“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 No, he must also be a Quant, someone to whom the data and the numbers sing, whose emotional quotient is superseded only by his statistical quotient, by his ability to know exactly which channels are producing and exactly what percentage are converting, where they land and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?”