Entrepreneur and communicator

4 Big Myths About Social Media Community Management

Ten years ago, the job description Community Manager did not exist. Today I get more emails from companies looking for outsourced community management as a service or for candidates to be recruited into that position than anything else.

A Community Manager is best described as someone who builds, engages, and activates online communities around brands. Online communities could include social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or forums, blogs, wikis, etc.

We employ and train many Community Managers at Cerebra. In many ways, I think we’ve played a significant role in defining the nature and responsibility of the position, at least in South Africa. Our Content and Community Management Masterclass is always well attended, and our We Are Community and Brand Convection Model ebooks are staple-reads for the industry.

We’ve had a few extra years than most to learn the tough lessons every Community Manager (and every company that employs Community Managers) must and paid our fair share of school fees in the process. I have collated four key insights, in the form of community management myths I keep encountering, that you need to avoid in order to ensure you get the most out of this ever-growing and evolving requirement.

Myth #1: Community Management can be outsourced

As someone who runs a company that offers outsourced community management, you’ll likely be surprised to hear me saying this, but outsourcing community management to an agency is simply not sustainable long term.

In fact, outsourcing community management to an agency or any third party is like sending a good mate to your blind date. The notion of outsourcing your very personality as a company to some other company is long past its sell-by date.

Having said that, not every company has the skills, experience, resources, and workflow to cater for engagement, especially with large consumer audiences. This is especially challenging for financial services brands, telcos, and the like who have enormous quantities of customer service queries to process daily. In these instances, it may make sense for an agency to be an operational stopgap until the business has a platform in place to cope.

Regardless of how it’s done, ticking the box of customer service in social channels or any online channel cannot be discounted for proactive engagement. You can hardly tell someone how awesome your sponsorship of the national cricket team is if you can’t help them out with their account query. They’ll call bullshit. Or worse, they’ll call schizophrenic. I’ll speak a little more about this in the fourth myth when I talk about narrowing the gap between social brand promises and actual delivery.

We believe our agency will always have a role to play in our clients’ social engagement from a strategic or content creation perspective. Still, our primary job is to make sure that the brand owns its community management in the long term.

Myth #2: A Community Manager is a junior position

For some crazy reason, you tend to put your worst paid, least motivated hires at your most critical customer touchpoint. Perhaps because it’s a new position, or maybe because we assume younger folk “get social media” better than more “experienced” members of our teams.

Why is it your most critical customer touchpoint? Because when it goes pear-shaped in your call centre, or in the branch, at worst it’s a blow-up between your business and the customer in question. When it goes pear-shaped in social media, the entire connected audience that witnesses that blow up is involved, and potentially another node in the network of sharing that happens when companies inevitably get it wrong online.

The Community Manager – or at the very least the person heading up your community management team should have:

  • A comprehensive understanding of your business, its risks, its sensitive issues, its competitors, its key people and the context in which you operate
  • A deep understanding of the communities you interact in, with and through, complete with a grasp of the memes, trends, behaviours and cultural nuances that govern them
  • Above average analytical and writing skills
  • A solid character and a sympathetic nature able to cope with extreme emotional highs and lows

Despite this, I see many of our agency contemporaries and our clients giving the critical responsibility of online engagement to some poorly paid random in a little cubicle in the corner of the office. It’s hardly surprising then when things go as terribly wrong as they did for HMV.

Myth #3: Community Managers should be content creators

For many years we called our Community Managers “content and community managers” because, well, they created content and managed communities. This was ok when engagement on social networks was primarily text-based, but as the networks matured, so did the richness of content published on them. If our brands are to differentiate and cut through the clutter, they need to produce and share not just good, but remarkable content.

This is the problem with expecting your Community Managers to both create content and manage community interaction – I’ve never met a Community Manager who was also a brilliant writer, exceptional photographer, talented videographer and radio DJ rolled into one. Audio, video, graphic, and text-based content requires specific skills and experience, and expecting your Community Manager to be able to do all of them not only diminishes the specialisation of those fields but also the importance of their role.

