Have you heard the job title "Community Manager"? It's been around for a while, and often describes someone assigned to monitor a company's reputation on blogs, in social networks, and anywhere else that customers are discussing the firm, its products, its services, or its competitors.
What are the ideal characteristics of a community manager? In 2006, analyst Jeremiah Owyang described an effective community manager as "an odd looking being" with "big ears and eyes, and a small mouth."
It struck me upon reading this that it's also a pretty good description of a tarsier, the little beast pictured here.
- Big eyes: to watch consumer trends and behavior;
- Big ears: to listen to what customers are saying to each other; and
- Small mouth: to keep quiet when needed, resisting the urge to defend the company at every turn.
In fact, according to a book called Primates in Question, each of a tarsier's eyeballs is as large as its entire brain. Think about that as a metaphor for observing alumni and donors.
Specifically, think about how we interact with our alumni in social settings, in the real world and online. We can easily hold a normal conversation with an alumnus at a reception or dinner. We let them talk about themselves, we ask them questions, and we're ready with relevant items that might be of interest or utility to them.
Why is it so hard to do this online? We swoop down on Facebook Groups and Pages – and now LinkedIn discussions – and we don't listen. We bombard people with event announcements, save the dates, headlines, press releases and links to web pages. And then we email them all the same information, which is also on the web. People using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, our web page, RSS and email will hear the same information six different times in six different places. We wouldn't say the same thing six times in a row to someone at an event. Why do it online?
One answer to that question is that we're using the new online channels to deliver marketing the old fashioned way: yelling our message at people, to compete with other messages. This is necessary on television and radio, in print and on billboards, where we have to force information on people and hope they notice. But online we have their permission to communicate – they joined our group or gave us their email address. We should be able to share our information in a normal tone of voice, in the course of regular interaction. And like the tarsier we should mostly be quiet and just listen and look.
Owyang (who was an online community manager in industry) has useful pointers about the role of a community manager, and I think his guidelines apply to us in our everyday work. After all, don't we manage the relationships between our community members and the institution whose identity binds them to one another?