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Claire Flanagan
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Community Managers: What They Do, Why You Need Them

With the emergence of social collaboration tools and the impact they have on employee and customer communities, community management has emerged in a critical role.

When I began my own journey in social collaboration a few years back, I heard that community managers were critical to the success of a company's community, yet I found very little practical advice. While I had extensive experience with communities of practice within my organization, I knew this space would challenge what I knew.

As recently as five months ago, I was on a mission to locate a good definition of "communities" and a companion definition for "community manager."

Finding a good solid definition of "communities" was hard to locate, although I found two that I liked: one is a conceptual diagram, and the other is a business definition.

Dion Hinchcliffe's illustration The Next Generation Enterprise: An Emerging Focus on Social Business Processes and Relationships conveys the interrelationship between an organization's internal and external communities, social media, and Enterprise 2.0 efforts in an overall social strategy.

But the most practical definition I've found is contained in Stan Garfield's "Communities Manifesto," a timeless definition focused on the business practice:

"Communities are groups of people who, for a specific subject, share a specialty, role, passion, interest, concern, or a set of problems. Community members deepen their understanding of the subject by interacting on an ongoing basis, asking and answering questions, sharing information, reusing good ideas, solving problems for one another, and developing new and better ways of doing things."

One of Hinchcliffe's blog posts describes the community manager as the "jack of all trades." In a later post, Hinchcliffe suggests the definition includes "functional oversight of social activity on a network to achieve objectives" such as "eliciting participation and knowledge sharing, managing the organization's community objectives, and providing support as well as the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the community itself."

Another definition worth checking out is one provided by industry analyst and former community manager Jeremiah Owyang. His "Four Tenets of the Community Manager" defines these tenants as "community advocation, brand ambassadorship, online communication skills, and product requirements gathering and improvements."

Connie Bensen is another individual worth following in this space. She blogs regularly on the topic of community management and recently evolved and updated her definition of the community manager.

Newly appointed community managers can now readily locate and connect with peers to learn, share, and advance their competency in this discipline.

Rachel Happe and Jim Storer founded the Community Roundtable a little over 18 months ago "to further the discipline of community management and provide practitioners a place to find peers, best practices, and resources to help them approach their day-to-day tasks." As Rachel is also writing columns for The BrainYard, I'll let her expand on the Community Roundtable and its incredible value for community managers.

The 2.0 Adoption Council, founded by Susan Scrupski, "is a member-driven peer forum of business and IT leaders from large organizations intent on sharing concrete experiences, examining business implications, learning from peers and creating and capturing value from the emergent, unstructured data associated with Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0." While members of this council are driving initiatives and programs, many are also community managers.

Finally, there are many industry conferences available now for the social media practitioner and community manager. UBM's own TechWeb brand just added a community management track at its November 2010 Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara conference.

There are probably a number of other community management definitions that exist. And if the debate on clarifying Enterprise 2.0 vs. Social Business is any indication, a year from now we still may not agree on a solid definition for community management.

But one thing is true. With the emergence of social collaboration tools and the impact they have on employee and customer communities, community management has emerged in a critical, vital role.

Yet how do we prepare new community managers for their role? What skills are required? What does a community manager do every day? And how can you measure a successful community?

These are the topics I hope to address and discover with your help in the coming monthly posts.

Claire Flanagan is a director of knowledge management and enterprise social collaboration and community strategy in CSC's Office of Innovation. Follow her on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are Claire's and do not reflect the views of her employer, nor do they reflect her employer's intentions, plans, or strategies.

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