Online community managers – we weren’t born last week.

In this guest post, Alison Michalk, explains why her hackles were raised when watching a recent TV segment on online community management.

Over the last few years there’s been such an explosion in the community management industry. Professional groups have gone from a handful of people to 300 members, and the role is consistently listed as one of the fastest growing.

As such you’d be forgiven for thinking that Mark Zuckerberg was responsible for the birth of online community management and that the internet was a wasteland devoid of human interaction pre-2006.

You would of course be subject to the ire of seasoned community managers who have taken to banging our heads against the desk, as social media experts pushed us aside to share their wisdom acquired p.f.b. (post-Facebook).

The problem here is that the world’s most popular, successful, engaged, vibrant and flourishing communities don’t exist on Facebook. They exist in forums. And forums have been around since the 1980s. And Community Managers have been acquiring wisdom, knowledge and experience – and sharing it – since then.

The latest thing to have us collectively *fist shaking* was this week’s ABC’s 7:30 report which featured a six-minute segment tackling the Liberal party website, and in particular it’s lack of moderation of user-generated-content. The show highlighted the lack of understanding about community management – and what many in this industry think is a brand new role.

The 7:30 Report tackled the topic by wheeling out a ‘social media expert’ as well as The Punch’s Editor Dave Penberthy and what followed was some really bizarre comments on community management. One such comment from the expert which featured on twitter with the #abc730 hashtag not the show itself was: “There is no reason why community can’t be self-regulating”.

Dear God.

There are in fact a multitude of reasons, they usually fall into three risk categories: legal, brand/reputation and user risks. The legal liabilities alone are reason not to self-regulate – discrimination, defamation, copyright, contempt of court. Many of which pushed Mumbrella to flick the pre-moderation switch in late 2010.

The next statement: “There is no real best practice out there about what is the best way to approach these things.”

Someone restrain me.

There is. The industry itself has grown so rapidly in the last few years its even fragmented into two distinct Facebook groups, one with more of a social media/advertising focus and another group of more “traditional” community managers. Both groups are very active and have over 200 members.

It’s time to wake up. Recognise that online community management existed long before Facebook. Put your ego aside. Some respect wouldn’t go astray. Maybe you’ll even learn from this folk.

While social networking has delivered a different platform and a huge audience, how people engage and behave online really hasn’t changed.

Alison Michalk is director at online community specialist Quiip


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