Instead, we have a creative content production teamed with highly qualified photographers, videographers, and writers that provide our Community Managers with a bank of content with which to foster and encourage conversation.

Myth #4: Community Management is about creating a remarkable engagement experience

I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop for a particularly popular brand last week. The topic of discussion was how best to achieve a consistent personality and tone in social media channels regardless of who was “manning” the account at the time.

One of the Community Managers in the room told the story of how she had remembered a woman (who regularly interacts on the page) talking about her daughter and later brought the subject into a new conversation making the customer feel extremely cared for, loved, and important. A great customer service story, right? Of course! Until, as she expressed with concern, someone else was managing the page and potentially responded to the same woman as if they were speaking to her for the first time. She felt like the risk in this apparent schizophrenic response was huge, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’d go so far to say that:


All of our clients are scrambling to have a social media presence, social media agencies, teams, campaigns, memes, etc. but all this activity and commitment is for naught if what you promise in those channels is irreconcilable with what customers experience everywhere else.

We learned this harsh lesson with one of our clients when we began to realise that customers were flocking to Twitter in their hundreds to complain, instead of opting for the more traditional call centre route. The reason? We were doing a great job on Twitter – responding as quickly as we possibly could and doing our best to resolve issues as fast as possible. The downside was the customer audience quickly gathered that making a noise on Twitter produced better results than other customer service channels, thereby increasing and amplifying negative conversation around the brand online. Yikes! We were doing a good job and being punished for it! We actually had to DECREASE our levels of service to create a better customer service experience all round — what a bizarre notion.

I’m fascinated by the psychology of expectations. This is the reason brands like Woolworths get such inexplicably illogical emotional responses to customer service hiccups online. Our expectation of Woolworths is so high, in no small part their own doing, that any mistake is nigh on heartbreaking for the customer audience. I did a presentation on this to the Cerebra team a few weeks back. The evening before the presentation, I told one of our employees that I would be giving away a R1 000 gift voucher and that she should be on the ball for my question because I knew she enjoyed a bit of shopping. I told a second employee that I would give away a box of Smarties. In the presentation, I gave away a R200 gift voucher. Afterward, I asked each person how they felt. Naturally, the employee I told I would be giving away a R1 000 voucher felt cheated. The other thought I was a legend. All that mattered was the expectation I created upfront.

The same principle applies to brands and social media. Your remarkable Community Manager – the person you think is doing an astonishing job – might be crippling your brand with the expectation of delivery they create. This is why it is essential to decide and document your brand’s personality, tone, style, identity, look and feel, and so on when defining your content strategy for social media. Regardless of how good or bad the individual representing your brand at any given moment is, it needs to be consistent at all costs. Not only consistent, though, but it also has to be reasonable and congruent with your business delivery and other customer service channels.

There’s nothing worse than meeting a human being who is two-faced and hypocritical – why would you ever consider risking your brand appearing the same in an environment designed for and so dependent on humane engagement?

I hope you enjoyed these four myths and would appreciate you sharing any you think I may have omitted?

8 thoughts on “4 Big Myths About Social Media Community Management

  1. Enjoyed the whole article, but particularly liked the “community managers are not content creators” point. It’s an impossible task to create AWESOME content AND manage a large community. The sooner all the powers-that-be come to realize this, the better. For the sanity of Community Managers everywhere!

  2. I agree with Nicki. I manage 5 brands and as a community manager where I’m expected to deliver 7 content decks a week. It’s painful trying to be creative with copy and churn out content like a moron.

    I feel that many think of a community manager as a content creator and although nobody knows the community better than us, it becomes extremely difficult to get excited about the brands we’re working because we don’t get the opportunity to share great ideas.

    It’s a pity because I am passionate about the brands I work on but I don’t get time to enjoy them and the work that I create.

  3. Thanks for this Mike, especially the 4th point. It really is a tricky balance between reputation and expctation. Great article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *