I was talking to Jennifer Sable Lopez, Director of Community at Moz, yesterday and I was reminded of a trend of articles that I’ve noticed, about community management. Essentially, they could all be titled:

I’m a Marketer, Who Has Never Worked as a Community Manager: Here is What a Community Manager Is and Does

Because that’s what they are. I’ll see an article talking about what a community manager is and what they should do and I’ll read it and will feel like most of it is poor advice or an inaccurate representation of the role. Then I’ll look at who wrote it and I’ll pull up their LinkedIn profile and, sure enough, they’ve almost never worked in community and they are usually a marketer of some kind. In motivation, if not in job title.

They offer advice that is, at best, suspect. Most veteran community managers would know to ignore it, but the problem is the new people don’t know any better and because the person may be a veteran in their field (not community management) and have an audience, they may take the article as gospel and hurt their understanding of the role. This is bad for everyone.

It’s nothing against marketers, some of my best friends are marketers. It just begs the question: Why are you defining a role you do not have any experience in?

It might be a symptom of the disease of having to appear as an expert of everything. A lot of people don’t want to be like Liam Neeson in the movie Taken, they don’t want to say they have a very particular set of skills, they want to be thought of as being an expert in everything. Marketing, social media, mobile, community, communications, etc. And because they may have experience in one area, they are given the opportunity to write about other areas, with an audience, and to influence how people think of that role. It’s problematic.

Another disconnect is possible with people who hire for the role. Just because you may hire for the role does not necessarily mean that you are in a position to dispense authoritative advice on what it entails. I mean, within your organization, you can call it whatever you want. I’ve seen community manager jobs that required email marketing experience, search marketing experience, but no community experience. The job description laid out basically a marketing manager role that was titled community manager. But outside of your organization, you should be more careful.

If you gloss over this article, you might think I am saying that I don’t want to hear opinions on the community manager role from non-community managers or that I don’t want thoughts from people “outside the box” that might change the role. That’s not true at all. I want people to write about the community manager role. Even those who have no experience with it. For people to have ideas, theories, suggestions and thoughts. I just want them to be presented as ideas, theories, suggestions and thoughts, not as definitive, authoritative statements on what the community manager role is.

Jennifer was tweeting types of blog posts that lacked credibility. “How to be a Community Manager, Because I Worked With One Once,” was one of them. That sums it up pretty well. It’s the difference between:

  1. Here is What All Good Community Managers Must Do
  2. What I Learned from Working with a Community Manager

The narrative is totally different between these two posts. The first is authoritative, last word type stuff. The second is experience based, which is totally fine. If you have experiences, share them, but keep it in perspective.

Obviously, I can’t restrict anyone from having an opinion. I’m not trying to stifle anyone, just suggesting that you consider the experience that you have and the type of advice that it enables you to provide.

If you’ve managed online communities for a while, especially if you’ve had some success, knock yourself out. If you’re new or getting started, write from that perspective and share what you are learning and the challenges you are facing. If you have never done it, write like it. Share opinions, say what is on your mind, push the envelope if you want, but most importantly, share your experiences, allow them to guide you and be honest with yourself when it comes to being authoritative.