Community Management needs to come of age … now!

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I have been on Twitter 7 years today. It seems like it was ages ago. In fact it was ages ago. When I started working in Internet banking in 1996, one used to say that Internet years were like dog years, that they were supposed to pass 7 times faster than real time, as it is believed to be true of animals. I don’t know the truth about canine mammals but Internet years are in fact more like light years than dog years. Yet, the faster it goes, the more things change and the more they stay the same.

This Nietzchean proposition will probably sound overwrought to many, but, in fact, my current interactions with clients show that going back to basics is more than just an option. It’s a must have in this period of maturation of social media usage in the workplace, some 10 years (or more) after its inception.

Let’s see why too many people are asking themselves the wrong questions and why rubbing salt on their wounds is of paramount importance.

Focusing on the why, not the how!

Mastering social media tools and content is important.

Mastering social media tools and content is important. There is a necessary technical and marketing background that any social media professional, not just community managers, have to master. This, in essence, is obvious and cannot be questioned. Therefore it requires few comments on my part. However, the more I read blogs dedicated to community management and social media, the more I feel that most of us are going in the wrong direction.

I realised that when I met with the social media director of a leading European e-commerce website. I had looked at how their social media strategy had evolved throughout the years, and, although they had only used it for the best of 3 years, their practice of social media was somehow very typical of what most clients are doing (B2C and B2B alike, even though there are some differences).

It all started with trailblazers jumping on the bandwagon, timidly at first, next week frenzy and a flurry of initiatives. Some geared towards collaboration (these were the good old days of wikinomics!), CRM and so on and so forth. Such frenzy lead to innovation, but also to a ramp up in customer demand for better service which wasn’t quite met in that particular case. This example is not isolated. Not every emerchant can afford to be like Amazon, let alone brick  and mortars!

The next stage in their evolution of social media usage was a fragmentation of the social media presence with more people jumping on the bandwagon as social media gained in popularity, around 2011 – 2012. The result is that CRM ended up being split amongst several accounts and platforms and customers were struggling to get serviced.

The following development phase takes us to 2014, with community management being “professionalised” and an agency (billing them at a price to be settled with God if I believe them and my own experience) feeding Facebook for the sake of feeding Facebook.

Last, but not least, our emerchant was nonplussed by the number of clicks that were brought to his shop every day by Facebook despite a hefty price in community management. I am not surprised. Facebook is not an SEO engine.

Panem et circenses

The Romans had an expression for this: give the people bread and (circus) games and that will keep them happy. Roman emperors maintained peace like that without having to worry too much about long-term policies. This reminds me of what is happening in social media today. In fact, I ran into that problem myself in my last year as social media director of one of the largest worldwide telcos.

Facebook rules, okay!

Blocks of bright colors and the Facebook logo.

Facebook has its own rules. If you want to maximise “engagement” you have to entertain users. We had found out that the best and even only way we could generate “engagement” was to post trivia about mobile phones. It worked, in Facebook terms of course. We could have even paid to promote this post in order to manage and boost “engagement”. A lot of brands do that, too, therefore reproducing the old advertising model, the one they feel most comfortable with.

Fine, but why are we doing these folks? What really matters to our clients is service delivery, product quality and customer relationships. Unless, maybe, you are into luxury, beauty or fashion, but not every brand can compare to Louis Vuitton or L’Oreal!

Peer pressure

So, why has social media (I used Facebook as an example, but this is not limited to Facebook), with all the talk about “engagement” (engagement with whom, for what purpose, to what end?) has led to this situation? Why is it that brands are competing with each other on engagement, a measure that solely the makers of Facebook can truly understand and fewer can explain. Why do we have to suffer from this peer pressure like the above–mentioned European emerchant?

The fact of the matter is … we don’t have to!

Social media is worth more than that

It’s high time we decide to change the way we work unless community managers follow the same path as the year 2000 webmasters. I can tell you, for being there at that time, this is not going to be funny. It’s high time for brands to ask themselves the right questions: “Why am I doing this? Do I really need to do this on Facebook? Or anywhere else? Do I really need to spend hundred of thousand of euros (or dollars, or pounds) per annum on Facebook management?” If we do not ask these questions ourselves, someone is bound to one day, the consequences will be dire.

In 2012, Chris Brogan wrote a post entitled “Social Media Isn’t Dead: It’s Boring”. It is our role to focus on the why and not on social media for the sake of social media in order to avoid turning it into the boring technical psychobabble Brogan rightfully described.

There are so many interesting things to be done with word–of–mouth marketing and social media, and fortunately not just Facebook, if brands only decided to focus on their clients and audiences.

I know that many community managers will dislike what I write here, but there will be no evading the question. It’s a matter of time.

Polite warning: ask yourselves the right questions before your boss does

Times Square at night lit up with brand billboards.

As a conclusion, ask yourself the right questions, not the kind I was asked at Community Management Appreciation Day last February: “How does cross organisational collaboration, sales, marketing and customer service etc play a role in business communities?”. This question is turned upside down.

You don’t build communities through internal collaboration. Instead, communities, if they exist, are nurtured and facilitated by all the departments of the company which are at their service, not the other way around. It is not an organisation building a community, but a community shaping an organisation through its desires, needs and will to cooperate, or lack thereof. Your organisation! This, is the real new paradigm, not that Facebook edge rank that no one in the real world cares about.

Social media is maturing, but brands still have a long way to go. It’s time to change! Editor’s Note: Yann Gourvennec was a panelist for this year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day panel on Building Community in the Enterprise Business.

Yann Gourvennec

Yann has a long-standing experience in marketing, information systems and Web marketing. He created visionarymarketing.com in 1996 also co-founded Media Aces, the French Association for enterprises and social media. He is a lecturer, a keynote speaker, an author and blogger, and his book Mastering Digital Marketing Like A Boss will be published soon.

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