The difference between community management and social media

Community management is one of those roles for which everyone assumes that they know exactly what it is that you do. “Oh, you’re a community manager …so, you do social media, right?”

If only the answer were that simple.

Community is a discipline within an organization, such as engineering, design, marketing or business development. Let’s revisit again the goals of community within a startup:

  • Connect users to one another
  • Make users happy
  • Make users stay (retention)

In contrast, the goals of social media are to:

  • Engage with current and potential users
  • Increase brand awareness and reach
  • Distribute relevant content to your audience
  • Provide customer support (a poor use case in my opinion, but that’s another topic)

More than social

Only one (and a half) of social media goals align with community goals. Social media is a communication channel and just one of many potential tools for engaging with and growing a community. To put this in context, social media is for community managers what Bootstrap is for developers — maybe you use it, maybe you don’t.

However, social media is not just a tool for community managers; it’s a tool for marketers and advertisers too. This is why you’ll see so many agencies package social media services and jobs as “community management.” Don’t buy into this unless you want your social media content to be a self-promotional stream (meh, unfollowing now) of less-than-valuable information.

Understandably, this is also why when hiring for community management, you’ll be flooded with applications from candidates with purely social media backgrounds. This will very likely change over the next couple years.

Alas, there are so many other tools to help accomplish community: in-person conversations, events, forums, product features, listservs, newsletters, person-to-person information architecture, ambassador programs, super user programs, and oh, so much more! But remember, these are just tools.

By framing community as a discipline rather than as a set of tools, you’re setting yourself up for a much more effective outcome that’s unlimited in scope and potential, both in terms of loyalty and ROI — all in the name of building community.

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.