Creative Commons License photo credit: Ross Griff

In my last article, I talked about the Community Manager job title and how it can mean a lot of different things to different people. I’d like to continue that discussion today by reflecting on another trend that I have noticed.

I am hearing about companies that have training programs for community managers – and many of them. They hire people, put them through a training program and, bam, you have a community manager. This seems to be in contrast to how many other management type positions are handled.

For example, you don’t really hear of companies hiring dozens of marketing managers and running them through “marketing manager training.” There are basic skills and expertise that are expected to apply for the role – the companies don’t train them in those basic skills.

I also have seen a number of community managers where it is their first official non-internship job. They interned somewhere for their last couple of years of college, graduated and now they are a community manager. Or, perhaps, they didn’t intern. They just graduated with a complementary degree and were hired fresh out of college.

I find this trend interesting and, in a way, exciting. Though, it is likely that some “community managers” are really social media marketers, it is a good thing for the profession and, it leads me to ask: has Community Manager become an entry level position?

I don’t think it is a question with a definitive answer. For some companies, it appears to be. For others, it probably isn’t. Given the confusion surrounding the job title, and the number of tasks that are being thrown into it that should really go to marketers or copywriters or someone else, just how much experience is needed is debatable. For some roles, depending on the responsibilities, it may not be entry level.

It may also be due to the fact that there often isn’t anyone under the community manager. There may sometimes be an assistant or a moderator or group of moderators, but I don’t know if you would call it common for those people to be even 30-40 hour a week employees.

If it is becoming entry level, where do the veterans of the space go, in order to advance in their careers? I have seen the title Senior Community Manager come up numerous times. Director of Community is another one and Director of Social Media seems like a natural path of career progression. Rarely, I have seen Vice President of Community or Social Media and Chief Community Officer (shout out to Bill Johnston, Director of Global Online Community at Dell, the first person I knew to hold the CCO title) and it would make sense for some community managers to move over to more senior marketing or communications based roles.

Though I enjoy being an entrepreneur and the freedom it affords, I occasionally look over interesting jobs that pop up and listen with interest to those who might offer me a role of sorts. And, to speak personally, I could not see myself accepting a community manager role, just because it would not be a step up for me – it would be a step down, based on how the role is generally viewed on the totem pole. It just isn’t seen as a high level role, which is the role that would be commensurate with my experience and would be worth leaving the entrepreneurial world for.

Is that for better or for worse? It depends on your perspective. If someone is thrown into the role of managing a large, active online community, including forums, that could be overwhelming to a person who has never been in the role before. If all they are doing is managing a Twitter profile, then it might be different. In any case, it can be dangerous to hand off the keys to your company’s social or community kingdom to someone who is not seasoned in the role. Experience can be beneficial, though it may not be required. Ideally, they’d at least be working with someone, perhaps the person above them at the company, that has that experience, that they can learn from.

With that in mind, I think there is no doubt that, as the profession is maturing, the idea of the community manager is changing and becoming more widespread. In the end, I think it is a good thing for all who inhabit it and that we should be careful to ensure that these roles stay focused on community and that they not become a mishmash of tasks best assigned to other departments. Community is important and it deserves focus.