One recent morning I saw a post in one of my LinkedIn groups asking “what is the difference between a social media manager and an online community manager?” Easy, I thought, and offered a quick response on my mobile … “Social media managers bring the guests (clients, prospects) to the table and community managers welcome them in!”
Ahh, but wait. This may require more words than I can manage on that little screen. So, naturally, I turned to trusty Google to see what others have said on this topic. Among the first mentions I came across was a CMSWire which discussed the confusion between social media and online community management, and suggested the two roles have become blurred.
In my view, the confusion often begins with job descriptions, which are rarely written by actual practitioners. For larger organizations new to these rapidly evolving specialties, they strive to find and describe the commonalities rather than highlight the differences in the two roles.
Next, I sought out my trusted peers and colleagues to see and hear what they had to say. In a post by the very knowledgeable Blaise Grimes-Viort from the UK firm e-Moderation, he shared the following definitions of these two roles:
Community Manager: Operates from deep within the company, managing customer relationships with a brand or product, and each other. Potentially she can be a fully Enterprise Community Manager, involved in facilitating efficient inter-team and staff communication and collaboration. She is focussed on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration, which may include moderation and hosting of both micro- and macro-events on the company’s community platform. Placement within the Organisation chart is more likely to be connected to Editorial, Product development, Business development, and Marketing.
In addition, I would add Customer Service/Support to the list of org chart nodes above.
Social Media Manager: Operates from the edges of the company, managing brand recognition and reputation outside of the scope of the brand website. He is focused on listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to facilitate depth of communication. He will usually be found within the Organisation chart connected to Marketing, PR, and Sales.
Another aspect of the blurring and overlap in roles is the type of organization doing the hiring — what is the business focus for the role? Business-to-business (B2B) and consumer companies have very different requirements. In consumer organizations, the community focus is individual consumers, and consumers generally frequent public social media channels with broad reach and large numbers. On the other hand, B2B organizations focus on building customer intimacy using channels such as online communities, customer councils and executive briefing centers along with offline outreach. For B2B, the desired relationship is deeper, just as the purchase cycle may be longer, revenue potential much greater and the depth of engagement (think suppliers and partners as well as customers) may be much greater and more complicated. In B2B organizations the social media manager is part of marketing and PR, facing outward for the most part. The B2B community manager has some outward responsibilities, but is connected to more core operations at the firm.
These distinctions are especially visible in the success measures for each role – the key performance indicators. Of course, both roles may share responsibility for a number success metrics and will need to partner effectively to deliver results. Here is a short tabulation of key B2B success measures, the role involved and the organizational accountability path.
|B2B Success Measure||Role||Accountability|
|Drive leads||Social Media Manager||Marketing|
|Raise awareness of products or services||Social Media Manager||Marketing|
|Visibility of company, products, services or thought leaders||Social Media Manager||Marketing|
|Increase sales||Social Media Manager||Sales|
|Event attendance||Social Media Manager on public channels, Community manager on community channels||Marketing|
|Customer questions about how to use a product or service||Community Manager||Customer Service|
|Learn from customers (e.g. feedback into product development)||Community Manager||Product Management/R&D|
|Customer retention / satisfaction||Community Manager||Sales|
|Call center reduction/ Improve customers’ ability to get help from each other||Community Manager||Customer Service|
|Increase utilization of the products||Community Manager||Product Management|
Note that in the B2B world, where customers tend to be other organizations purchasing complex and expensive products and services, the lines between the social media manager and the community manager roles can be more clearly defined than in consumer space. B2B and consumer prospects have very different information and relationship needs, and when the sale is made the customers require very different levels of ongoing engagement and support. The overlap between the B2B social media and online community manager roles is usually much less than for those roles at a B2C firm.