With Community Manager Appreciation Day this past Monday, there has been great conversation trying to demystify the all-too-vague job description of community manager. This is exactly what we need! Why? Well, no one seems to know:

How much cash should community managers make?

How much experience should community managers have?

Do all community managers need to use social media?

We need definition. If for no other reason, let’s avoid awkward family conversations where you need to explain, again, to your parents that you don’t do advertising.

A Community Manager Is

Note: The job for someone managing a private community or an offline community may look tactically different than what I’m describing, but the strategies are similar.

Cruise Director

Community managers love the hell out of their brands. They enthusiastically serve as the public face for their companies and get others excited about the brand, but without getting too drunk on their own Koolaid so they continue to advocate for the community internally.

Help Desk

Community management is customer service. In my job interview I said I knew how to deal with “that guy” and angry customers because I waited tables throughout college. (That instinct of genuinely seeming like you’re sorry when you apologize is immediately honed by accidentally tossing Pepsi all over some guy’s lap.) Community managers use social media monitoring tools to observe relevant conversations on Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc. Community managers respond to complaints on social media and probably run the [email protected] email account. A great community manager knows how to deal with an angry customer and turn the conversation into informative feedback on the product.

Teacher

Community managers teach their community members how to make the most of their product. Sell running shoes? A community manager would teach the community how to be better runners, providing nutrition tips or ways to keep track of their miles through blog articles or YouTube videos. And that community manager had better be a runner, probably a fast one too.

A Community Manager Isn’t

A Social Media Ninja/Rockstar/Guru/Jedi/”Expert”/Swiss Army Knife…

Get over yourself: Your community doesn’t care how many uniques your Tumblr gets, how hot you are on Flickr or how many Twitter followers you have. Can you or can you not answer their questions about your product?

People with cheesy personal brands who are hired with the always smart “if they can build it for themselves they can build it for us” strategy aren’t going to cut it. Don’t hire a community manager on the premise of their Klout score, foolishly thinking that if they spam their thousands of followers with stuff about your company you’ll get ahead.

So what’s more important than a Klout score?

– Listening is more important than Klout

Community managers should be social butterflies who know when to shut up. They should be “people’s people” who genuinely like to talk – but they should like to listen. They need to understand their community’s pain points and questions and respond directly via @replies and also through content to teach them and be helpful.

– Knowing about the industry you are talking about is more important than Klout

I love this piece from Tom Webster that brilliantly outlines the changing nature of this role. He says it best: “Increasingly, what your audience and customers want to see is mastery.” Simply put: Your community wants running tips from a fast runner.

– Being a good writer is more important than Klout

Community managers are communicators. Bad writers need not apply. Community managers deliver brand messages in less than 140 characters – then we crush Twitter analytics to decipher what language drove the most click-throughs. Community managers should laugh at @FakeAPStylebook’s Tweets, smoke grammar in a crack pipe, get flustered by misuse of the Oxford comma and get swept off their feet by just the right alliteration. They should have a definitive voice that draws people to their content. They should write ebooks that make you want to download ebooks and Tweets that you actually want to follow. I’m personally not too good on the mathematicals, but my writing has helped as a community manager – way more than Klout would.

Does your startup need to hire a community manager?

A community manager should be your first marketing hire. Community management is very focused on listening and a perfect blend with customer development to fuel the lean startups process. If you make a good hire, your community manager can generate awareness, leverage industry influencers and identify and mobilize advocates for your product while you’re still in private beta. The community manager will need to wear many hats. At oneforty, I’m not “just” a community manager. I also do a lot of PR, copywriting and email marketing.

Don’t have the funding to hire a community manager? Need to swing it the “ghettopreneur” way? Some very basic and free community-building things you can do today:

– Set up Google Alerts for your brand name, your three main competitors and a few industry keywords.

Sign up for Twitter and get Tweetdeck. Set up columns in Tweetdeck for Twitter searches for your Google Alerts searches. Monitor conversations and look for opportunities to engage with people. Use a personal, non-spammy, human voice. Try Twitter’s advanced search for local searches. You can even hack together a free monitoring dashboard in iGoogle with an RSS of these searches.

– Try Twilerts, BackType and Social Mention for broader monitoring across all of social media.

– Start a blog and teach your runners how to be better runners.

I hope this shed some light on a role that is exploding in the social business industry. This is a challenging but offensively fun gig and I’m thrilled more people will have a chance to experience it.

What are your thoughts on Community Managers? Does you company have one? What tools do they use?