Are social media profiles really ‘communities’?

“Who are these community managers?” I recall asking my boss.

“They’re a very… unique… group of people.” He replied. “You’ll be fine, just don’t say anything negative about forums. They will fight you.”

This didn’t really answer my question.

“…To the death,” he added.

This was perhaps the extent of the background information I was armed with when I entered swarm conference (#swarmconf) a year ago. Leaving me with very little idea of what to expect.

What I discovered was a series of principles and insights that gone a long way in shaping the way I work.

To canvas what I’m about to say; I think the world is still learning how to use social media. If you need evidence of that you need only look at 98% of the commercial social media campaigns that exist out there today. For every towering success we see two hundred colossal failures.

This doesn’t mean that playing at social media is playing at Russian roulette, communicating with people has never been a game of chance. Rather it means that most people simply don’t understand the implications of the space.

Marketing, PR and Advertising are all departments who we’ve seen grab the reigns of social media, all with varying levels of success. The failures occur often as a result of them trying to use social media for something that it’s just not built for. Rich-media campaigns that focus more on one-way content dissemination than on return engagement, UGC campaigns that call for participation without clear value propositions. They’re all a dime a dozen.

Now, I wouldn’t have been able to identify this before swarm, but in a startling number of cases, the few that are legitimately successful are the ones that incorporate the principles of community management.

A giant piece of this “how should we be using social media” puzzle already exists.

Whilst the rest of the commercial world is only now grappling with the tools of social media, the community managers have been doing it for decades. They were on the forums (the social media of web 1.0) and were the first across the new platforms, managing the online network of stakeholders and building meaningful relationships. They’re also very good at what they do.

You need only listen to Justin Isaf, director of community at the Huffington Post and a keynote speaker at last year’s swarm conference, and hear about how his team of moderators effectively manage over seventy million comments a year, to realise that community managers have turned managing online stakeholders into an art.

These people have a very unique skillset that until quite recently sat in a niche. But with the birth of web 2.0 causing communities (whether we choose to call them that or not) to pop up everywhere and around everything, anyone looking to utilise social media within their arsenal owes it to herself to listen to what these people have to say.

One learns very quickly that rich media content isn’t necessarily the be all and end all and that there’s a lot more to online community management than hurling infographics, instagrams and vine videos at your audience until they stick their thumbs up.

To say that community managers take a more holistic approach to social media is too general a statement. They simply look at things from a different angle. A stronger focus (perhaps at times too strong) is placed on the community: the users themselves, on knowing them, understanding their needs and responding strategically.

I’m far from what I would consider a true believer “community manager” in the swarm sense. But the wealth of insight I took from last year’s swarm conference has found its way into a great deal of my own work. I have applied a lot of community management principles within my work. Even the ideas that I have disagreed with have gone a long way toward prompting me toward me shaping a few principles of my own.

And whilst the community managers may not necessarily see their skillsets as being commercial, it’s now advertising, marketing and PR who are going to have to adopt the community managers’ ideas in this new digital media landscape built on two way communication.

You might disagree, but look out at the sea of dead campaigns on Facebook and ask yourself: Isn’t it worth trying something new?

Disclaimer: Dialogue Consulting is a sponsor of the 2013 Swarm Conference, however makes no financial profit from the event.

 

Matthew Cox
BY Matthew Cox ON 28 May 2013
Matthew is the lead strategic consultant at Dialogue Consulting. He has a degree in Professional Communication from the university of RMIT and has worked across Australia on a wide range of client projects from a slew of different sectors, including projects in healthcare, the not-for-profit sector, entertainment, government, FMCG and the real estate sector.
Matthew specialises in leading teams, both within Dialogue Consulting and with clients to create effective, on-brand strategy for both brands and their campaigns.