Interviewing for a community manager role? Ask these 5 questions

There’s increasing concern that being a Community manager is a dead end career. Good. I’ll be honest- I have yet to work for an organization (Brand or Agency) that has a clear career path for this role. (Marketing leaders pause here and let that sink in…)

The hard fact is: often as a community manager you’re supposed to have CMO-level care for the brand’s reputation and COO-level preoccupation with ensuring your work provides value, without any reciprocal loyalty to you to ensure you’re growing. (Some brands bypass the community manager role entirely-outsourcing it to staffing agencies- where there’s even less opportunity for community managers to grow. Run away from those positions)

Rather than treasuring these individuals who have their fingers on the pulse of their brands, community managers are seen as expendable roles- to be tested out at the whim of the department but never rallied behind or invested in. This is in strong contrast to creative, content, PR and digital campaign roles. Moreover, even if a community manager finds themselves in a department that does value them there’s still a high likelihood that their boss doesn’t fully get what they do and instead sees the role as a “whew I no longer need to think about social media” bucket. That’s not a recipe for career development.

This means two things:

  • Upward momentum in community management requires more self advocacy than the average junior marketing role
  • Community managers need to be more choosey about their marketing departments and the roles they take.

(Marketing leaders – pause here again and digest what I’m saying. This is not an okay status quo for people on your team. I challenge you to take your community manager out to coffee this week and ask them where they honestly see themselves in 2 years.)

So what’s a budding community manager to do?

Here’s the thing. With the right mindset and the right team, a community manager role can be an incredible opportunity for learning and fast tracking ones’ career. But doing so requires a very hands-on DIY approach. I go into the mindset in my post on creating your resume here.

When you’re evaluating whether or not to accept a role here are 5 questions to ask during your interview to figure out if the department has room for career growth:

Do you notice some commonalities here? A few key takeaways:

  • In 2019 it should not be the role of a community manager to be an agent of digital transformation to drive an organization forward.
  • Your manager should take the time to educate themselves as they put together the job description on the appropriate roles and responsibilities of a community manager.
  • Your team should feel the need for this role and it should not be up to you to make the case to them.

As a community manager, growth occurs from being asked to provide campaign briefs, presenting data, collaborating on content strategy, and being party to overall marketing strategy sessions. If you’re walled off from this by a manager who doesn’t understand what they’re actually asking you to do or a team that is skeptical of digital transformation, no amount of free food, trendy office or happy hours will substitute for the career growth you’ll be passing up. In the immortal words of Monty Python- Run Away!

A community manager’s guide to applying to big brands, startups and agencies

So you’re an experienced community manager on the job market. But a few searches in and I’m sure you’ve spotted the trend- agency, startup, brand, startup , startup, agency. The job titles might be the same but differences can range from what hiring managers are actually looking for to opportunities for mentorship and advancement. In this post I go through the basic differences based on my experiences working for multiple versions of all three.

Enterprise- the big brands!

Examples: Microsoft, Disney, McDonalds

What you need to know-

Big brands are BIG. As a marketer you’ll be working on a piece of a much larger marketing plan within a matrixed organization. Be sure you understand where the role you’re applying to fits within that organization. Words you should know: “Market”- that refers to a particular target market (e.g. Federal, European) this typically means you’ll be closer to on-the-ground sales teams vs “Corporate Team” – often this refers to the team that handles overall Brand strategy. Your job satisfaction and career prospects will be most connected to your team, your direct manager and how much power they have within the company.

What the hiring manager wants to see:

  • Patience- particularly if your resume shows you’re coming from fast-paced environments. Everything takes longer at the enterprise level and particularly for someone in social media, it can be maddening. The hiring manager needs to know that you’ll stick around when it’s been 6 months and you’re still trying to get a PO approved to launch paid ads on Facebook.
  • Team-oriented- Enterprises revolve around teams. Be prepared to highlight instances where you’ve contributed to a team win. Think about what you bring to a team that adds to its’ strength. In my case, I’ve found that my variety of experience across different types of organizations means I can bring a comparative perspective that many of my colleagues don’t have.

Is it the right fit for you?

It’s all a matter of trade offs. Big brands can do more because they have bigger budgets AND aren’t trying to accomplish an acquisition or IPO strategy. But they’re going to have established bureaucracy which means they move slow and will be hesitant to adopt new trends. For some community managers the shift from relative autonomy in a prior role to being (let’s be honest here) a cog just isn’t the right fit.

If that’s the case for you- embrace it! And don’t waste your time going after big brand jobs.

