A Community Manager and a Social Media Manager Walk into a Bar…

Specialization categories can be useful for practitioners within a field, but incomprehensible — if not outright silly — to clients unless there are clear differences in roles, responsibilities, capabilities and outcomes.

My favorite example of this comes from the episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “Homer vs. Dignity.” Homer and Marge are seeking financial advice from recurring business “suit” and jargon-slinging character Lindsey Naegle, who indignantly informs them,  “I’m a financial ‘planner,’ not a financial ‘consultant.'” 

 This week Rachel Happ posted a  very thorough and well-reasoned post on The Community Roundtable outlining the differences in roles and responsibilities between community managers and social media managers.

While I am not clear on what the practical applications of those definitions are other than job postings and departmental alignment, her analysis makes some important points about how organizations should approach their social marketing engagement model based on the program’s business objectives  and the type of product/service/transaction/issue they address.

“In low complexity markets and use cases (think Sharpie pens) the focus is on social media because the relationships desired between Newell Rubbermaid and Sharpie customers does not need to be that deep – and the business model cannot support deep relationship development (i.e. spending hundreds on developing a relationship with a customer who buys $25 worth of products doesn’t make much sense).  The goal is providing infrastructure and management that drives awareness and a sense of connection to the brand with tens of thousands or millions of customers.  Furthermore, proactively connecting customers with other customers doesn’t do much for Newell Rubbermaid because customers don’t need deep references from other customers to make the decision to purchase or to use the product itself. This example is managed by someone who aggregates UGC, publishes content, and responds to people talking about Sharpie – either on the site itself or on a public social network.

“In high complexity markets or use cases, communities make more sense. If the decision-making process is complex and long to reach a conversion, customers benefit greatly by interacting and building relationships with other customers – as well as getting introduced to affiliated product and service providers who can help them maximize their value.  Adobe’s design tool communities are a good example of this – customers help each other maximize the use of the tool, creating better adoption and affiliation. Because the price point of the product is higher, the business model can support richer relationship development.  These communities are managed by people who are connecting members to each other and to relevant content but may be doing very little content creation themselves.”

So unless a community manager gets paid more than a social media manager, or vice versa, the title is only important as an indicator of the core skills and responsibilities required to address the specific marketing and communications objectives.

In Rachel’s useful formulation:

Social Media Manager:

  • Content Creation  (Blogging/vlogging/podcasting) designed to spur conversation/viral sharing
  • Responding to conversations about the brand and the content
  • Ensuring input/feedback gets channeled to the appropriate internal functional group
  • Curating and promoting UGC
  • Managing tools – mostly social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) and blogs
  • Reporting/measurement
  • Planning and developing strategies for increasing engagement and conversion

Community Manger:

  • Welcoming members to the community & acclimating [sic] them
  • Building relationships with key members of the community and influencers
  • Moderating conversation and encouraging specific topics
  • Promoting members, making introductions to other members, and encouraging relationship formation
  • Running regular programming/content/events
  • Finding internal resources to respond to specific community discussions and coordinating cross-functional needs
  • Enforcing guidelines/boundaries
  • Managing tools – might be a combination of enterprise & social networks (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc)
  • Reporting/measurement
  • Channeling input and response from community into other organizational processes
  • Planning and developing strategies for increasing engagement and conversion


  1. Thanks for highlighting my post on social media/community management. I believe – from an operational perspective – there are some big ramifications to this difference. For one, the propriety technology on one’s own website is likely to be different. For social media, it’s likely to be blogs, ratings, reviews, tie-ins to social networks. For a community manager, they are more likely to have a technology like Jive, LiveWorld, Telligent, Lithium, etc. deployed and members are more likely to have to log in. And technology is just the start – processes, metrics, policies, content, and resource needs are all a bit different making the operational/cost/resource profile look quite a bit different.

    I don’t have the break down exactly right and I’m sure it will evolve over time but I think as companies think of executing and growing their initiatives, it’s helpful to understand what their operational profile will be.

    • shatterboxvox says:

      Thank you for making time to respond and expand on your original post. I absolutely agree, and my use of the term “social marketing engagement model” was intended as an umbrella for operational plans and platform choices companies make based on their markets and objectives.

      Respectfully, the issue I had with your original post was the way it was structured. It seemed like your excellent analysis of the differences between high complexity and low complexity markets, and their operational implications, served as an elaborate explanation of the differences between two related and frequently conflated roles/titles. To me, the power of your analysis derived from your clear explanation of differentiation based on the underlying business needs and engagement dynamics; applying it to support semantic distinctions dampened the impact somewhat.

      Thanks again for contacting me, and I look forward to reading more of your insights on community management.

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