Ally Greer is a community manager at Scoop.it, a content curation publishing hub, where she manages social media, customer service and support, community building, and various marketing efforts.
I spoke with Ally in August 2013 to garner advice for new and aspiring social media and community managers. Her helpful insights are summarized below.
Elements of a Community Manager's Competitive Edge
Ally did not have any specific training that gave her a competitive edge. Instead, it is her willingness to learn and constantly improve.
Ally began working in the community management field when businesses were only just beginning to recognize the position as a necessity. In many cases, employers knew just as little about community management as their social media-savvy young hires... which wasn't much.
Given that there was not much precedence or standardized education to work with, Ally gained an edge by living and breathing her work, reading books and blogs about social media and community management, and actively communicating with other professionals in the field.
Though today people have a better understanding of what social media and community management is, a dedication to the craft and willingness to collaborate and learn is still one of the most valuable assets a community manager can have.
Procedural and Legal Issues for Community Managers
Ally acknowledges that the extent to which a community manager or social media strategist will have to contend with legal issues is quite limited- usually, clients or employers handle those details. That said, community managers do need to be mindful of the "laws" of a particular client or employer.
While startups and other small businesses tend to give social media and community managers a lot of leeway, large corporate clients and many agencies are known for imposing some pretty restrictive rules. Ally has colleagues in the industry who are not even allowed to re-tweet something on behalf of a brand without approval from several higher ups. These sorts of regulations can significantly hamper one's progress, given how important a role fluid, fast, and open communication plays in community building.
It is therefore important to fully understand a client or employer's rules and requirements before accepting a job.
Earnings to Expect
Though it is hard to make accurate estimates in such a rapidly-changing and fragmented field, Ally has typically seen fresh-out-of-college community managers with little to no experience make between $40,000 and $50,000 a year. Those in the field with significant experience may make upwards of $80,000 to $90,000 annually.
One's earnings as a community manager and/or social media strategist are largely contingent on one's industry and the type of employer or client one selects. Startups, for example, tend to pay less, but offer much more leeway and may grow significantly over the coming years, whereas large corporations and agencies typically give one less freedom to take on new roles and experiment, but often offer higher starting salaries.
Tools and Resources for Social Media and Community Managers
TweetDeck is one of Ally's favorite free tools for social media management, and has seen it to be extremely popular amongst others in the field. That said, HootSuite (which is free in basic form, but charges monthly fees for access to more functionality) offers an amazingly valuable community. Ally also appreciates Sprout Social's reporting options, as they make it particularly easy to draw up graphs and figures that can be presented to upper management.
On Documenting and Measuring Impact as a Community Manager
Every quarter, Ally defines a couple of KPIs (key performance indicators). These metrics and the related goals she sets with her managers will determine how much more she will earn on top of her base salary.
Whether your clients or employers offer a bonus structure or not, it is helpful to regularly establish, set goals with, and measure key performance indicators that help you determine how much of an impact your social media and community management work is making. The specific metrics you will monitor are contingent on the nature of your client and the needs of its community. Much of Ally's work with Scoop.it involves customer support, so many of the metrics she sets are related to things like response time and customer satisfaction. Metrics that are appropriate for you may touch on anything from product sales, to brand name mentions in social media, and new account creation.
Using Your Community to Scale Up Impact
One of the most rewarding and effective elements of Ally's work as a community manager is tied in with Scoop.it's ambassador program, through which she provides extra information and support to top users of the site. Allocating additional resources to top customers and users of a service can:
- Turn them into brand ambassadors, promoting your client independently (which is fantastic, as people are far more likely to heed an independent individual's thoughts on a brand than the words of the brand itself)
- Lead to valuable feedback
- Help a company build a group of trusted users or customers willing to test new features
In many cases, one will derive far more value from improving the experience for existing power users than from attempting to bring anonymous strangers into the fold.
Full Time vs. Freelance Social Media and Community Management Work
With regard to choosing full time versus freelance work as a new social media and community manager, Ally recommends starting out with a full-time employer, and specifically a startup. Small, new business offer more flexibility than agencies and corporations and enable one to build a deeper connection with a brand's community. Working with startups also enables one to take on a more cross-disciplinary role and experiment with additional responsibilities (often related to marketing, business development, and customer support).
Ally nevertheless sees value in working with an agency first should one want to become a freelance social media and community manager. Doing so enables one to build a good name as a professional and garner experience working for a wide range of clients with very different styles, needs, and customers. Agency work can also spare one from getting pulled into other, non-social/community-management-related tasks, should one wish to focus, while also giving one more variety in the form of multiple clients.
Final Words of Wisdom for Social Media and Community Managers
Though they say the lifespan of a tweet is 20 minutes and information gets buried in a flash in the social media world, Ally emphasizes that social media is actually quite permanent. Though live dialogue slips away quickly, records remain, hence it is important to be very careful with the manner in which you represent yourself and your clients.