Social media invites all kinds of conversations, sharing and engagement. The “rules” about the social web could be described like this:

# 1.  There are no rules.

# 2.  See #1.

community management guidelines

Yet, while I am a fan of fewer don’ts than dos for the social web, some broad guidelines should apply — especially when it comes to community managers, who are the voice behind a brand or organization.

It comes down to this: from the outside, the community managers sharing on behalf of a brand are the brand.

Like it or not, the role of community manager comes with obligations. The bigger the community, the bigger the responsibilities to the community. This means that, depending on the situation, community managers might also be filling the role of nurse, teacher, police officer, helpful neighbor, mail carrier or ambulance driver. Really.

In other words, this is a position that requires humor, resourcefulness, grace, fast reflexes, patience and empathy. Because community managers are so visible (virtually, anyway) they are held to high standards. Their interactions get observed and assessed by all of their customers and other public audiences, such as media, investors, potential customers and so on. Their actions and responses are being watched by all of us, all the time. In this way, customer interactions through social media are totally different than in person, on the phone or through an email.

Recognition of this crucial link between community manager and brand reputation is growing, according to a 2013 study about community managers done by Social Fresh. The average age of folks with that title is increasing. It’s now in the 30s, the report by the social media training company found. The pay is rising, too. Average pay of community managers is almost $60,000 according to the data this study collected. (An infographic, which accompanies the report, appears at the bottom of this post.)

A real life example of what NOT to do

how to manage online community

The idea for this post has been brewing awhile, as I’ve witnessed community managers do amazingly helpful things [Among some others, these brands nail it: BufferDirect TV,TwylahSirius XMZapposChobani.]

Unfortunately, others have blown it. Here’s an example of what not to do.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I saw a frustrated Tweet from JD Andrews, who has incredible reach on the social web. He had Tweeted to American Airlines and wasn’t getting anywhere. Some of his 138,000 followers, who were watching the customer service donnybrook play out on Twitter, joined the conversation. Whoever was staffing the account started defending the Airline’s actions — to 620,000 followers and other folks in the virtual crowd on Twitter that had gathered to watch.

As you can see, from the series of reposted Tweets, below, there was a lot to watch.

social media management

community management best practices

Real Consequences

One of the many reasons social media is so powerful is that the data generated are so accessible and trackable. It’s possible to see who saw what, when. I used a great tool, Tweet Reach, to plug in American’s frequent flyer Twitter account and look at data on impressions during the exchange.

JD’s Tweets had twice the impressions of any other Twitter account in the time period this search spanned. Six out of ten impressions for the @AAdvantage Twitter handle were Tweets from JD’s account. And, as the screen shot of my TweetReach search shows, among the most ReTweeted Tweets is this one: “Customer Loyalty? None.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 1.08.15 PM


Ouch! That’s hardly the kind of impression any brand wants to display to its followers.

In this case, it seems the hope was that anyone following the incident would just forget the whole thing. What’s behind my hunch? Each of the Tweets related to the exchange was deleted that afternoon from American Airlines’ Twitter accounts.

Of course, on the Internet, nothing is truly deleted. Exhibit A: the Tweets included in this blog post. And, when Tweets resurface, after being sunk by a brand’s account, it tends to look worse than it did, initially. Teenagers could be forgiven for trying to cover their tracks after a cringe-worthy Twitter exchange. But, community managers for huge social accounts? Not so much.

Now, several fliers loyal to American Airlines have Tweeted and written blog posts that laud the airline and its staff for incredible responsiveness, offering examples of great customer service. That’s wonderful exposure for American. And it’s proof that it rocks community management — some of the time.

Still, the example here demonstrates that consistency across a brand’s community management matters, too.

This is especially true for a major brand that serves customers with issues that warrant attention outside of the 9 to 5 weekday. Yes, this example occurred over America’s Labor Day holiday — a long weekend. It’s no surprise many folks travel then. What’s more, the Twitter account for American Airlines has sent more than 290,000 tweets and has 620,000 followers. It’s not new to social media or its power and possibilities. Clearly, it should know that consistent, responsive and helpful community management is vital.

What follows is not a list of ironclad rules for community managers and brands. What they are is this:  recommendations, drawn from observations of what the best social brands tend to do, and also what they tend not to do. Some (maybe many) readers will disagree. I’ll welcome the discussion — especially if you can give an example to help illustrate the instance.

This list does expect high standards of the people behind a brand’s social presence. And that’s because they truly can enhance brand reputation. On the other hand, community managers who veer from these basic guidelines risk inflicting damage, instead.

Do this

  • Monitor very regularly
  • Converse
  • Follow members of community
  • Interact by ReTweeting, responding and showing some love
  • Show personality
  • Be friendly
  • Ask to talk offline or send a direct message, if need be. Or communicate by email
  • But, then aim to truly resolve the issue. If the request to go offline is just to shield exposure, this will backfire
  • Follow up and see if the question or problem remains
  • Ask if there is anything else that can be done that willl help
  • Thank customers

Not that

  • Delete messages (nothing ever dies on the Internet, plus it looks sneaky)
  • Be sarcastic
  • Ignore those who are asking you to solve a problem or help them
  • Use “corporate speak” that doesn’t directly address the issue
  • Be profane
  • Be defensive or whiney
  • Assume an intern can handle the job
  • Forget that millions of eyeballs are on you

Please comment or send me a Tweet if you think I’ve missed a couple or am being too picky. I won’t delete any (that aren’t spam) I promise!

Here’s an infographic that gives an interesting look at 2013 data about community managers, included in the report by Social Fresh.