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SXSWi Panel Recap: Humanizing Your Brand Through Effective Community Management

One of the first sessions I attended at SXSWi was “Structuring Community During Exponential Growth,” which featured community managers from Kickstarter, Airbnb and SoundCloud. This panel focused on the development of the community manager.

community management at SXSWiAs brands' communities begin to grow exponentially through their social presences, the role of the community manager has evolved drastically. Gone are the days when interns and admins used to manage company channels; now teams of 25+ work to create processes and strategies that will allow them to present their companies and values in a meaningful way online. The structures of these teams are under constant evolution and growth as new platforms and mediums arise in the social sphere. Customer service has now become fully integrated into online  strategy, and in many instances, entire new channels are created to manage the extreme wave of customer service needs coming in through social media. Project specialists have been developed to handle external and internal partnerships, and content creators, in many cases, now hold the keys to the kingdom in this new age where content is king.

While customer service and content virility have consistently topped the charts of the average community managers to-do list in recent years, Cindy Au, Head of Community at Kickstarter, noted that the new focus of her entire team is humanizing the brand through the company’s online presences. Storytelling is becoming increasingly important to encourage customers to personally connect to the brand. This personal connection is now what separates each brand from all the other noise online. Jenna Meister, Community Development at Airbnb, agreed enthusiastically, saying that their online strategy revolves around the individual stories of their hosts, not the brand – that is how they rise above the noise.

Brendan Codey, Community Evangelist at SoundCloud, stated that along with connecting externally to customers, his team has looked to bring those same stories internal. On a regular basis, they hold “Community Camp” in which non-community managers in the company spend half a day answering support tickets and monitoring the online presences. This allows them to see the fruits of their labor up close, interact with the people who are actually using their products, and see feedback on the consumer level.  

This idea of creating a two-way conversation between not only consumers and community mangers, but between consumers and the entire company, is crucial. Airbnb gave the example of an online community member directly impacting a new offering at the company during Hurricane Sandy. A local host tweeted at the brand that they would like to set up an area to host displaced New Yorkers. This idea was passed from the tweeter to the community manager to the strategy staff to the CEO, and within 24 hours they implemented her idea and partnered with the City of New York to expand the offering. This is just one of a thousand examples of communities aiding the companies they love with their next big idea.

The development of the community manager is a direct result of the development of the community. The online community of a brand is no longer one of just fans and customers, but one of collaborators. When structuring your community management team, take into account these advances and make sure that they are continuing. There should never be a community manager whose job description doesn’t change and evolve multiple times a year.  

(community management / shutterstock)

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