The ultimate test:

Here’s what a win looks like in a big brand- they are small. If you can look at a program piece and get a sense of accomplishment knowing you helped make that happen- then you you should absolutely apply

Agencies

Examples: Havas, Oglivy, Edelman, 360i

What you need to know:

They come in many flavors. Large and small. Marketing, PR, Advertising (although those lines are all but gone in practice- the client base will be different.)Creative “shops”, influencer matchmakers and whatever other flavor of the month is out there. Here’s the thing about agencies:

No one really loves their agency (other than the founders). It’s an often thankless and high pressure job. Brands can be touchy about disclosing that they don’t manage their own social. Agency life is a bit even crazier right now because their prior models are coming under assault. Brands are trying to figure out what that should do in-house versus and agencies are also trying to figure out what they actually sell.

But agency experience or some version is a good investment of a year or two of your career. many enterprise job descriptions say “agency experience a plus”. You’ll get to work on major campaigns, you’ll also get experience connecting your activity to clear deliverables. I’ve found that to be invaluable. You’ll get the chance to understand how agencies work which can be very useful if you get on the brand side. I’ve gone back and forth a few times and have acted as an interpreter. Lastly, you can get exposure to a wide variety of skills. It’s thanks to agency work that I learned about advertising, creative strategy and project management.

What the hiring manager wants to see:

  • Dedication– agencies have to get it right. So you need to be someone who triple checks your work and is willing to stay late to get a deck just right.
  • Latest skills– agencies particularly right now are in an arms race with each other and in-house teams. They look to new talent to give them the edge. Know the latest trends and be able to tie them into activities you’ve done.

Is it the right fit for you?

If you’re looking for clear cut hours and recognition then no. And again- both of those desires are fine- in my last job search I ruled out agencies because I just didn’t want that lifestyle.

The ultimate test:

Here’s what an agency win most often looks like- a begrudging email from your client that gets forwarded around by agency management with the headline “how can we leverage this to expand our contract next year?” (A good team leader will give you a high-five as you head into the conference room for your brainstorm)

Tech Start-up:

Many of the jobs out there will be for startups. They can be attractive early in your career because they often care less about experience and more about passion.

What the hiring manager wants to see:

  • You have “it” Knowledge on your resume will get you in the door but once in an interview 90% is going to be culture fit. Read up on the brand’s backstory- know what the founder believes they’re disrupting.
  • Dedication to the “mission”– go through your resume and figure out how you’ll be able to help with the startup’s prime directive. Be very careful to get this right – once I Interviewed a candidate who went off on a ramble about how they didn’t approve of big brands – not realizing (I assume) that those brands were the clients of the startup. The startup wanted to disrupt them -not end them!

Is this the right fit for you?

A startup marketing role is great for experiencing how marketing connects with other areas of a business. As a strategist I learned a ton that gas benefited me in future roles. A startup is a place to practice what you know- there won’t be time (or room) for genuine professional growth. So if you’re clearly on a career path in a marketing specialization such as content marketing, paid advertising, internal comms- think hard about that trade off.

The ultimate test:

In startup land “wins” are whatever the founder seems them to be. You can be at the top of the world one day only to plunge into the abyss the next. So it has to be about something more than just a job. Those who succeed in startup land have something else keeping them- whether it’s your team, the “culture”, belief in the mission. If it’s just about the position- don’t do it. Chances are the job will change before your first day and then again on your second.

In Conclusion:

I hope this has been a helpful overview of the industry. When you’re in job search mode it’s all too tempting to get desperate and apply to anything that looks like a fit. It’s tough to decide you’re not going to apply to a particular group of positions. But it’s worth it. Realizing what you’re actually looking for will only strengthen how you position yourself in the market. And that’s what will ultimately get you that offer.

Next time I’ll go into what every community managers should look for in a prospective marketing team (the good and the bad). Be sure to check out the first post in this series- 5 tips for standing out from the community manager applicant crowd .

Rediscovering my voice

I took the latter half of 2017 off from blogging. Not because I didn’t want to write- quite the opposite. It’s that I couldn’t figure out how to communicate what I wanted to say through the persona that I’ve created for myself. I’ve felt fundamentally stuck.

And I don’t think I’m alone nor that it’s just a function of social media. The 2016 election and 2017 fall out has ruptured the pseudo-belief that we could (and should) have a separation between our work selves and “personal” [read: political] selves . (Others went further and said that there IS no separation- most notably the google-glassholes and brogrammers.)

