Social Media Week: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet To Community Management For Brands

This article was initially written, intended for and published by Social Media Week. Check out the original post here and find a description of the talk discussed below, at this link: Managing Brand(Om)S And Fandoms: The True Story

Watching and listening to, what felt like friends conversing over drinks, there was an air of comfort and a plethora of information to be gained from each point of view shared in this Social Media Week talk.

Kevin Slavin, Co-Founder of Everybody at Once, led a discussion between Amber Gordon, Founder of Femsplain, Max Sebela, Brand Marketing Senior Manager at Tumblr, and Molly Templeton, Director of Social Media, Everybody At Once.

The topic at hand was how to be an authentic community or social manager while satisfying the need to be true to the brand and its values as well as to the community.

Authenticity is the key to forming an online community that will create your brand evangelists, which also means ensuring no part of the process seems forced. Audiences form around what they love. A brand must understand that there is an innate difference between coming to the table to join the conversation, i.e. a blog or social platform, and hosting the party yourself, i.e. creating your own community, blog or website. There is good reason we call it owned or earned media. A spot at the table must be earned.


While it’s vital to stay true to the community or audience, a brand’s community manager has to have the morals, values, and personality of that brand guiding their interactions online. Empathy might drive a lot of what community managers do, but at the core, you can’t satisfy everyone, and you have to stay true to the original vision, voiced Amber.

After utilizing the brand’s values as an underlying foundation, the next layer of the utmost importance is about being empathetic, understanding and authentic. This applies to the content being pushed out or any interaction with people online. Transparency is an ideal that brands are working on accepting, and as a brand manager thinking about that is vital to the health of that brand online. Molly added a piece of advice about what a community manager needs to do,

“I have to think about any representation of the brand, and how it will travel without context.”

A community manager’s viewpoint needs to be multi-faceted. Not only do you have to think about if the content and context represent the brand and the community values, but also what it might be like if someone took it in a negative way. Flipping the intent of a piece of content is not uncommon online, so thinking about every piece of content in this perspective can prove valuable. Brands spent many years being scared of coming to the social table for this very reason, but they can’t afford to be closed eyed to this reality. Rather, being aware of this fact, thinking about it in a proactive, preventative manner should be the course of action.

All the speakers were relaying the underpinning of social media success for a brand is about the relationships you can build. The importance of that relationship can largely be based on how well you are listening to your community and target audience. It is imperative that one spends time listening and understanding their community, and one can’t just jump on an idea and hope it takes off. Amber says, “Build relationships with community members, they’re your biggest advocate.” Relating to the brand that you work for, that it’s important not to be overly wrapping the big brand up too much in content you’re pushing out.

Part of the importance in building an enthusiastic community around your brand on social is about the person who manages it. It would be impossible to assume that part of the personality from the community manager won’t shine through in pieces of the content, therefore that aspect needs to be considered and embraced. Amber speaks to this…

“I’m fascinated with the weirder parts of the community. {Asking myself} how can I make their experience better? Have balance within the broad community and also specific moments of intimacy. Which is why having a good community manager really makes your brand.”

By the same token, there’s a difference between personality and personal. Community managers should be wary of being personal in any manner, and most of the panel voiced that they hardly ever appear from behind the ‘curtain’ to brand followers or fans. Amber said, “Something to be said about separating yourself as the brand manager from the community.”

The topic came up about how one deals with the inevitable trolls that can harass your online space and is there any value to be found. Max spoke intelligently, “Codifying yourself, is really important to a new brand. Modeling behavior when things like this {in regards to trolls} happen and reward people who are genuinely honest and kind.”

Molly followed up with an equally smart remark, “If you think how is somebody going to mess the up, sometimes a troll can attract a whole different audience, in a different way.”

Kevin touched on an important concept about negative feedback that relates back to that need to constantly be listening to the entirety of your consumers, not just the good ones. Kevin said at times the negative feedback or trolls can,

“Present themselves as negative that aren’t negative at the core.” This shows us there can most certainly be value derived from these experiences, for that reason, they can’t be dismissed.

We can learn here, the hallmarks of good community management are adhering to the brand values foundationally, being empathetic and authentic to the community, thinking from various viewpoints before you do something, and letting your (as the community manager) personality shine through, but put space between your personal life and the brand.

This story was reported on a panel discussion, called Managing Brand(Om)S And Fandoms: The True Story If you want more, check out tweets from Social Media Week using #SMWNYC, #SMYNYC16, #SMWBrandoms 



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