you're working for a growing startup with changing features and a growing community. Sometimes, you have to say stuff you don't necessarily support, but I think that is part of any job. If you work somewhere, you should feel comfortable with the company logo on your chest (so to speak) and represent it to the fullest, no matter what.

TW: Becoming fluent in your brand's native tongue can be extremely challenging, especially if it's not what you're used to. It'[s always helpful to draft up multiple versions of, say a tweet or an Instagram caption, and ask for others to weigh in on what feels right. Every so often, it's also useful to audit what you've produced and categorize each bit of content based on what resonated with the audience, what could have been done differently, etc. It's almost always in retrospect when one sees the clearest.

* * *

Being a community manager clearly isn't for the faint of heart. The takeaways are that you need to relish being high-energy, take pleasure in multi-tasking, and be able to speak fluently in your brand's voice.


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Juliet Carnoy is marketing manager at Pixlee, a visual marketing platform that allows businesses to market and sell using real customer photos and videos.

LinkedIn: Juliet Carnoy

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