The line between social media management and community management can sometimes seem blurred. Most people can’t seem to tell the difference between the two. As a matter of fact, it's a surprise to most that the departments are separate, yet it feels as though they both deal in the same agenda.
The truth is the line between these two roles is quite thin. Both have similarities that would make their positions seem redundant, but they are indeed entirely different. The community manager is more inclined on relationships between customer and brand, while the social media manager is there to create exciting online content and presence on behalf of the brand.
To be able to differentiate clearly between these two roles, you would need to understand what the functions of each platform are:
- Brings together a group of people with a common objective
- Holds discussions towards a common goal or agenda
- Is a group of people, mostly under a common leader
- Interacts actively with each other about their common goal
Social media on the other hand:
- Is a group brought together by a social agenda
- Its content creator mainly initiates interaction or subject of conversation
- The conversation is primarily in the form of inquiry over an item or response to a question
Relationship-building vs. Strategic Marketing
So, who really is a community manager? A community manager is in charge of creating and nurturing relationships. They are responsible for advocating for the brand within the communities, both online and offline.
By building these relationships with members of the communities and nurturing passionate fans, the community manager directs the conversation to the objectives of the community and brand. A large part of the role is to make sure that members feel at home, and are comfortable enough to engage with each other.
The social media manager’s role can be more external-facing , identifying the various platforms based on audience profile, developing the right content to be consumed, and driving engagement/traffic as per the marketing goals of the brand. In short, they maximize the use of social media as a one-way communication channel, pushing owned content to the advantage of the brand.
A large part of their day revolves around content creation (such as videos, blog posts, memes) to help initiate conversation and keeping it going. Due to the variety of social platforms available, the use case of each can be different - ranging from customer service (i.e Twitter) to brand engagement (Instagram, Pinterest).
How long is your sales cycle?
As much as both departments share some similarities, they both engage the customers or potential clients, and they do it online, there is a key distinction that must be made. According to Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable , the use of social media or community platforms is dependent on the complexity of the product and length of the sales cycle.
For brands that have simple products and features (low complexity markets), there isn’t a need for deep relationships. Putting resources to build deeper relationships with customers doesn’t provide a high ROI especially if the product costs $25 or less.
However, when the product or service requires a complex decision-making cycle, the price is high and the customer needs quite a lot of information before they convert, then having a community platform makes sense. By facilitating the conversations between customers, they benefit in these peer-to-peer relationships as it helps make the buying decision easier and faster.
The roles of community manager and social media manager play an important part in the daily running of an integrated marketing strategy. They are both geared towards increasing the online and offline presence of the company.
And as relationship building matters in both complex and less complex purchasing decisions, it's balancing time, price sensitivity and reducing sales cycles being the key decision factors in choosing the right role. In B2B companies, the roles are clearly defined as the information needs, the amount of ongoing engagement and support is quite different than in B2C organizations.
It’s understandable as to why the roles can be blurred as communities are also social. However, community members engage with others in very different ways, moving beyond the social media platform both online or offline. The Community Manager will be more comparable to a member representative of an association - for example David Spinks of CMXHub. Conversely, the social media manager focuses on engagement on specific platforms as it relates to a product, service, company or interest.