How Over-Marketing Can Ruin Your Community Management

I’ve been a community manager for four years in two separate communities. And I’ve even been on the other side of community management for 12 years now as a member of Pearl Jam’s online message boards (as well as in their fan club – priority seats!).

Community management has been some of the richest and most rewarding work of my career, mainly because it never felt like work when I’d get a notification from one of my community members who was eager to offer his thoughts on software testing… or the latest Pearl Jam album.

As a community manager, I’ve had to leverage marketing tools to understand what content resonated best with our community. If something failed, for example, it showed in the click-through rates of our newsletter. If it was a success, I had to use metrics to figure out why, and then replicate the success.

On top of this, I’ve always had to be a marketer within the walls of my organization, both to justify my successes, explain the failures, and promote effective community management as a vital part of the organization.

In other words, as a community manager, I was constantly marketing the successes and failures of our community to my higher-ups. But here’s something that may surprise some of you – I never had to market to our users and customers. This is something all businesses and social media recruiters should consider as they start eyeing communities for marketing opportunities and begin hiring people to build their own.

The Differences Between Marketing and Community Management

Many organizations will lump community management in with their marketing department. That’s a mistake.

I still talk regularly on Skype with members of the communities I managed because I think of them as colleagues from these previous jobs, colleagues who made my working experience the most enjoyable I could have asked for. I’m not always too sure why they value my somewhat cynical, full-of-bad-jokes demeanor, but I’d like to think it’s because I kindled their already inherent passion for our products through listening, communicating effectively, and by not shoving marketing down their throats.

Community management may sit in your organization’s marketing department, but it couldn’t be more different from marketing in its execution. Social media recruiters that can’t realize this will lead their clients and employers to failure.

Defining and Leveraging Online Communities

Remember when I spoke about kindling an already inherent passion for products? You don’t need to shove marketing down the throats of people who are already in the palm of your hand!

Take Spiceworks, for example. They are the largest IT community in the world, boasting  a membership of over 2 million IT pros who call themselves “Spiceheads.” Some of these folks have started their own blogs and user groups, crowdsourced the Spiceworks mascot “SpiceRex,” and even tattooed their bodies with Spiceworks images (now that is dedication!).

Of course not every community member is going to be a fanboy. Some community members may actually be in your community because they’re irate about something. If that’s true, though, you’re still not going to market to this group; you’re going to do a whole lot of listening to identify the problems that brought them there in the first place. Does that sound like customer service? It is. Because that’s a huge part of community management.