The State of Community Management From An Expert\’s Perspective

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From time to time, I like to pick the brain of a community manager or social media marketer and understand how they function and approach the various aspects of social media and content.

Given how vast and diverse social media is, there are literally hundreds and thousands of opinions around community management and social floating around there, and it\’s important to identify the right people in order to get the right advice. My quest last week led me to Kristy Hughes, who encapsulates the very essence of what a community manager should aspire to be.


A little bit about her, Kristy Hughes was recently appointed as the sole Community Manager at Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney. Lured from her role in Search & Media last year, she works across a range of clients tailoring a social content presence that best meets their needs as a business.

With a background in SEO (that predates the \’Link Building\’ days), Blogger Outreach and Copywriting, she places a great deal of emphasis on data driven insights, building relationships with clients/communities and bespoke tonality for brands on social.

Her role encompasses everything from detailed campaign reporting and content creation to community management, crisis escalation as well as social campaign consulting.

In short – a well rounded digital and social marketer, which is why I harassed her with 400 e-mails last week.

My intention when speaking with her was to understand what she felt about community management and social, but what she gave me can well be used as the guide to success for a community manager. Read every word!

Your primary strengths lie in understanding a brand\’s style, and then converting that style into an online presence by providing tone, structure and a framework. In essence, bringing a brand to life on social media. How do you go about this process?

In the beginning I do a formal audit of their social presence (or presences) and identify their size, levels of consistency, if there are any patterns in content, or lulls in activity. Most of the time a brand will have several accounts, some active, some dormant and no long term plan for maintaining and optimising content across them. After my \’social stocktake\’ I book a meeting with my client and speak with them at length about what they see the role for social being, what the business as a whole expects to see on their channels and why they\’re now placing a focus on putting a plan in place.

I ask really open ended questions and do A LOT of listening. It is super important to hear what your client has to say, as one size doesn\’t fit all. You don\’t always need to reinvent the wheel, but they\’re also expecting to see change- so keep this in mind. Some brands use their social presence as a customer service platform, others customer retention tool and most, simply a content amplifier. Unlike other traditional channels, Social has, in a way been \’forced\’ onto brands. It was not born out of a business need- therefore it is important early on to establish what that need might be and assess the best way a social plan can deliver to this.

Given that you\’ve worked with a number of brands, what\’s one thing that they just don\’t seem to understand from a community management and social media perspective that you need to focus on time and time again?

This changes a lot. Right now? It\’s justifying the cost of creating bespoke social content in a considered but flexible way and paying for this content to be amplified to its full potential. They\’re struggling with the shift from social being a \’free content amplifier\’ to something that now does represent a cost in both creative and media. Why create really great content that organically is only going to reach a small percentage of your community? Optimizing your content can only help you so much. A great idea deserves to get exposure, or it can so easily be wasted. Moving from a campaign focused spend to an \’always on\’ presence can be a tough one to sell in.

Are brands still very Facebook focused? Do you try and sway them into spreading out their presence on other networks? If so, which ones do you generally recommend?

In Australia, generally yes. Mainly because the bulk of a brand\’s audience will be on Facebook and when allocating spend on a \’cost per unique\’ reach basis it is the most cost effective. In terms of swaying them to other platforms, it really does depend on their product offering. Some brands offer products and services that are naturally quite social/conversational (beauty, fashion, FMCG) and for others, it\’s a stretch.

Not every brand needs every channel, and if they\’re unable to create tailored content for each platform, or engage with the community on a consistent basis- it does far more harm than good. I am a big believer that each of the channels have their own strengths and unique audiences, however I am also a realist when it comes to the bottom line. Spending the same amount of time creating content to go to a Pinterest following of 500 people as you would a Facebook content plan for 300,000 doesn\’t make a whole lot of business sense. Keep it focused and do it well.

For someone who is just starting out at managing a brand\’s presence on social media, what three pieces of advice would you give them?

1. Work directly with your client, and cc you Account Manager where required. Social moves quickly and whilst it\’s really important to work closely with your AMs, they may not be around when you need something approved to go live in less than an hour. Keep them across everything but don\’t overcomplicate the communication process.

2. Establish a \’way of working\’ that clearly defines roles and responsibilities. Who is posting? Who is moderating?Who is in charge of approvals (if required)? What hours are you expected to be on-page? Who are the important points of contact in a crisis? Having all of this in place ensures you get off of the right foot and maintain a harmonious relationship with your client, because once it goes sour, it is very hard to recover.

3. Let your reporting inform your content creation. Assess your metrics closely and get to know your community. I have markers for gauging how my content is performing that I adjust based on each community. They\’re all incredibly different, what works really well for one brand may fall flat with another. There\’s no sure fire formula so without analysing your data- you won\’t know what\’s working and what is letting you down.


Are there any particular tools that you use for reporting statistics and data around social media? Which tools do you use, and why do you prefer these over others?

I do my own manual reporting. Which may seem tiresome, but I like to work with raw data- direct from the platform, and pull in other stats that are relevant to my insights and the client\’s needs. Over the years I\’ve probably used most of the bigger ones. Buzz, Sprout Social, Radian 6, Simply Measured.

