Recently we’ve been hearing from a lot of recruiters looking for social media and community professionals but more than that we’re hearing from a lot of community managers who are getting laid off, leaving voluntarily, or considering making a move. While the social software market itself is going through the Trough of Disillusionment, one of the biggest risks happening right now is to community managers. What’s interesting to me is that a lot of the churn is going on with some of the best community managers in the business and the ones who have the most experience. They are restless, isolated, frustrated, and unsatisfied. They are getting more support and recognition for their work externally than they do within their own organizations. They are looking for really rewarding challenges and an environment where they can do innovative and ground-breaking work. They are in organizations that still view them as their social media or community outpost but they are not ready to think about social media or community as a business strategy that incorporates more of the organization – effectively leaving them in the desert with no water.
Community managers – as outposts – face a lot of stress. They are seeing on a daily basis how the business needs to change to support their constituents and yet they don’t have the internal decision-making chain listening to them at a high enough level to actually change the business. They are often seen as the person who will change the culture by making a company more ‘social’ but as anyone with change management experience knows, putting that responsibility on any one person is enormously unfair. In the worst scenario and particularly with Enterprise 2.0 initiatives started in IT groups, community management falls to a project manager as a ‘part-time’ responsibility and the person in the role has no realistic hope of tackling the responsibilities comprehensively – but not for lack of interest or enthusiasm. So social initiatives linger, fall apart, or create friction within the organization that it cannot be easily addressed because of lack of a broad strategy and commitment. Oliver Marks talks about this in his post Collaboration Strategy Shortcomings: Whack the Community Manager.
One of the reasons we put together the Community Maturity Model itself is to give organizations and community managers themselves a framework for thinking about how the business needs to change to incorporate more voices – not just how to manage the community itself. Community managers will always be a vital link to facilitate the conversation between the business and the consistent base – whether that is customers, employees, or partners – but they need an organizations that supports them and their role. They need peers and resources since this is an emerging discipline. They need executive sponsors who understand and champion a social business strategy – and protects the community initiative while it incubates because communities do not grow and mature in the same way as other types of operational programs. When those conditions are not present – and they are lacking in some of the very companies we champion as ‘visionaries’ in the social space – they risk losing the people who best understand how to execute community management. That loss can set companies back years. Supporting community managers – and giving them the resources to learn, experiment, and grow – whether that is internal mentorship at the executive level, budget for conferences and resources like The Community Roundtable, or more staff to help give them space to think more strategically, companies need to do better by their community managers if they want to succeed in this brave new information evnironment.
While all companies have challenges supporting and growing a new discipline we do see some great examples of companies thinking strategically about community – companies like SAP, EMC, IBM, Radian6, Zappos, and EDR. If you are interested in how business is evolving they are companies worth watching and not coincidentally, most of them participate widely in conferences and with us and the individuals involved are open and accessible so ask, listen, & learn from them. They are not without challenges but they are committed to learning and growing. And if you are interested in what The Community Roundtable offers, find out more about membership here.
What’s the biggest challenge you expect companies to face as they add community and social programs to their existing business processes? What can they do to better support community managers during that transition? What resources and support systems do you find invaluable?