Community Managers — the New Face of PR?

17 Jul

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb posted a compelling article on a new marketing/communications job title:  “Community Manager.” Kirkpatrick offers this definition:

A community manager is someone who communicates with a company’s users/customers, development team and executives and other stake holders in order to clarify and amplify the work of all parties. They probably provide customer service, highlight best use-cases of a product, make first contact in some potential business partnerships and increase the public visibility of the company they work for.

The article is focused on startups, but is worth a read by anyone at organizations large and small thinking about how they will manage communications and amplify their marketing efforts among vitally important communities, increase their engagement with these communities and take advantage of key online social networks.

Kirkpatrick asks the question of whether this is the “the new PR.” My answer is that it has to be.  It’s not the only PR, certainly.  But those who understand public relations in the tradition of folks like Arthur Page rather than that of, say, Scott McClellan, realize that it PR is the one communications discipline founded in the idea of an organization listening, responding, sharing and collaborating with the communities that make up its public.

I have a strong feeling that this role will grow and evolve quickly — both in corporate communications and marketing.  Infusing these disciplines with the responsibility for community management should make them better informed, more insightful and more powerful advocates both for their organizations — and within their organization on behalf of the communities they serve.

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6 Responses to “Community Managers — the New Face of PR?”

  1. Mike Keliher July 17, 2008 at 2:52 pm #

    You’re right: This has to be part of the PR business. I’ve been sitting on writing about this very subject. Look at the wonders Jason DeRusha has done for WCCO locally. He’s probably not really trying to be a community relations expert, but as a result of being as outgoing and visible as he is, I suddenly feel interested and invested in WCCO. Before, I couldn’t have cared.

    Julio Zapata has done something similar for the Pioneer Press, and I could rattle off several more corporate comm.-related examples, too.

  2. Ken Kadet July 17, 2008 at 11:40 pm #

    Interesting that the first two you think of are media companies…making at least some reporters community participants rather than simple “senders” of information seems to be key to repositioning the professional news media… even more effective, I think, in tighter communities like tech and others …

  3. Brian July 19, 2008 at 6:12 pm #

    I’d suggest that most communities can’t really be “managed.” It’s really a part of the organization’s brand, which can only be defined in the mind of the consumer.

    (A definition I really like for “brand” equates it to a nest that the consumer builds, using twigs and string and bits that it finds, some of which are made available by the organization and some of which are procured from other sources.)

    Managing a community/brand, then, takes on a different meaning. The best you can do is help get them the right information. Dell, for example, first ignored them, then tried to squash them, then finally started to collaborate with them(http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/2008/03/23/the-future-of-dell-in-social-media.aspx).

    But to your point, this is definitely a different type of PR. Public relations doesn’t manage the media, it only provides them with the right (or sometimes best) information. This is why they call is PR and not advertising, and this third-party endorsement (when it works) is what makes it much more powerful.

  4. Ken Kadet July 20, 2008 at 9:59 pm #

    Well put, Brian.

    I’d agree that you can’t “manage” a community like a supply chain. When I think of PR taking on the task of the ‘community manager’, I think of PR as managing a vital organizational function — monitoring, informing, engaging, responding and representing a company in the communities that matter to its success.

    But I do think that PR has a role beyond simply providing the best information. I call it “storytelling” — taking what is true about the organization and what it needs to communicate and telling that story in ways that move people. We are certainly honest brokers of information, but the truth is facts, and more than facts. It’s the sum of the stories we tell about ourselves … how our audience responds and how together that story moves people and makes our organizations more successful.

  5. Mike Keliher July 22, 2008 at 9:22 am #

    This line — “you can’t truly manage a community” — and perhaps its cousin — “…and trying to do so is evil!” — miss the point. It’s not about managing the community but managing your company’s relationships with the community.

  6. Ken Kadet July 22, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    Mike:

    Exactly.

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