It’s just social media management, right?

venessa paechWhile many people don’t know the difference between a social media manager and community managers Venessa Paech argues defining which one you need for a role is vital for success. 

I’ve led social media and community management for companies, hired, and worked with many social media managers and community managers.

Let’s be honest – the two roles are often confused. The number of blog posts trying to explain the difference should be a tip-off.

In Australia, for example, most Community Manager jobs advertised are actually Social Media Manager jobs.

There are a few of reasons for this. One is that advertising agencies dominate the discourse around social media and online ‘community’ in Australia, so social media marketing trumps traditional online community building.

There are fewer branded online communities in Australia than the US, where the distinction in the industry is more native.

And of course, the market in Australia is a small one and it’s all but assured social and community professionals end up delivering both functions at some point.

So we muddy our waters – what’s the harm?

If you’ve got the wrong tool for the job, you won’t get the outcome you expect or need.

You might be using the wrong strategy. Communities and social media solve different problems for businesses and organisations.

Are you building brand awareness, or do you want to scale customer service? Does your roadmap take into account community life cycles over the long haul?

(Communities take years to build and pay off more over time – a little like bricks and mortar).

Communities are different systems to social networks, defined by the structure of their relationship matrix, not the platform they inhabit.

You don’t know what you’re measuring

Objectives, end goals, metrics for success, measuring tools and methodologies are very different for Social Media Managers and Community Mangers.

Social Media Managers might look at engagement metrics around native social content, reach and amplification, social media sentiment and conversions (however that’s defined for the organisation in question).

Community Manager measurement includes: membership funnels (visitor to registration), engagement ratios over time, volume and balance of strong and weak ties, progress toward member objectives, number of volunteers – and critically – community health (including sense of belonging, level of influence). If you don’t know what you’re measuring, you can’t define or achieve success.

You’re devaluing both functions

Saying an SEO Strategist is the same as a Digital Editor doesn’t do justice to either, even though a Digital Editor will have strong SEO skills and an SEO Strategist will understand the mechanics of great content.

In particular, this conflation tends to disadvantage community builders, whose work is commonly longitudinal (complex peer-to-peer relationship building across many years) rather than campaign-centric.

You’re hiring the wrong people for the job

If you hire a Social Media Manager when you need someone to design a community strategy, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a different mission, with different timeframes and different skill requirements.

You might also be facing wasted resources, morale issues and broken outcomes.

What’s in a name?

Community is about identity and investment, so it’s inevitably bespoke to at least some extent. But there’s a long history of established social science defining community structures and network structures that should inform us here.

At a high level, social media is about reach. Communities are about relevance. Content is the glue of social media (formal or informal). Relationships are the glue of communities. They complement one another functionally and structurally. Deftly managed social media is an effective way to discover community member prospects and spark the journey to registration.

Neither is better or worse – and together they’re the definition of an ecosystem.

Many Community Managers have become adept Social Media Managers as social media platforms have risen to nest the conversations of our age. And great Social Media Managers understand the way people tick in ways similar to community builders and negotiators.

We’ve developed deep and real appreciation for our respective functions and talents.

But it’s a risk to assume we’re fluent in each other’s discipline, and riskier still to not match person – to role – to need. We can’t set objectives, define and measure success, or hire the right professionals if we don’t know whether we want people getting excited about our latest product, or a sense of belonging.

If you’re hiring a social media or community professional in 2015, define your objectives very carefully to make sure you find the right talent to get you there.

Venessa Paech is the senior manager for community & content at REA Group, and the founder of community management conference Swarm.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.