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Want A Successful Community? Don’t Be A Social Media Manager

I’ve held the position that social media management and community management are not the same thing for a while. This morning, a blog post by Maggie McGary (and the subsequent comments) about the value of Klout for community managers made me pause again. There has been a lot of attention on defining and finding influencers lately and to me, everyone is an influencer in the right context. Looking at influence independent of context is a fool’s errand but it struck me that marketers may be after channels instead of influencers per se. They want the most bang for their buck to drive awareness and that makes sense.

Aggregation of content. Ratings. Word of Mouth. Awareness. The more you get individuals with a lot of attention to share your content, the more awareness it receives. That’s great social media marketing.

Once you have people’s attention though, how do you get them to actually change behavior? Pushing more content from well known people is not likely to help except to the extent that it keeps them aware. As a pretty basic example,  I’m not going to trade in my current TV just because well known people that I respect share a lot of information about new 3D TV. What will get me to switch? If half of my friends starting telling me stories about how much clearer, cooler and energy efficient (whatever the case may be) the new product is, over time I am likely to consider switching. That behavior change takes deep peer relationships, context, and time – factors that are not abundantly present in fast-paced social networks.  However, behavior change DOES happen in communities of peers – whether online or offline – through a flow of influence. The more complex the desired outcome, the more defined the community needs to be.

The same things that work brilliantly to grab people’s attention in large social networks can kill communities.  Why? Focusing on just the most viewed content and most active members leaves little room for the contributions of others and little reason for them to stick their neck out to participate or create content. I recently re-read advice given to our CR members from Burr Settles about building a community for FAWM and how instead of aggregating content and highlighting the most popular things (which were not necessarily the best), he works hard to highlight content that has had no feedback. Why? Because highlighting the least reviewed content encourages content creation and participation from every member. Highlighting the most popular only reinforces for the majority of members that their voices don’t matter because they don’t have popular attention. It is why using the 90-9-1 rule of engagement can subconsciously cause community managers to ignore 90% of their members – assuming that they just won’t be converted. Communities are about maximizing engagement and relationships to encourage learning and with it, behavior change.

Good community managers intuitively do some of the following to encourage broad participation:

  • Break up cliques or ask people to take those groups private/semi-private
  • Proactively seek out and promote involvement, particularly from people that have not yet participated
  • Encourage lurkers and quiet community members to get involved by asking their opinion or giving them specific roles and tasks
  • Encourage less active members by asking other members to reach out to them
  • Welcome new members and invite them to participate in a ‘baby pool’ before getting involved in the general community
  • Generally staying behind the scenes and letting members do the majority of the talking

For social media managers it is much more important to be front and center, build a core group of followers that are broadly ‘influential’ in their own right and contribute a lot of content.

Both of these roles are important and serve different purposes in the new flipped funnel of the customer lifecycle. But confusing the roles can make it quite difficult to build a robust community that has long term impact on member loyalty.

What’s your experience been? Have you mixed up the two approaches and had success? The comments are where the action is… let me know.


The Community Roundtable  is committed to advancing the business of community. We offer a monthly subscription report, a membership based peer network, a community management training program and advisory services for corporations and individuals.

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