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Appreciating Community Managers from a PR Perspective
By: Mike Bush
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Last Monday was the 4th annual Community Manager Appreciation Day, and as part of the festivities, Altimeter Group Analyst Jeremiah Owyang identified the 5 most influential community managers. Seeing how my view of this new-fangled, social media-driven, fake-title-to-make-yourself-sound-important, PR-wanna-be employee is a little less than flattering, I reached out to the most influential community manager on the list asking for clarity, and Jenn Pedde was happy to oblige (after I promised that I’d be open minded).

***Seriously... where is Flack Appreciation Day??? Jeremiah Owyang? I’m looking at you to organize this. Lil Help????

Truth be told, I picked up quite a bit in our discussion, both in terms of where the job came from (hint: it’s older than Facebook) and in terms of how PR and Community Management can and should work together. Here are some of the highlights.

When I asked about the difference between customer service and community management, Jenn told me that while they’re inextricably linked, they do serve different purposes. Customer service departments focus on the pertinent pieces to the customer's experience, primarily from a reactive standpoint. On the other hand, a community manager is on the opposite of that and they're out there being proactive. She gave examples of different materials a brand can you put out that'll result in less phone calls/emails/complaints. The difference, as I came to see it, was that a good community manager can get in front of concerns, whereas, if someone has to call customer service, it’s possibly too late.

Which is all well and good, except that, from a PR perspective, the Community Manager is now empowered to be the voice of a brand... which, you know... is a major PR function. This is especially true in a crisis situation.

Territoriality aside though, Jenn made a great point about how Community Managers and PR folks can work together. Because of the frontline role played by community managers, they should have an insight into how customers may react to something, both positive and negative. Community Managers, like Flacks, are also often tasked with blogger outreach, which creates community externally & on specific non-branded subject matter. It’s possible that PR folks, tasked with creating the message, could gain from that insight. And while Pedde discussed how Community Managers tend to be a little less formal (I believe she implied Flacks are stodgy... but that’s only half true and half putting words in her mouth), there’s obvious benefits to being able to work together to craft a message for each party involved, from investors and the press through customers.

Isn’t that what Social Media is all about really, giving each person a voice, and in turn, making it necessary for companies to speak to each voice in their own native language?

This brings up an interesting point in the discussion. When asked about how community management became an actual function, Pedde pointed out that, contrary to my own limited scope of knowledge on the job, the role is actually NOT a new profession. She explains:

Community Management has been around for about 15-20 years and existed primarily in news & gaming.  Any type of message board, forum, or online chat (IRC, etc.) there were community managers, and still today these platforms are wildly used.  Apple, Google, Amazon are all huge examples of community via forums (though they do focus less on engagement with the exception of Apple and their Genius Bar which is a great example of offline community building/customer service).   

When asked what skills it takes to take on the role of Community Manager, Pedde said backgrounds of communications and event planning are invaluable. So is having a thick skin. (Yes, there’s obvious cross-over between the two positions).

Special thanks to Jenn for taking the time to do the interview. She’s got a book out now, which is a collection of advice from working community managers for some of the biggest brands and organizations to some of the cooler new startups on the scene. It touches on everything from how it benefits marketing or customer service, to advice on getting started in your first community gig. The book also includes predictions on where community will be in the future as well. You can download the e-book here: http://thecommunitymanager.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Community-Management-Ebook.pdf

If you’d like to know more about Jenn, here’s her bio:

Jenn Pedde is the Community Strategist at 2U, a higher education company that partners with universities such as Georgetown,University of Southern California, Washington University in St. Louis, American University, University of North Carolina, and most recently Semester Online.  She's a founder of TheCommunityManager.com and #cmgrchat, as well as an Adjunct Professor at Syracuse University on community management.   

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About the Author
Mike Bush is a PR and Marketing freelancer with more than a dozen years of experience in the field. Find him on and connect Twitter @mikebush or at www.mikebush.nyc. 
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