The Case for Active Users as Social Media Community Managers

The Case For Active Users as Social Media Community Managers

I’ve really been thinking about this lately. I’m an advisor at Pacific New Media for a social media certificate program they are launching. They’ve had social media classes for several semesters and I’ve taught several classes. I start every class asking people to tell me what social networks they currently use. You’d be surprised at how often I hear “none.” This prompted me to suggest during one of the social media certificate advisory meetings,  that participants seeking a certificate MUST be willing to personally join the major social networks. While this seems like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised by how often companies who want to utilize social media choose someone to head the effort who never uses social media, or who use it rarely. 

But why is this important? 

Its not about using the tools, because that can be taught, learned or observed. Its more nuanced than that. Heavy social media users understand the culture and the subtexts of communicating via social media. Truly, social media communicators have their own language and its constantly evolving. What’s more, social media users are aware of trends and happenings in social media and this can prevent embarrassment or assist in times of crisis. 

Here’s an example: let’s say there is breaking news relevant to your brand or company. Your social media community manager isn’t at work or its after-hours. If they are already a social media user, chances ar they are personally active in the social media scene already. They can do things like pause auto-tweets, incorporate relevant hashtags as needed all without being told. If the person who is in charge of social media hasn’t made social media part of their life, this just may not occur to them. This is no small thing, I see several mistakes made in social media, like the faux-pas by the NRA during the Aurora shooting. Had that person been checking Twitter as they start their day (as many social media users do), they would have seen the activity and probably prevented the offending tweet. 

Here’s another example, during the recent tsunami warning in Hawaii, only one travel and tourism brand was active in the discussion: Starwood Hawaii .. I wouldn’t say their activity was massive, but at least there was a presence.  Travel and tourism in our state’s largest industry. Why was this?   Their social media community manager was on Twitter personally and sending a couple of messages relevant to the current emergency was just part of the thought process. That person didn’t do it because they were required, they didn’t do it because Starwood Hawaii has 24/7 social media, that person did it because they didn’t need to be told that there was a need. No one had to call and coach the person, I bet there wasn’t even a call from the PR staff at Starwood Hawaii. Understanding the subtext of the social media communication during that time made good judgment possible. Where was everybody else? Surely during emergencies like tsunami and hurricanes, people are preparing themselves and their families. But personal social media users wouldn’t think of NOT checking Twitter. I sat in my car, with Ipad plugged into the battery charger for almost 3 hours that night, not because it was my job, but because its part of my life. This probably isn’t the case for some of the other “community managers” for other organizations. They check into social media when they check into work and checkout after 5PM. But a social media user is plugged in during almost all waking hours. 

See, it isn’t about requiring 24/7 social media presence, its about making it part of their life. And with people who are heavy users of social media already, there is really very little incentive needed. Social media is part of our lives. We check our Twitter simultaneously with our email. We check out Twitter after dinner and before breakfast. Its the way we get our information. 

I’m often very grateful for my personal social media presence when consulting with businesses or organizations about their social media presence and structure. I can tell them things they didn’t know about their own presence, or lack there of. I can “listen” and “lurk” as a personal user that provides insight into the recommendations I make. I see things through the eyes of a user, not just a marketer, trainer or speaker. I can provide insight into the listening campaign or any other outward bound campaign. I probably already know what the competitor is doing and how its going. I might have participated and can give insight into some of the successes and challenges. 

Here’s the thing: it just doesn’t work to “make” someone be part of social media. They either do or they don’t. If they don’t, simply requiring it is a failure. And requiring someone to make social media part of their job simply because they are in  PR or marketing or sales isn’t reason enough. Social and digital communication requires some unique talents that aren’t necessarily part of a traditional PR, Marketing or sales role. That doesn’t mean those people aren’t great at their jobs, it just means that perhaps social media isn’t what they are great at doing. 

But personal social media users aren’t perfect either. The combination of mixing personal and professional in social media has its challenges too. Mistakes like the Chrysler F-bomb gaffe  or the American Red Cross rogue tweet happen BECAUSE the community managers are active personal users. How to prevent this? I have a simple solution: I suggest using Hootsuite for client tweets and EchoPhone for personal tweets. That prevents the slip of the thumb that makes these accidents possible. However, notice how in the case of the American Red Cross Tweet, the alcohol company named in the tweet was right on top of response and making a good example of encouraging donations to the organization. You can’t have that kind of response from someone who “has” to do social media as part of their job. That’s someone who handles social media because they are passionate about doing so. 

But is also underscores another key fact: simply being a personal user doesn’t an expert make. Judgement is something that can’t be taught, and its paramount in social media. Don’t just believe that because someone has a Twitter account, they should handle your business’ social media presence. Its just not enough. Don’t rely on a Klout score exclusively. Choose carefully, thoughtfully and strategically. If you don’t know how to find a good social media community manager, get on Twitter and start watching some of the brands you think are doing it right. Ask them for suggestions and resources for your own hiring. Connect with your local Social Media Club  and learn who the local and national leaders are. Leaders tend to know other leaders. They also tend to know who is passionate about doing social media right. 

In conclusion: It matters who you choose. And don’t choose someone who is less than passionate about social media communication. 

As a social media user, can you tell the difference between a social media manager who makes social media part of their life and someone who does it because its their job?