Community Manager: What’s in a name?

by Ryck Lent - January 14, 2009

Jay Lyman at 451 CAOS Theory asks: Where have all the community managers gone? He notes that firms facing economic pressure tend to dump positions they view as unnecessary or not revenue-producing. He argues those organizations might, instead, view the community manager role as an investment for the future. My colleague Vanessa’s post from a few days ago suggests the demand for community jobs hasn’t dried up completely.

But what’s not said is that the title – community manager – may send the wrong message about the value of the role. Would open source vendors and enterprises with a community or grass roots approach to product or market development be so quick to dump the position if it had another name? Even though I’ve held the community manager title several times in my career, I still think it sounds reactive and a cost center, rather than pro-active and a revenue growth position. Maybe the title needs a re-write.
Let’s understand what the role entails today. For organizations that eschew top-down, command-and-control product development or marketing strategies, a key criteria for bottoms-up, customer and user-driven success is mobilizing and empowering customers and users to help create the product and expand the market for it. Consider how this played out in the Obama campaign, or Firefox, or … you get the idea.

Individuals who lead this sort of grass roots effort in the non-virtual world are called “community organizers.” In the early era of online communities, “community manager” might have been the right title. No longer. The work is now conducted online and offline simultaneously, blurred by technologies that mix virtual encounters with phone and face-to-face contact, for example, twittering one’s presence at an event, a party or a lunch, for example, or live calling during an acceptance speech or Inaugural address. The challenge of supporting and growing cadres of engaged contributors, users and advocates is far larger than the “manager of the community” title implies.

So let’s put a name to it. Some alternatives might include “community evangelist” (not my choice) or “online organizing guru” — the title used by Obama social networking leader Chris Hughes. I’d prefer “community marketing manager” (better) or “director of market growth” — the best I can think of right now.
What do you think? How would you define — and name — this complex and important role? Post your comments and suggestions below.
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