There are bits and pieces I\’ve really liked about the functionalities from each of these but I am yet to find one that \’does it all\’. You also need to ensure the KPIs you\’ve put in place can be manually calculated. What if your tool becomes redundant in a year and you aren\’t able to give a YoY analysis because you didn’t know how it calculated the metric you were tracking? Be smart with your data and always know what you\’re looking at. It also really depends on what the client wants to report on, and this can change campaign to campaign.

What do they need to show to their bosses? And why? I have created Community Health Reports to both inform my content, as well as deliver to the client\’s KPIs, check in on competitors and highlight opportunities in the future. Make your reports work for you and don\’t overcomplicate them. It\’s the insights that are important, not the sexy graphs (although I do like those too!)

How important is it for a community manager dabbling in social media to understand the technicalities of SEO?

I think it\’s imperative, but I would say that! I am pretty biased there. I most certainly wouldn\’t be as good at my job without that background- and this is why. As a CM, Social Media Manager, Content Creator (whatever you would like to call yourself) there is one really crucial thing you need to understand- and that is the true \’value\’ of content. On your channels and off them. You need to be able to work with your media agencies closely to add your social data in with their reporting to show its value.

If you can\’t explain why something \’worked\’ clearly to your clients and be able to provide them with some context, why would they invest more in what you\’re working on?


If there\’s one mindset around community management that you\’d like to change world over, what would it be?

That it\’s a job for a junior. Whilst younger people do kind of \’get it\’ a little more, by no means should it be left to the devices of the latest Grad. Being able to write, doesn\’t make you a Copywriter just as having a Facebook account doesn\’t make you a CM. This is more important I guess when dealing with a big brand. We are getting more and more coverage in the media for responses on topical or sensitive issues- or even poorly considered content.

The last thing a brand needs is an inexperienced CM telling a consumer to \’just check the website\’ when they come with a legitimate query, or writing an ill informed response in a potential crisis situation that ends up in the press.

I figured if I asked Kristy any more questions she\’d never speak to me again, so I decided that those questions gave a pretty good idea of the State of Community Management as of now, and serves as a brilliant guide for aspiring community managers trying to find their feet.

In closing, here are my key takeaways:

  • Listen to your clients. Do a lot of listening. Did I mention you should listen? LISTEN DAMMIT.
  • Social Media is no longer a free amplification tool, and you should come to terms with that.
  • Not every brand needs every channel. Each channel has its own strength.
  • Work directly with your clients as much as possible, but establish a proper working process.
  • Doing manual reporting might not be everyone\’s game, but it\’s important to dive into the raw data to understand what\’s going on behind the tools you use for reporting.
  • Community Management is not a job for the \”junior\”. Brands need to be represented by experts online.

When she\’s not being an amazing community manager for her clients, Kristy manages to find time to be a mentor at Propellher, as well as contribute to Blogger Connect. You can find her and stalk her on Twitter, and if you\’d like to throw any questions her way – feel free to ask away in the comments section.

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  1. This post seems to be more about social media management than community management. Do you think it’s important to differentiate? Should they intertwine?

    • Hey @danjorree:disqus, let me get your opinion on this. Do you think the two roles are still very distinct and different?

      • Hello! Thanks for your question. I do think they are distinct. Most of the time, social media managers are pushing content out to the community. They are creating compelling content that generates traffic and views and clicks and likes (etc.). But, community managers are creating new content and magnifying existing content in order to facilitate a conversation — they try to foster engagement between users. Sometimes, the differences are subtle and they often overlap, but I think a distinction must be made so that we can do both jobs effectively. They both require a specific skill set and a unique set of metrics. What do you think, @AvtarRamSingh?

        • Hey Dan. As I increasingly spend more time on the internet, I feel that each should be able to do other one’s job. They’re both jobs that are communication focused, content focused and engagement focused, and while you’d like your social media manager to have an insight into Google Analytics and other “tools” that a community manager may not have – in the long run community managers need to be able to pick up those skills, or die off!

          • I agree that the skillset is largely shared. Both community managers and social media managers need to possess the ability to maneuver around the world of listening tools and analytical data that are fundamental to our jobs. I also think that some of the goals align — they both want to create content that’s engaging and useful for their followers and users. However, there comes a point when the goals diverge and the purpose of the positions clearly define themselves.

            The social media manager is the herald of the company. She’s in tune with each initiative (or business department) individually, AND she grasps the entire audience of followers. She produces content that’s always forward facing and announcement-like in orientation. She reports on trends in information presented on social platforms and the amount of content that helps companies meet their goals (retweets, click throughs, likes, shares, etc.).

            The community manager, on the other hand, focuses on the nuances of the company. Perhaps he illuminates the tiniest portions of the company’s mission and provides a space for safe conversation. He may even take some of the content that the social media manager creates and form a discussion around it. Along with new, creative content created for a specific conversation, he surfs the web looking for existing content, promotes that content on the company forum, and solicits participation in a way that engages the followers in a seek-and-stay relationship (they seek out the company to meet a need / he seeks them out because he assumes they have a need the company can meet, and they stay because the forum is beneficial and interesting). He reports on value analytics, amount of engagement, and other more traditional analytics that point toward success.

            Both the social media manager and the community manager are necessary. They work in tandem for the overall good of the company, but their specific roles are different. The metrics they analyze for success are different. The stories they gather are different. Neither should die off, and neither should do the other’s job (though they likely both possess the skills to do so).

            Hopefully, community managers will become increasingly understood and appreciated — in case you didn’t know, they have a holiday! :)

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