Is Community Management Dead?

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INFLUENCER: TBWA\Dublin's Andrew Murray on how brands can benefit when they look past community management's unsexy reputation
Is Community Management Dead?

A considerable number of moons ago I started my advertising career in a digital agency. My title was ‘community manager’. The job was to engage the public through organic content creation/sourcing, uploading and subsequent conversations on multiple brand’s Facebook and Twitter pages. I also had to keep an eye on various forums and message boards for negative sentiment towards the said brands.

Back then, the agency acted as the digital/social/customer service department of many large domestic and international brands such as Guinness, AIB, Vodafone, Mars, Coca-Cola, Failte Ireland, Carlsberg Football, Liberty Insurance, plus more. This was the time before brands began to hire specialists in these areas, and it was before email and phone customer service shops were primed to take over social media responses. 

As a community manager, I was tasked with building multiple brands' social footprint, and a general affinity towards these brands – while attempting to ladder back to a brand platform, and remembering to keep a consistent tone of voice in the absence of any type of digital and social brand guidelines. 

This was done through attempting to form one-on-one 'relationships' with fans/followers of brand channels, and by inciting/instigating brand conversation. And it was highly effective. It led to a large-scale increase in customer satisfaction, a specialist implementation of online customer service, and it also led to high levels of awareness of various brand activity. 

It wasn't pay-to-play then, so it challenged the team's creativity on a daily basis. Imagine a time when you couldn't buy high reach with poor content. That was then.

And it was incredibly fun work. Anything nearly went. The eyes of the upper echelons of many large brands were not on social media, and while there was a 'fear factor', there was a lot of agency trust from the brand side as they struggled to come to terms with the potential power of social media.

As the years have passed, good community management has become a bit of a dying art. And it's rare to find community managers in agencies. The title is now 'social media specialist' or 'content manager' or 'social and content specialist' as the focus has shifted to the more ‘sexy’ side of social media and digital marketing – content strategy and/or ideation/creation. 

And that does make sense. Creating 'effective' content is essential to cut-through constantly clogged-up and crowded feeds. Even more so for the younger, tech-savvy and highly engaged content connoisseurs. However, I strongly feel that a good community management approach goes hand-in-hand with this.

The problem is that most conventional community management for larger brands is now implemented by a one-stop-shop customer service agency. In yesteryear, one person, with the title of community manager, would know their brand's communities inside out, plan content, publish content – all the while leaning on social and data analysts, and other creative and strategy resources in an agency. If a customer service agent (the modern day community manager) in a battery farm-esque operation has 27 tickets to respond to across five accounts... can they really be expected to step into a conversation in a meaningful and engaging way?

There are many brands that focus and spend a lot of money creating content. They distribute this content through paid social on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat and they reach millions of people… yet you regularly see questions posed on this content, or general brand queries going unanswered. Most frustrating for me is when you see thousands of missed opportunities to step into conversations in clever, witty, helpful, creative or whatever is appropriate for a brand's personality, values, and tone - ways that will drive additional positive engagements. 

With a strong community management strategy, brands and organisations can gather support of customers and potential customers, provide support and utility, facilitate peer-to-peer support, increase awareness of the brand and products, source valuable information about target consumers and gather feedback and test new initiatives and products.

A recent study placed the value of a positive brand social interaction at over €3 per year. That can add up quickly. And brands such as JetBlue Airways, Taco Bell, Netflix, Urban Outfitters, Go Pro, Lego, PlayStation understand and acknowledge the value these interactions bring to their organisation.

Brands are missing a trick by putting positive and proactive community management down the pecking order when it comes to digital/social/content budgets. It's very easy to get caught up in the sexy-side of things... but most content lives for a few weeks at most. Your always-on digital/social/content can generate awareness and affinity through a million small but value-filled interactions.

And that's where good auld community management comes into its own.



Andrew Murray is director of social media & content at TBWA\Dublin

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TBWA\Dublin, 1 year ago