Saturday, 1 October 2011

The 'Community Manager' bubble: is this a job for you?

SPAIN (Original source: El País) Some of them get paid €18,000 a year, others €45,000. Some design complex online communications strategies, others write little messages on Twitter. Some have an MBA and 10 years' experience, others took a short course online. No two are the same, but all are called 'Community Managers'. It is the result of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Tuenti, LinkedIn, etc. etc. and a still growing trend in Spanish employment circles. But how is a Community Manager's job description defined?>>>


The term never even existed three years ago, at least in Spain. And rarely has there been such confusion. As a result, an organization was created earlier in the year called Asociación Española de Responsables de Comunidades Online (AERCO, or Spanish Association of Online Community Managers, in a loose translation), which just a couple of months ago had close to 2.5 thousand members. They offer courses online and in person. Yet they cannot offer a definition of the term, either. "If you ask 10 people to define the job, you'll get 12 different answers," says José Antonio Gallego, AERCO President. His suggestion is that a Community Manager "is the person in a company in charge of (responsable in Spanish) managing online communities that are related to the brand."

Gallego recognizes that even his own description is ambiguous. "It changes from one day to the next," he says. "It's a fashion (and as such) it gets tired very quickly."

Google Insights offers a tool to match the volume of searches received by a particular key word. This information can be separated into countries and other divisions. Type in the term 'Community Manager' -used in English because there is no equivalent in Spanish- and you will find that Spain is at the top of the list, in terms of searches for those words.

Education and employment experts and pundits agree that this fact is disconcerting inasmuch asthe new employment opportunity has no entry requirements such as specific technical qualifications, college or university certificates - not even a common job description from at least a majority of employers. Indeed, they say, Spain is one of the few countries where the job has acquired the behaviour of a 'bubble': extraordinarily rapid popularization and growth, the establishment of a very lucrative industry around it (associations, academies, agencies, consultants, etc.), much debate about its sustainability . And then, like all bubbles, it is popped and disappears. Or reconversion, as has already happened in the US and some European countries, where a Community Manager is not a specific post but a function that has become integrated into a company's advertising or marketing department.

But be warned, there are plenty of those who are taking advantage of the confusion in Spain. Some business schools charge up to €15,000 for a 'Master's Degree' in Community Management. A weekend course can cost over €3,000, too.

"It is shameful, and confusion is all over the place," says a 37 year old consultant who prefers to remain anonymous. Self-taught, she freelances as a Community Manager for several top brands. "You get all sorts. A shoe shop calls to say they need a Community Manager, next minute it's a Spanish multinational company offering a measly €500 per month to manage their social media campaign in 28 countries."

True, the financial state of the world and unemployment that has reached 21% in Spain is feeding the bubble. One consultant, also requesting anonymity. blames advertising agencies for getting into a medium they did not understand, as well as unemployed communications or marketing experts who became Community Manager experts overnight without knowing what they were doing. How did this 23 year old consultant learn the 'trade'? "I'm self-taught," he says. He manages the online communities for a major Spanish business.

Meanwhile, Internet grows in leaps and bounds: but blogs, comments and twits (now there's a term that is changing its meaning) charging against the Community Manager concept, are growing just as fast. For some the concept is a falacy, for others, it is simply part of what modern marketing needs as part of an overall strategy,. There are also those who accuse AERCO of opportunism. "They feed the fashion, using the association to benefit just a few," says one comment.

The Internet has undoubtedly changed the way a company communicates, and has done so since its inception. Almost no corner of a business remains unaffected by the surge: departments such as Marketing, Communications, Technology, IT, Copywriting, even top management, have had to review their communication systems to meet the rapidly changing environment of today. The social media have grown so large and so rapidly that not to include them in the company's marketing strategies means being completely out of the loop with drastic consequences.

Therefore it is safe to assume that in Spain at least, many of these companies have become accomplices to a maelstrom of Community Manager services without objectives, rules, regulations, pay structures or tangible results. One where established, otherwise successful companies live alongside 'smoke sellers' who overestimate their worth.

Many of the CM 'consultants' charge according to the size of the company they are offering their services to, not the size of the job nor its objectives. Competence, therefore, bears no connection to competition.

In January 2009 Twitter had 20,000 daily users in Spain. Two years later the number had grown to 300,000. The figures for Facebook are even more alarming. According to Google Trends, some eight million people click onto Fb every day - from Spain alone. Technology, particuarly in the mobile phone sector, means that it has become increasingly easier to access one's social media accounts. It has become the habit of masses, collectively, individually or through a community.

The bubble keeps being inflated by necessity.

But bubbles burst, and caution as to how to manage a 'community', at least in Spain, is the name of the game.

Here is a Community Managers' job description (but feel free to use your own imagination):
1. Content creation - writing blog posts, articles, newsletters, communications materials, and material for social media channels
2. Social media marketing – creating, managing and growing the company’s presence through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other strategically relevant online properties
3. Events and event planning – attending industry events in your city (often outside of 9-5 hours) and planning meetups for your community
4. Public relations – (note: some companies may have devoted PR departments so this may not be relevant) managing incoming media requests and building relationships with industry journalists; creating, executing and measuring media campaigns
5. Customer relations – the Community Manager is often responsible for customer support – answering questions however they come in (phone, e-mail, Twitter) and managing any online feedback forums such as GetSatisfaction pages
6. Communications/marketing strategy – the Community Manager is responsible for creating strategic marketing/communications plans to provide direction for the company’s public-facing communications
7. Analytics – Using Google Analytics and other measurement tools to provide reports on metrics, and continually find ways to improve on those metrics through testing and new initiatives
8. Business development - Depending on the company and depending on how senior the role is, a Community Manager can also be responsible for business development and sales


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