We created empty personas for ourselves- using motivational quotes and stories as substitutes for actual authenticity. The rise of livestreaming led to an additional level of pseudo-transparency. “Look”, the self-proclaimed motivational speaker states, “This is what my day-to-day live looks like. If I can do it, so can you!” And yes they get followers and build up fan bases- because that’s what we do as humans- we look for opportunities to connect particularly with charismatic individuals.

So this new breed of thought-leader/motivational speaker began to write books and get speaking gigs, all coining their various branded hashtags and “communities”. And we let them do it- in fact we supported them.

But did you ever take a moment to look at them? I mean really look at them? Notice any similarities?

Yep.

But we couldn’t talk about it. Just like we couldn’t talk about the fact that “diversity panels” tended to be led by men or the fact that a celebration of women in leadership turned into a carefully cordoned off “women’s lunch”- where men feared to tread.

The BIG no-no was calling out the lack of diversity in speaker line-ups and influencer lists. “Women just aren’t interested” was the line. Heaven-forbid there be any type of systematic bias.

But there was. And there is.

I could go on and on but I won’t- there are already some excellent articles documenting the barriers women and minorities face in the “thought leadership field”.

My point is that these are the issues I didn’t know how to raise on social and my blog. Like women in other industries have written, I too worried that I’d be labeled as “difficult to work with” which could be a death knell to advancement in our very relationship-based industry.

So I set up guardrails. My Twitter account and blog would be for social media and marketing related content. On Facebook I used lists to limit visibility to posts containing personal opinions to non-work contacts. Over the years I made two exceptions: Ferguson (during which I lost a lot of Twitter followers due to my retweets) and marriage equality. But when you look at the blog posts I wrote about both (here and here) you can see how I threaded the needle.

Then Trump got elected and everything changed. Really it had been building up over the summer of 2016. That’s when many of my marketing “friends” wrote posts on Facebook saying that they were unfollowing (in some cases unfriending) anyone talking about politics or the election. (I had quite the blog post written about that on my phone which I never posted.)

It hit me how much I let others dictate what I talked about and how I talked about it. It also struck me that I was enabling this to continue by teaching others how to selectively wall off the parts of themselves that might make others uncomfortable in the creation of their own “pseudo” personal brands.

I came to realize that I’ve long operated according to the rules of another’s dream: to have a space free from uncomfortable personal issues- such as gender, race, culture, politics, immigration status, maternity/paternity, age- all of those things that startups allude to when their “well we didn’t have HR excuse”.

I don’t exactly know where I go on to from here. I don’t quite have a strategy- which for me is rather disconcerting. But I do know that I do others a disservice by not sharing my truth and by failing to speak up.  Let me be clear- speaking up does not have to mean shouting or condemning. Rather it is adding an additional point of view to the conversation and insisting that it get equal treatment.

This, then, is what I’m going to be devoting 2018 on this blog to. I’ll be discussing how we have conversations with each other online and offline. How we ensure that all voices are brought equally into the conversation. If that’s something that you’re interested in as well then I invite you to follow along and share your thoughts.

And finally a special thanks to my community who has stood alongside me since this blog’s beginning back in 2013. This blog has always been a place for me to try to put the various pieces of my reality together and pull together what that means for me as a professional. This is where with your support I believe I first came into my own as a social strategist. It seems fitting that this is where I take the first stab at articulating my next steps.

If you enjoyed the POV of this post then definitely stay tuned….

Why Community Strategy Matters

Organic reach on social media is an incredibly competitive space, leading some marketers to pronounce it to be basically dead. Those who are more optimistic spend time talking about tactics that brands should be leveraging- from influencer marketing to employee advocacy.

But I’d like to suggest something a bit different. Organic reach in its original free-for all form is indeed mostly dead. Yet this does not necessitate the turn to a paid-centric approach. Rather, the introduction of the algorithm signaled a new era in Organic reach rewarding community-centered content and social strategies.

In this space, platforms filter posts according to a complex algorithm which takes into account the reception of a post by a user’s network to decide whether to serve it to the user. The 2016 US presidential election brought these filtered out “bubbles” into sharp relief. People went onto Facebook believing they were getting an accurate sample of their network’s views when, instead, they were receiving pre-filtered views through the algorithm. (This led KIND snacks to create a “Pop Your Bubble” App  which connects you to 10 people on Facebook with different opinions than your own.) Regardless of the pushback, however, Facebook knows that it’s doing something right. It just hit the 2B user mark and Instagram which also debuted an algorithm last year, is now at 700M users. Most significantly, this past July Google entered the personalized algorithm fray with the introduction of personalized search results based on your interaction with various Alphabet properties.

