Wednesday, February 15, 2012

So You Think You Want to be a Community Manager?


Even though this article is recent, the fact that community management is one of the hottest jobs around isn't news--after all, 2010 was the "Year of the Community Manager" and the past few years have been all about talking about the hottest job around--community manager (aka social media manager or about a dozen other titles). I mean, who doesn't want to be a rockstar, right?

One thing that continues to strike me more and more as I get further and further into my career as a community manager (going on four years now) is how the job really is essentially a customer service rep job in many ways. A job I have always said I would NEVER want. I have always thought there are few worse jobs than dealing with angry phone calls and emails all day, and just dealing with customer service reps depresses me because I know what a defeating job it must be. It's no mystery that customer service jobs have a very high turnover rate, and, although I've never worked in customer service, I can imagine that a decent amount of time and money is spent trying to help employees deal with burnout in an effort to decrease this costly turnover.

I could be totally wrong, but I can't imagine many young professionals want to be call center reps--it doesn't seem like a job with much glory and definitely seems like a job with lots of stress. Why, then, is community manager such a hot job for young professionals? Because they think it means getting paid to "do" Facebook and Twitter? I doubt it. I mean, I get it--community manager means so many different things--one look at the recent social media salaries infographic by Onward Search makes that abundantly clear if it wasn't already. But seriously, when you get right down to it, community management shares a lot of elements with customer service rep. Dealing with complaints. Trying to resolve conflicts between angry customers and the brand you're representing. Trying to convert haters into evangelists by providing exemplary service. Being unflappable in the face of ongoing negativity. Especially now that there's such a blurry line between the traditional call center and a brand's social media outlets--one could make a very strong argument that community managers are no more than call center agents (by the way, I do recognize I'm using the terms "call center agent" and "customer service representative" interchangeably; I'm assuming they're the same but I could be totally wrong, in which case I apologize) who, instead of using phone or email as platforms for receiving and responding to customer complaints use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

Before you jump down my throat saying that there's MUCH more to community management than just dealing with complaints--I know that. As I said, I am one and have been for almost four years now. That said, though, I maintain that there is a large element of customer service to the job, and that's the part that does take a toll over time. Jeremiah Owyang talks about this "social media help desk" syndrome and gives tips for avoiding it; however, in my opinion, it's likely not something a community manager has much control over. The issue is much broader and more complex than something a junior level employee is likely to have much control over--or even a middle management level employee--and I think it's fair to say that most people who find themselves in "social media help desk" roles probably are not empowered to make the deep organizational changes Owyang suggests they make to get themselves out of the situation. Or even if they are, changes like those he's suggesting would not be quick or easy, and to a person already facing burnout, I doubt they'd offer much solace.

My point? Community management can be great and fulfilling and certainly a career worth considering. But if you're a person who can't imagine him or herself in a call center role, you may want to think twice before leaping into community management.

(photo by topgold on Flickr)

No comments: