The Impossible Life Of The Community Manager

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” -- advertisement in a British paper in 1901, inviting adventurers to join Ernest Shackleton on his voyage to the South Pole.

I sit across from a man with that most optimistic and daunting of titles: Community Manager.

He looks haunted. Dark circles under his eyes speak of late nights pinning and tweeting and tagging. A tremor echoes through his fragile voice as he describes the thousands of sites he scans regularly in order to maintain his position of thought leadership.

At the same time, an expression of despair accompanies his realization that it will never be enough. The YouTube channel is neglected, they haven’t blogged in days, and there will always be another image to be tagged, another hashtag to weigh in on, another, wittier Facebook post to share. His community, like most online communities, is hungry, restless, and fickle, and as the number of social offerings grows exponentially, the FOMO (go on, look it up) only gets worse.

Perhaps at this point you are thinking this is an easy problem to solve. Metrics! Funnel analysis! A/B testing! Where’s my dashboard?

And so our beleaguered hero must be not just the voice of the company, not just a brilliant photographer equally skilled at producing powerfully punchy copy, not just an enlightened soother of disgruntled customers or the go-to back-end technician for your social media platform. No, he must also be a Quant, someone to whom the data and the numbers sing, whose emotional quotient is superseded only by his statistical quotient, by his ability to know exactly which channels are producing and exactly what percentage are converting, where they land and where they bounce -- and what color blue the stupid banner should be.

In "Inherit the Wind," the character Drummund observes the dilemma: "Progress has never been a bargain. You've got to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man behind a counter who says, 'All right, you can have a telephone; but you'll have to give up privacy, the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind a powderpuff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!'”

The democratization of communication has never been a bargain. You can have 50 channels to communicate directly with your customers, but you lose the right to retreat behind a press release or a TV ad. You can build your community, but you have to maintain it, feed it, incessantly respond to it. You can share a video or an image or 140 characters, but you will never complete the task, and you will never be able to stop.

I look at my Community Manager. I take a deep breath. My next words are daggers disguised as unicorns to one as vulnerable as this, overwhelming obligation and unachievable fantasy coated in a thin veneer of false opportunity. I am fully cognizant of the destruction I am about to wreak.

“So,” I say, brightly. “Have you thought about real-time marketing?”

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8 comments about "The Impossible Life Of The Community Manager ".
  1. Steven Osborne from Osborne pike , March 8, 2013 at 10:28 a.m.
    Kaila I love this post - it could serve as a Copyblogger example of great copywriting, as well as hitting the nail on the head for all of us trying to keep up with too much information; or what I will from now on refer to as 'overwhelming obligation and unachievable fantasy coated in a thin veneer of false opportunity'. Thanks!
  2. Kaila Colbin from Missing Link , March 8, 2013 at 10:37 a.m.
    Thanks, Steven! Appreciate your kind words :)
  3. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations , March 8, 2013 at 11:36 a.m.
    Bravo Kaila! You may have missed your true calling. Steven is right...the topic is relevant, but for a trade blog - the writing is astounding. I love this quote: "Sometimes I think there's a man behind a counter who says, 'All right, you can have a telephone; but you'll have to give up privacy, the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind a powderpuff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!'” Wonderful!
  4. Andrew Coate from Epsilon , March 8, 2013 at 12:58 p.m.
    Wonderful read. "He looks haunted." The constant adventure (danger) is what keeps me engaged. Thanks for sharing this! By the way. I DO know which color blue the stupid banner should be.
  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 8, 2013 at 2:23 p.m.
    Succinct with gravitas. All those at SXSW need to wear this on their sleeve before they add more to do.
  6. Jim Bates from Knoxville Business Laboratory , March 11, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.
    Kaila, what a fantastic piece. Regardless of the speed at which this new paradigm is unfolding, its management is still in its infancy for 99.9% of those involved... even with some of the great tools and APIs that exist. I can't wait for another dose Dr. Colbin! ;-)
  7. Ngoc T from Iowa , March 15, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.
    Come on, admit it, Kaila. You like to write.
  8. Kaila Colbin from Missing Link , March 15, 2013 at 1:44 p.m.
    OK, Ngoc, you got me... :) Thanks so much for your kind words, guys. Feel free to tell any publishers you know about me ;)