Social Influencers represent another key group of actors in the organic Community-focused approach. Influencers derive their power from cultivating a strong follower-base and building a unique community. They are driven by the desire to set themselves apart for personal branding purposes and building power niche audiences- such as black vegan bloggers– that brands can appeal to. Influencers work to get their communities to engage with them, which in turn sends a powerful signal to the platform algorithm to continue to deliver the same type of content to those users. Influencers + Algorithm means that suddenly, there could be a whole dedicated group of social media users engaged with the #BlackVeganBlogger hashtags.

Brands embarking on an organic community strategy should assess all of the niche communities that relate to their messaging/product. Every piece of content, and corresponding social posts, should be created with the goal of generating interaction with one of those communities. For example, a brand selling Kale Chips could market to: Black Vegan Bloggers, Mom Vegan Bloggers, Urban Vegan Bloggers, LGBT Vegan Bloggers, Parent Vegan Bloggers, College Student Vegan Bloggers, you get the point- right? Content highlighting these niche communities tends to get shared more simply because it’s less common. This tactic is first and foremost about making sure that your content is geared to speak to target communities with the aim of getting picked up and re-shared.

According to this model, tactics such as influencer marketing and employee advocacy are part of a larger overall community-strategy geared towards increasing social media organic reach. It follows therefore, that the smallest unit of social media marketing is not the influencer or the individual. Rather it’s the niche community through which social media marketing derives relevance.

 

 

 

Musings on Leadership & Influence

Many years ago I gave a talk on being a leader to a group of undergraduates who were in a leadership program a top 10 university. One of them asked me, in that adorably naive way of type A super honor students, how they could get people to follow them as leaders. It was one of those out of sync moments where I had to do a few mental steps to keep myself from laughing out loud at such a superiorly entitled question. When I finally responded I’m sure my answer was a bit of a disappointment- “You’re a leader when others call you that, not before. Leadership is earned.” I’m sure many were puzzled, if respect mattered so much then what in the end, was the use of the elite university program that they were enrolled in? Thankfully no one actually asked me that question- I was, after all, a guest speaker of said program!

Leadership, like influence, is a concept that cannot be defined in a vacuum. Simply listing “Leader” or, for that matter, “Influencer” on a resume without any context is a misnomer. Identifying leaders or influencers should begin with an assessment of community and/or organizational strength. In a democratic system people choose who they are led and influenced by. That’s why communities and healthy organizations are the bell-weathers of true leaders and influencers. Brute strength and force can accomplish only so much- as Travis Kalanick found out to his chagrin.

It’s for this reason that influencer marketing is such a fickle game. The big money is invested in the celebrity influencers but, with a few exceptions, their fleeting popularity is a numbers game with little community to support it.

Influencer marketing is appealing to brands because of its root in human psychology. We listen to certain key people in our lives and trust them when we make purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, the conflation of influencer with celebrity means that more often than not these are not the people being recruited by brands for influencer campaigns. People may be amused by Kim Kardashian and click “Like” but that must not be mistaken for an act of trust. And it’s trust that gets your community to take measurable actions such as supporting a cause, downloading an app (and using it), or making a purchase.

Until brands and agencies alter their approach to influencer marketing- trading in the “Insta-famous” to a verifiable multi-variate analysis- they will consistently fall short of their potential. Influencers can and should be held to a clearly defined return on investment. But it first starts with turning the process of identification upside down and starting with the community not the persona.

 

A post about baseball

So I warned you that this 31 day challenge might take all sorts of twists and turns. Here it is Day 3 and I’m already going to do a random post about baseball. But honestly I really love it. The funny thing is that this is a love that I really found in my mid- 20s.

I went to games as a social thing when I was growing up but the game didn’t really interest me. Of course it didn’t help that the closest stadium was Dodger stadium and we sat in the nose bleed seats- you’re so far up it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. ( I remember going to my first Angel’s game as a teenager and feeling like I’d never been to a game before! BUT I digress.)

Then my husband’s family introduced me to the Washington Nationals. I went to my first Nats game in 2008 and they were awful. I mean just TERRIBLE. But that first game I could sense the love of the fanbase for their team. In the 5th inning the announcer calls on all the fans to “Stand and pledge your allegiance to your Washington nationals by waiving your cap”. My sarcastic self who wouldn’t be caught dead in such a public show of group activity looked around shocked to see jaded Washingtonians, some still in their work gear leaping up to wave their red hat in the air in time to the music. I was hooked. Of course it took several years before I too would jump up and waive my cap- old habits die hard- but in that moment, deep down I knew that it was only a matter of time.

