Community Managers are the social butterflies of your company and its offerings. They are not sales people or customer service reps or Internet marketers per say. They do, however, spread the word about what you offer; they engage with current clients, prospects, the public or the media about your company and how great it is.
So Do You Need to Hire One?
Most companies that utilize internet marketing to some degree see its inherent value. Over the last five years, social media, from the likes of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are much more mainstream than they ever were. So much so, that companies of all sizes are using these mediums to engage with prospects and clients, even to the degree of promoting a company's Facebook's fan page via other traditional advertising efforts.
With over 15 millions users in Canada alone, Facebook is more frequently used than Google. Other social sites, like LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Yahoo Answers, are frequently used to learn, explore, connect and discuss with all types of topics and people.
Social media marketing is a great way to engage with your community. It not only helps contribute to fresh and ongoing content, but also to get others talking about you and increasing the number of inbounds links a site receives. This added popularity, not to mix this up with authority, helps contribute to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts. Most SEO work today has some level of social media as part of their strategy.
Community Managers need to know your offerings. Social media and networking, in particular, requires an individual with a thorough understanding of your offerings; someone who can respond quickly, and someone who is truly passionate and believes in your company. No one can talk about your company like one of your employees, which is why I often suggest this is someone who works inside your company. Paying an agency or an Internet marketing company to do this for you may not achieve the same level of results and is often more expensive. Although outside help is useful for providing insight, training, best practices and monitoring assistance - they shouldn't be the one interacting with your market.
The Ideal Candidate
This employee doesn't need to be a senior marketing manager or a programmer; they just need to truly believe in what you offer. An ideal candidate would be a social butterfly by nature and someone comfortable with using social type websites with a marketing background. Ideally this person would be responsible for monitoring brand mentions, contributing to online social networks, engaging with prospects, answering questions and even promoting the brand at events, conferences and tradeshows. The web is a soap box for many people. This calls for a deep understanding of customer service. There is a careful and delicate balance between being friendly, respectable, and sincere and knowing when to apologize. The ideal candidate would work with the Internet marketing team both to understand trends, and how learn to optimize content for SEO and Online Reputation Management (ORM) benefits. They would also work with your customer service department to understand best practices for handling complaints and forwarding them to the appropriate units.
Community Managers can be a valuable resource if utilized properly. Working with the right teams and external vendors, such as an Internet marketing company, can help showcase huge business opportunities that may have otherwise been missed. I'm not suggesting to hire a Community Manager to do away with the work an SEO company may be doing. Instead the Community Manager needs to work closely with the SEO company to realize the best outcomes for both teams.
Hiring a Community Manager may not be right for all companies today. An Internet marketing company may be able to provide similar services; however, the day will come when a more permanent position will be a necessity.
PS: Thanks Elie for your feedback and help on this one.