Managers of enterprise community portals — whether they are internal or external facing — are rarely in charge of a digital transformation project. But they are on the front lines of such changes and the first to feel, or rather hear about, the pain when things start to go awry. Which not only makes them the proverbial canary in the digital coal mine, so to speak, but also the first responder to a problem. For that reason “they have to be kept in the loop about what is happening,” said MyWorkDrive.com CMO Jackie Rednour-Bruckman. “They are responsible if a user base gets infuriated and blows up Twitter or is on the receiving end of employees’ complaints.”
Rednour-Bruckman would know. Community manager has been among the many hats she has worn throughout her career and she attests to the difficulty of the job — even in the best of times when there is not a major change underway. Community managers need to be tech savvy, but also enjoy people because the job can require a lot of hand holding, she said. “These are the folks that end their emails with a smiley emoji. They are the ones handing out chocolates.”
These helpful touches go into overdrive during a digital transformation, but that is the least of the community manager’s responsibilities during such a project. Above all else, a community manager needs to be proactive about letting the community know what is happening and what they can expect, Rednour-Bruckman said. They need to be able to provide exact dates and times when the system will be down, alternative methods that can be used to communicate, an escalation process if things really go awry and finally, what the system will look like after the change is made.
“The overarching goal is to keep the community productive during the change,” said Rednour-Bruckman.
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A Changing Role
If you don’t recognize this particular version of community manager — i.e. someone who takes charge of and guides a changing situation — that is because the evolution of the role is somewhat new. The community manager’s role has changed in scope and importance, going beyond just monitoring and responding to questions from fans, said Stevie Dove, VP, social & content marketing at Publicis.Sapient. “Today, we see this role as a critical resource for any brand, company or service that puts customers first, especially those with a digital-first business strategy.”
In short, they have become a strategic connector between a brand and the community of like-minded people they are trying to create or reach, he said. “They have the power to help move a customer closer to purchase at just the right moment, they have the power to win a customer back when they have had an unpleasant experience,” Dove said. And they also have the power to make or break a digital transformation project.
Related Article: Change Management: The Key to Successful Digital Transformations
Deeply Embedded in the Community
The most effective community managers are deeply embedded in their communities, whether it is an internal community of employees or an external community of customers or prospective influencers or partners, said Greg Perotto, VP of corporate marketing for Hootsuite. This is when the community manager assumes their digital “first responder” role because they are able to tap into not only the company’s resources to aid with a problem, but also address the problem before it becomes insurmountable. They also are an invaluable resource before a problem arises, Perotto continued. “They can talk with the community and ask what is on their minds. They ask what things they’re hoping will be accomplished through the digital transformation, whether it is create a better customer experience or remove unnecessary administrative tasks for employees or make things easier for future searches.”
Trust is integral to this relationship — there is nothing worse than a community manager that is outed or identified as nothing more than a mouthpiece for a brand, said Pete Sena, founder and CEO of Digital Surgeons. “The community manager understands the voice of the customer and its pain points. That is how they can add a tremendous level of insight to help improve the digital transformation.”
Not that the community manager is completely divorced from the brand, on the contrary, Sena said. “Today the role of the community manager is to be evangelist and advocate for both the brand and the customer. It is a difficult job and one that should be valued.”