There’s something wonderfully simple about being a baseball fan. From Spring training in March to the Postseason in October you have a ready topic of conversation. Being a fan is full of ups and downs and if you’re familiar with the Nats you know that I’ve had my share in the past few years! But we share them together as a community.

Over the past 9 years I’ve been to countless games and have many fond memories. When I moved away from DC several years ago I kept my connection to the community intact through my Nats fan girl Twitter account where I do some gentle trolling and fan-spamming with the best of them.

Recently I’ve also started reading books about baseball history as well. This was a big step for me since moving into reading about the game in general and other teams gets you passed the “yeah I watch games” to “OMG I LOVE baseball”. But really it was more of admitting what everyone already knew. A few I’d recommend (because I’m sure you’ll ask)

Learning to be a baseball fan has taught me some very valuable lessons. I’ve learned that there’s always another game- even if you have to wait until spring training for it, that everyone’s replaceable and a trade that feels like the end of the world can end up being the best thing for the club. I’ve seen first hand the importance of leadership and how certain people can be great players but not-so-great coaches. Ultimately I’ve seen that there’s a value to team culture- when the clubhouse is humming then things are going to be good on the field but when there’s bad blood, which you can sense as a fan, then no matter how talented your players, it’s all going to fall apart.

The point of this post isn’t to convert you to liking baseball- many people say it’s too slow or they just don’t get it and that’s fine. I, for one, am completely at a loss to understand American football (and no- that’s not an invitation to try to explain it to me- I’ve made my peace with this). Rather it’s to reflect on what a simple hobby with no practical value has given to me when it comes to insights in leadership and human nature.

Sometimes I worry that in the hustle-focused culture particularly in the tech industry, we can forget about the importance of having these types of simple experiences- like watching a baseball game. There’s so much more to life than the daily grind. The truth is, being a baseball fan has made me a more well rounded person. And yes, if you’re sitting next to me at a game I will proudly be participating in all the chants, hat waiving, jumping up and down and various other traditions that being a fan entails. I’m Suzie and I love baseball.

 

Day 1: Looking for the Right Words

Words have power. Enormous incredible power.  The right words in the right tone at the right moment can make all the difference. Something that I’ve been increasingly fascinated by is how this power gets translated into the online medium.

In this 31 day writing blitz I’ve said that I’ll reveal various bits of backstory about the Girl with the Red Hair. Well one of the things that many of you might not know about me is that my second language is American Sign Language. I went to a public high school that had a special program to teach sign language and integrated deaf students and interpreters into our classes.

Learning ASL made me think about all of the aspects of communication that I take for granted. So much goes into auditory signals- from tone of voice to pattern of speech- there’s so much additional context that gets added. In ASL all of this must be replaced by body language and visual cues- and that can lead some some gaps in translation.

My third year of sign, I started feeling like my teacher had something against me and I asked her if everything was ok. She said that it was nothing personal but she felt like I was constantly yelling at her because of the intensity with which I was signing. She said that she knew that I was a passionate and expressive person but that I needed to figure out how to moderate that when I signed. For the digital age the equivalent was as if I was typing in all caps constantly. I think back to that occasion often. I had no way of knowing that the words I was communicating were being perceived in such a different manner.

In ASL the auditory context has been replaced by body language. Training to become an interpreter includes how to translate auditory context such as tone of voice. But there’s no such analogue for the digital age- and what we’re trying to replace is much larger.  Sure there are emojis 🙁 , CAPSLOCK, underlining for emphasis, but still much is lost in translation. And this can have major consequences. I’ve been at several organizations now that have encouraged collaboration via text or chat tools, the problem is that when you have high stress situations you really need that tone of voice or knowing grin to mitigate harsh words.

ASL has rules and I think we need some for the digital age of communication. We need to be aware that long conversations occurring only via chat are at serious risk of misinterpretation. So care must be given to the word we choose to use in these communiques. The irony of course is that chat tools are there to increase productivity at organizations- designed to replace the need for long phone calls or even emails. They are meant to be short-form. But in the desire to streamline you risk loosing a whole lot of context- and really the humanity is all in the context. That’s what separates us from a chatbot.

Hmmmmm…. 

Okay so that was the post for Day 1. I think I said what I meant to say but it seems a bit preachy at the end. Doesn’t help that I’m finishing it up from the back of a car en route to a minor league Cyclones Game with my in-laws! But that’s the point of this exercise- to get myself writing out my thoughts with as little filter as is possible. So… I’m going to hit publish. 

Until tomorrow….