Op-Ed: Conversation Manager vs. Community Manager

John Bell is Managing Director, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and President of the Board of Word of Mouth Marketing Association. This post originally appeared on his blog, Digital Influence Mapping Project. It is reprinted here with his permission.

Lots of brands are starting to realize that they have a missing job function in their ranks. It seems to be happening more and more after they have launched their Facebook presence in earnest and get a taste for what it takes to generate engagement in the Wall.

I am talking about brands without a history around community management or who may host communities somewhere in the organization but far removed from mar-com or customer service.

These brands who are used to having public relations staff and marketing managers who don’t routinely interact with customers (never mind on the public stage of the Internet) are learning that they need someone willing and skilled to put a voice to their Twitter handle and their Facebook wall.

Community Manager

So, do they need a community Manager? Here’s how I see the main responsibilities of a community manager:

1. Steward a community conversation amongst a group of people who have come together to interact together presumably over some shared affinity (they all love Dancing With The Stars TV show; they are all moms with grade school-age children; they drive the same car)
2. Help keep order with a soft touch
3. Remain responsible to the community first

Their job is really to nurture and often grow a community of people. Now, the affinity that brings them together may be the brand. That gives the community manager license to participate in the community but certainly not at the expense of the other community participants.

Conversation Manager

A Conversation Manager is a bit different especially as we think about how Twitter and Facebook work. Even with the threaded comments available now in the Facebook Wall posts, These are streams of utterances and brief conversations. More importantly, brands are hosting their own handles and pages which feel more personal and involved. A Conversation Manager’s responsibilities include:

1. Offering fans and followers a steady stream of valuable content and experiences
2. Responding to visitors who want to engage with the brand or need some help
3. Offering a pov as a brand or subject matter expert

Both are two-way and responsive. One puts the needs of the community first. The other puts the interaction between customers (fans & followers) and the brand first. Both require a great ear and a commitment to ‘active listening.’ The latter feels more authentic in the sense that a brand has a pov – “my product is great for these reasons and I sure wish you would try it…” trying to pretend that brands put community above selling is kind of silly.

And consumers have demonstrated that they want to connect with the people at the brands they care about. That points me towards the qualities of the Conversation Manager for most brands without a community agenda..