“Community manager” — it’s one of many job titles that didn’t exist a few years ago. Today, businesses of every size are realizing the value of having qualified, capable, and full-time staff acting as public liaisons between companies and their audiences on social media.
But because this role is still relatively new, some people stuck in a past era think of a community manager as a young kid or intern fresh out of college, tweeting aimlessly away while watching a YouTube video.
However, we thought it would be interesting to challenge that untrue assumption and talk to several professional community managers in verticals you might not typically expect to find such a role. The organizations that we contacted have invested many resources to foster success in their staff in these positions. The candid and insightful observations from these three community managers confirm that this role is vital these days, and shed some light on how best to do the job.
Jonathan Barrick: Global Finishing Solutions
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Jonathan Barrick is the community manager for business-to-business (B2B) paint booth technology supplier Global Finishing Solutions. He’s also a college marketing instructor. This just goes to show the breadth of experience that’s in-demand for good community managers, and the flexibility that such a role affords to the people in this position.
When asked what a typical day looks like for Barrick as the community manager for GFS, he says “there is no morning, there is no 9 to 5,” meaning that a company that does business all across North America is expected to be “always on.” The company is represented on the most popular social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+.
To help the company stay connected with its followers, Barrick uses a combination of native social media platforms, third-party management tools, and of course, his smartphone. He also relies on Twitter alerts, along with a sophisticated matrix of Google alerts that monitor everything from company mentions to industry keywords and even competitive intelligence metrics.
Barrick says that in the B2B space, it can be hard to build a social media following from scratch. “When we first started building out our social networks a couple of years ago, we found that organic growth just wasn’t there,” he says. “We changed our focus from general tweeting and social media posting to things like Facebook advertising and email marketing, and that was very successful for us in helping to build an audience.” Now things are much more organic and Barrick spends a lot of time and effort supporting a steadily growing network of followers on Twitter and Facebook.
“Dealing with an industrial target audience, we are heavily judged by the quality of our content,” says Barrick. “We’ve got to post lots of industry news, tips and tricks about using our products, and we like to talk about our suppliers and partners pretty regularly too.” He says that although industrial B2B social media “isn’t necessarily the sexiest thing in the world,” he still gets a lot of response when he posts things like how-to videos on YouTube or pictures of clients painting items in Global Finishing Solutions’ paint booths. “I guess across all sectors, people still like to see pretty pictures,” he says with a laugh.
Shannon Paul: Fifth Third Bank
When Sprout Insights asked its social media audience to suggest a community manager in the financial services sector to interview for this article, two of the most influential and recognizable names in social media Chris Brogan and Jay Baer both recommended that we talk to Shannon Paul — community manager for Fifth Third Bank. Pretty good street cred for any community manager worth his or her salt, let alone one who doesn’t seek the limelight and eschews the concept of “social media rock stars” within an organization.
“In the financial services sector, effective community management is a team effort,” says Ms. Paul. “In my day-to-day activities of managing the social media channels for Fifth Third Bank, I’m constantly in contact and coordinating behind the scenes with our legal, marketing, and customer service departments.”
While the financial services sector is highly regulated by a plethora of agencies with complicated acronyms like FINRA and FFIEC (among others), she says that for the most part the regulatory agencies don’t have a lot of hard and fast rules that govern what financial institutions can and can’t say on social media.
“In the absence of specific rules around social media,” says Paul, “most financial institutions tend to err on the side of caution and are very conservative in their approach to how they use social media.” She says that social media communications for Fifth Third Bank go through a rigorous approval process before anything gets posted to any of the networks.
“If you read our Twitter stream, you’ll see that we are often encouraging clients and customers to take their issues offline and to call our dedicated, toll-free, social media support line. That’s for the security and privacy of our customers, which is of the utmost importance for Fifth Third Bank.”
Can a community manager under such tight restrictions actually be effective on social media? “Absolutely.” Being a community manager for a bank has its challenges, she says, but the reward of being part of an effective team is really what she loves most about her job. She adds, “as long as I can advocate for my company externally and for our customers internally, then I’m happy and I know I’m doing a good job!”
Russel Lolacher: British Columbia Ministry of Transportation
Russel Lolacher is the director of web and social media for the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Acknowledging that his title might be too long to actually fit into one tweet, Mr. Lolacher demonstrates that even community managers within government can have a sense of humor. But managing a team of social media experts and community managers requires a wide range of skills — since his target audience is the entire population of Canada’s most westerly province.
“We connect with the general travelling public, professional truckers, ferry passengers,” and a highway system that has seen everything from avalanches, to tree falls and rock slides. “We have to be present on a wide range of social media platforms, and we are constantly posting content about road conditions, traffic and weather, and anything that’s of concern to the travelling public,” says Lolacher.
“My department manages one Twitter account (@TranBC) and advises on another (@DriveBC). We also have Foursquare, YouTube, and Pinterest,” he says. But perhaps the most surprising and certainly one of the most effective elements of the Ministry’s social media platforms is Flickr.
“During the Peace River floods in 2011, whole communities were isolated from the rest of the province when the roads into these communities were washed away in the floods,” recalls Lolacher. “Having our people in those communities upload their pictures to our Flickr account allowed us to show the general public the extent of the damage and to really tell the story of how monumental (and ultimately successful) a task it was to restore transportation access into those communities,” he says.
Social media as a business development tool has evolved significantly since 2006 when Twitter founder Jack Dorsey posted his first tweet that said: “just setting up my twttr.” Today, social media professionals and community managers use these tools for such complex and vital tasks as clearing highways in an emergency and making sure people’s bank accounts are available yet secure. No mater what industry you represent, consider the value of your community management team or consider putting a team in place if you don’t have one already.
[Image credit: elementscomunicacion]