Rebranding the Community Manager – The 7 Skills of a Community Director

(This post has been amended and first appeared on Advertising Week’s Social Club and Social@Ogilvy blog. Written with Rachel Caggiano, Social@Ogilvy)

Last week, as part of Social Media Week (#smwnyc) in New York, we spoke with experts from Ford, Whole Foods and iHeartRadio about the evolution of the role of the community manager.

Not too long ago, the role of “community manager” might have been relegated to an intern. Or, the role was added to the list of tasks juggled by an inexperienced social media manager (who was also expected to answer the phones and send out the email newsletters). But today, the profession is being seen as one of the most important roles in social business, and smart brands are looking for experienced business directors with deep expertise in content marketing, digital strategy, public affairs and crisis management.

What’s changed?

We’re not just seeing growth in communities; we’re seeing them exercise greater impact on brands’ business bottom lines. As you’d suspect, managing communities is becoming more complex. According to LinkedIn, the community management profession is experiencing a 29% year-on-year growth.

The necessary skill set is also evolving. It is no longer as simple as being a decent relationship manager who understands the brand voice and can create a content calendar. Today’s community manager needs to be a fan segmentations specialist, an ad and content targeting expert, a crisis radar technician, and a leader of multiple content creators across the organization. A real business director with the necessary gravitas to get the most out of the community, as well as the brand, to really drive value. The list goes on.

In 2010, Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang created the first Community Manager Appreciation Day (#cmad).  This year, the #cmad tag was a trending topic in three countries (full recap here) and generated an estimated 72.9 million impressions from 15,450 Twitter mentions. Industry leaders were talking about the qualities of an effective community manager, and the future of the profession itself.

We see the job of the community manager evolving to a more senior role. One that demands a specific set of professional skills. One that demands a new name:

Introducing….the Community Director!


1. Orchestra Conductor of a “Symphony of Content” 

The most effective community directors know how to produce live, responsive content. But rather than being the single source for content creation, today’s professionals know how to inspire and mobilize across the enterprise, to work with various content creators. They not only know how to tap into content creators for rich  “peak content,” like videos, apps and webisodes, that pull in a wide range of valuable customer interaction. They also know how to navigate internal halls of legal and public affairs, to swiftly produce timely, highly relevant, often witty responses to trending memes. Think Oreo’s “You can still dunk in in the dark” ad and Ford’s response to Jeremy Iron’s Downton Abbey/Ford Fiesta remark.

2. Relationship Manager

The Community Director manages the direct relationships with thousands, sometimes millions of customers. They know when these folks are enjoying the brand. They know when they are having service problems. They must relate to a broad range of fans, and never lose their compassion or their cool. The Community Director knows how to cultivate millions of customers around the launch of a new flavor, but understands how to move an enraged customer to a happily engaged one through direct, speedy customer service. Zappos understands this, leveraging social shopping via Pinterest, while delighting unhappy customers with exceptional social care via Twitter.

3. Brand Voice

The Community Director is the living embodiment of the brand voice. They agonize over defining it clearly, so that all who manage the brand publicly will stay true to how the brand talks, looks and behaves. They understand how the brand voice informs their content marketing strategy, and how their content lets that persona shine through and through. Take, for instance, the quirky, oddly manly voice of Old Spice tweeting with the sassy, witty voice of Taco Bell.

4. Crisis Radar Technician

While every brand ostensibly has a crisis plan in place, and regularly trains its people to prevent major crises, it is the Community Director who has an ear to the ground, and can detect whispers before anyone else in the organization. Brand’s Facebook pages and Twitter handles have become a magnet for issues and concerns. Which ones will become actual crises? This person not only detects all possible issues, but also evaluates how they evolve over time. The Community Director must anticipate the worst, but never over-react. Having learned a lot about communicating with the public around crisis-level issues over the past couple of years, BP (client) recently used its Facebook page to deliver information around Hurricane Sandy-related fuel shortages in the NY/NJ area, allowing customers to more easily find stations with fuel supplies.

5. Content and Advertising-Targeting Expert

Staying on top of the latest developments from the top platforms and API partners, the Community Director works tirelessly to play a key role in segmentation strategy, and to know which types of content resonate with each set. As the tools inside social networks like Facebook become more sophisticated, the Community Director serves as an expert at complex targeting of content and advertising stories. Recently, P&G’s Tide brand took advantage of Facebook’s Premium ads to target its fans and friends of its fans to draw attention to its role in cleaning up chemical residue from a NASCAR racetrack fire, later using Facebook’s Reach Generator to promote a post asking fans to create a caption for a photo of the clean-up.

6. Fan Segmentation Specialist

Communities form around affinities – passions and interests that bring people together. The Community Director knows which people matter to the business, how to use the right tools to find and attract the right fans. New tools like Facebook’s CAT tool allow for a much deeper and more refined look at our fan-bases. The Community Director must use that data to attract the right fans, deliver the right content to important affinity segments and, in general, grow their use of social data to make a richer community experience for fan and brand. British Airways (client) knows it must engage the US and UK in different ways, and used targeted tweets and the #HomeAdvantage hashtag to encourage British residents to stay in the country for last summer’s London Games.

7. Performance Analyst

The Community Director listens, sets benchmarks on conversation engagement with content, sentiment, and other important metrics, to measure the effectiveness of any marketing campaign. How much conversation did we generate? Are we getting more people talking positively about our products and services? These are some of the fundamental questions the Community Director can answer. They know how to distill true KPIs from the litany of data that we can all measure and report. They are discrete and thoughtful as to what they report about. They have a strong POV, about which measurements matter to the business goals. When Ford Motor Company (client) chose to use Facebook to reveal its Ford Explorer in 2011, it rightly knew that sales impact was the KPI to track, showing how more likes equaled more sales, tracking how the Facebook launch drove 3,500 pre-orders for the vehicle five months before it even became available.