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The Future of Community Management

If there’s one thing we’ve learned being the original social media marketing agency, it’s that nothing in our world stays the same for long. Our industry changes every day. So, when I was asked to share what the future of community management would be like, at first it felt like an impossible task.  How could I predict the future when the ground underneath is constantly shifting?

But, just as soon as I thought it impossible, I was reminded that the best indicators for the future behaviors are past behaviors. So, it’s not so impossible after all.

Are you feeling what I’m feeling?

Perhaps you are feeling the strife of defining “community management”, or trying to figure out where a discipline that touches so many areas of your business fits on your org chart. You’re not alone. #TheStruggleIsReal.

This is a pivotal time in the discipline of community management, and many brands are asking these very questions. Hopefully this glimpse into the future of community management will provide much-needed guidance on how to plan.

Let’s Get Grounded: What’s Community Management, Really?

We’re often asked the difference between community managers and social media managers. The two may often share responsibilities; the latter most often oversees all facets of a brand’s social media efforts, while a community manager approaches social media with the mindset of the customer first.

CMs work on behalf of brands to cultivate, nurture, and engage with consumers. That people-first mentality seeps into everything a CM does.

The role of a CM, as we know it today, really started in 2005, when the role was akin to “The Forum Moderator.” As social media was more widely accepted as a viable marketing  channel, the role of community manager evolved from to the “Jack of All Trades”, not only responsible for managing one-to-one customer engagement, but also an expert on all things strategic, operational, and tactical.

So, it’s no surprise that a roster of amorphous responsibilities led to the expansion of the CM discipline – and thus, CM teams were born and are now the norm.

CM teams will continue to grow in size, consisting of a team of teams. Each team will have experts dedicated to specific functions within community management, which may include a team of content producers, analysts, engagement specialists, and even non-human bots.

This team approach creates nimbler businesses that are making more decisions, faster, and are continually optimizing their audiences’ experiences.

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Community Managers of today are the future “Customer Experience” (CX) leaders of tomorrow

CMs have a full-circle view of a brand’s ecosystem, making their role a powerful one. This perspective enables CMs to find the real shared values between a brand and its customers. These insights help executives in ways that positively transform their business.

Why’s that? CM teams are on the front-lines with customers and prospects every day, gathering information and spotting trends. Meanwhile, they are also a part of business teams responsible for strategic decisions.

For example, CMs (both internal and external) may collaborate with Customer Service, Marketing, Communications, R&D, Digital, eCommerce teams. In fact, we’ve had several clients that have created new products, shifted marketing strategies, and changed messaging in traditional marketing all because of the insights CMs shared from the community.

Today, CM teams should sit at the cross-section of multiple functions. In the future, CM’s will help

pioneer the customer experience transformation of businesses, and take on leadership roles in this field.

The value of communities is clear and ROI models are consistently adopted

While it’s easy to see the value that community management brings to an organization, it’s still tough for many businesses to find the ROI. In the not-so-distant future, this won’t be the case.

It starts with an understanding that the sales “funnel” really isn’t a funnel anymore.

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Businesses will optimize sales, marketing, and other departments, around the customer lifecycle. With that, more organizations will adopt the “customer experience” mindset and redesign all the functions within their business to meet customers where they are in their journey.

As this happens, the value that each community brings in each stage of the life cycle will become clear, making KPIs and ROI easier to identify.

The deepest engagement will take place on new platforms

The social media networks that marketers often use today are going to stay a part of the community ecosystem, but they’re not likely to be the platforms where the deepest engagements will take place. (And yes! Engagements will still matter! But let’s talk about that in another post on another day.) The deepest interactions with customers will occur more and more in brand-sponsored/hosted hubs built for specific topics and or specific brand community platforms.

The future looks a lot like the pastAshlie 2

Ignite Social Media was started nearly a decade ago with the philosophy that social media is a cocktail party. That metaphor still rings true today, just as it will in the future.

People want to talk to brands, and they want those conversations to be authentic, transparent, relevant, and timely. It takes a skilled, empathetic, and business-savvy CM to make that happen. So, as long as people want to talk to your brand, CM teams will be there to help you listen.

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