The Future of Community Management
It's difficult, at times, to predict the future of the digital world. Advancements in technology are often unpredictable and when people look forward into the future, they're seeing it through the eyes of what they know to be, rather than what will become.
When social media first became the norm on-line, communities thrived on shareable content. People connected across the globe. The evolution of social media, in terms of brands and companies, has taken several steps away from this ideal. A recent assignment in my graduate class about trying to find a brand that behaved like a telephone (fostering conversations) or a megaphone (lecturing to its audience) uncovered an all-too familiar outcome. There are a lot of megaphones out there.
A majority of brands are talking to their audience and not with them.
While the idea of community management is gaining acceptance as a much-needed business practice, there are brands that are failing at the execution either by underestimating its importance, ignoring common social media practices or simple incompetence. Today, community managers are tasked with building a brand's audience, developing loyalty and creating influencers.
The Paint Brush
Today, community managers paint with a large brush. In the future, the brush will get smaller. The scope of community management will increase, bringing in a larger workforce designed to build brand loyalty, create brand influencers and strengthen the community as a whole. Social media is rife with your likes, dislikes, favorites, sites you visit the most, sites you rarely visit, etc. Everything you do is cataloged and brands know where to find it. Personas will become more precise. Brands will know that Charlie has three dogs and prefers Alpo dog food, so the Alpo brand will become fast friends with Charlie in hopes of securing a life-long brand loyalist and a brand influencer.
Community management will be about people, with their own personal accounts and still associated with their brands, reaching out and building their brand's community with authentic interactions. The audience will no longer be talking with Kellogg, but rather Dan Abbot from Gary, Indiana who's favorite cereal is Frosted Flakes and loves playing pick-up basketball with his friends. Kellogg sponsors their rec-league team, even buying them all uniforms. Share their team photo for a 20% off coupon on your next Kellogg purchase. People first, but branded.
Quid Pro Quo
Since we'll now have personal accounts, as well as branded accounts, pushing the conversation on social media, they'll be a lot of give and take in the relationships between brands and people. A consumer, Veronica, may issue a complaint, via Twitter, on a Mattel action figure item. Once the issue is resolved by Mattel and their community managers, they may ask Veronica for a review of their work. Maybe a post on Twitter saying how Mattel helped her with the problem. She obliges. But perhaps Veronica owns her own cafe in her hometown and she'd love it if Mattel gave her a shout-out as well. Maybe someone from Mattel lives in Veronica's hometown. They can take a selfie there. Post it to the account. Hashtag it. Mattel obliges. And on and on we go. Countless examples of this will become the norm. Once personal accounts becomes mixed with branded accounts, interactions will become frequent and soon people and brands will champion each other.
Good Bots; Bad Bots
Bots are here. More bots are coming. It's inevitable. Brands will incorporate these bots as they see fit, but I'm an optimist. While I like the idea of bots and the ease it provides to the customer service section of social media, it still doesn't replace the human element. Community managers will have to navigate through the bot revolution to figure out when bots work for the consumer or when they alienate the consumer. At the end of the day, people want to talk with people. Yes, sometimes we don't know we're talking with bots on-line, but inevitably we find out. If Gloria received great service from Macy's on-line, but then found out it was a bot all along. Doesn't that cheapen her experience? We shall see.
The four items I listed could very well not come into play at all. I could be completely wrong about all of it! That's the trouble with the future, as I stated. You just don't know. But it's also the beauty of the future. You. Just. Don't. Know. The optimist in me gets excited about that prospect.