How associations should plan, manage and staff for social media is one of the most important and one of the most difficult issues today.
The answer depends on how large your staff team is, how advanced your social media efforts are and what you are trying to achieve with social media. It will also depend on the social media skills of your staff, volunteers and members.
One trend is clear; as social media becomes more mature and is engrained in everyday aspects of association management, a new set of skills and competencies will be required by the people who will be made responsible for social media management.
A few associations have already taken the step to hire a full-time, dedicated online community manager.
One of those is the American Dental Education Association. I had the chance to speak with Kevin Morse about his role as the Director of Online Services. He had a lot to say about what he does and about the evolving role for association social media community managers.
What do you think about how social media is being managed in the association community today?
“Too many people are focused on the tools and applications. It reminds me of how CMS (Content Management Systems) have evolved over the past years. In the past, there was a lot of attention paid to learning how to code web pages. Now with CMS tools, we are able to focus more time on the quality of the content. With social media, I see the same parallel. There is a lot of talk about how to use the tools when we really need to be focused on the quality of the content.”
What is the thing you like most about what you do?
“It is a combination of strategic thinking and engaging with members at a high level. It requires the use of judgment and excellent communication skills in real time. It gives me the chance to use my experience and background to deliver higher value added services to our member community”.
How does community management differ from traditional communications?
“With traditional communications, you have an editorial team that has a fair amount of time to prepare and polish a piece of communication before it is pushed out to the audience. With online community management, you are really more focused on driving content from within the group on a peer to peer basis. This means you have less influence over the content and play more of a moderating role.
Now it is a lot more about what happens after the message is sent. The work really begins when the conversation starts and you begin receiving feedback, questions and dialogue after a message has been posted or the website has been updated.”
What is your biggest challenge and why?
“The greatest challenge is to motivate true subject matter experts to share their knowledge, experience and perspectives online and inside communities. The most valuable content and conversations come from the subject matter experts from within the community. The challenge is that these experts are truly time-starved. If they do not see the direct benefit of spending time writing a post or getting engaged in a community platform, then they will not participate.
In some cases, they hesitate because they are not familiar with using tools like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. I also think the experience of online sharing is understood in reference to older types of sharing, like letters to the editor, when you had to pass a gatekeeper to be heard and response time was measured in weeks or months, not seconds or minutes. In other cases they might feel that what they have to say is not good enough or they are shy about sharing their experiences.”
Any words of advice?
“Quality of the content is certainly more important than the volume or the frequency. Too many people seem to feel the need to fill the gap with fluff. Consistent frequency is necessary but not sufficient to build a following, you need to create and share content that is meaningful to your followers consistently as well.
Online community management is an art. The ability to simultaneous motivate community participants to share information and insights while monitoring my organization’s online presence is a stimulating challenge. At the same time, applying judgment when moderating online communities, knowing when to intervene and knowing when to hang back is a skill I feel is only developed over time.
The successful online community manager will need a good understanding of policies and the culture of the organization in order to protect the brand and reputation.”
All of this is of course a tall order but it is also makes online community management probably one of the most meaningful, engaging and challenging new jobs to emerge in the association community.
As the use of social media in organizations matures, we will continue to see a trend to develop well thought out social media strategies, policies and staffing structures to manage this increasingly important method of member engagement and communication.
Who should be the community administrator or moderator?
The person that assumes the role of community manager and moderator will need a range of skills and knowledge. Because social media touches so many different departments (communications, membership, marketing, education, live events, etc.) and uses multiple channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Slideshare, etc.) it is critical that there is someone that knows how to coordinate all of these moving parts.
So what are the characteristics of a great online community manager?
Someone who . . .
- Understands how to communicate with empathy and tact
- Is slow to anger, has a mature nature and is able to demonstrate sound judgment
- Has excellent written communication skills
- Has a broad understanding of the organization with an especially clear picture of the objectives, guidelines and policies for the online community
- Is able to delegate as well as to recognize when a matter needs to be referred to a senior authority
- Is able to sift a large volume of information and communication, and is able to distill trends within that data flow
- Is competent in using technology tools, in particular tools used for communication, listening and measuring engagement within social communities
- Is respected by the community members because of his/her ability, knowledge and skill
Online community management is becoming one of the most demanding and highest valued skills in today’s environment, where online communities and peer to peer communications deliver the bulk of association membership value.
Request your free copy of "Online Community Management Guidelines". It includes a description of key social media policy areas and a description of online community management best practices.