Ben points out an interesting, yet ultimately fruitless exchange between a brand manager and a blogger. Basically, a smart brand manager reaches out to blogger talking about his product and offers to bring the blogger into the fold. Blogger gets excited, brand manager leaves the company and doesn’t tell the blogger, blogger becomes disappointed. And here we are talking about it.
The reality is that employees leave companies all the time and for a variety of reasons. Who knows if this particular brand manager was fired or simply moved on. Either way, this type of thing is normal and expected. But it can create problems when you hope to "create relationships" with your consumers. After all, we know that true relationships take time to build, and are hard to simply "pass off" to the next person.
The key to answering this question is applying the Bus Test:
"If ___ [your name]___ gets hit by a bus, what happens?"
The idea is simple – whether you’re a community-focused company employee, or an outside service provider – build redundancy into your community interactions and relationships. Redundancy may seem a bit odd, considering that you may be a rogue personality with your colleagues. Redundancy doesn’t happen quickly, and it’s not easy but it’s crucial.
So how do you make this happen? Here’s a few ideas for all you community manager types:
Implement a public communication device
This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget – create a mechanism for public communication, and require that your community contact points are using it regularly. Whether it’s a blog, a certain area of a message forum, or even just static web content, it’s crucial that there’s a historical record.
Perhaps more importantly, these communication efforts need to be tied to the company or the brand, not the individual. Certainly community folks can have their own online presence, but the core business activity needs to happen on a site owned by and associated with the company. Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble blogged at scobleizer.com, his personal site. When he left Microsoft, he took his site – and all its content – with him. (To be clear, there’s absolutely a place for personal sites, but not as your key source of community contact)
Provide global contact info
Good community managers always share their contact info freely, and great community managers make their contact info easy to figure out. (i.e. using firstname.lastname@example.org rather than email@example.com) But even more important is to create a mechanism for that communication that can be picked up immediately by someone else. Email accounts tend to get shut down and bounce messages sent when people leave the company (like Ben’s story), and there’s no worse message to send than "We’re not here anymore, you have to start over getting in touch with us".
One idea might be to create a global "community" email inbox that allows multiple email addresses to dump into one place. So firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org all use a shared inbox, accessible to multiple people.
Remember it’s not about you
Remember that a community manager’s role is comparable to a marriage counselor’s role – the focus is never on you. Community managers need to fight the natural tendency a community has of making them a "rock star", and instead turn the focus to the larger company. If you want to make a name for yourself, do it by making a name for the company.
Your primary task is teaching
Too often your colleagues think that since you’re the "community manager" that you’re going to own and implement any project idea that’s developed. In reality, the role of a community manager is one of teaching and mentoring. The goal is to get all your colleagues "infected" with community thinking. The more people in the company who can successfully reach out to the community on their own, without requiring your assistance, the better. Worried about putting yourself out of a job by doing this? Don’t. The more people in the company have been converted to the "religion of community", the more you look like you’re a genius worthy of promotion.
Don’t forget that teaching is often doing, not just talking. Showing someone how well a program can work can teach a lesson as good as formal instruction.
It’s easy to lose track of documenting your ideas, but it’s important to have a running list of why you did various things. Start a wiki and track every concept you implement, and include points like:
- Project overview
- Challenges to implementation (both externally and internally)
- The reaction from the company and the community
- Ideas for expansion or improvement (even if you have no intention of expanding or improving)
- The history and background of how this idea came to be and any other oral history surrounding it
Not only does this help you capture cool ideas, it allows for anyone to get up to speed relatively quickly.
Many times when I talk to younger community managers, they voice significant fear that if other people can figure out what they do, then they’re putting their job at risk. This should be a secondary worry. A good community manager will be more concerned about making sure that their community will be taken care of properly in any situation. Besides, this isn’t just about getting "hit by a bus"… it’s also about getting promoted. After all, how can you move on to a bigger, better paying position if no one else can possibly do your job?