What's the Difference Between a Social Media and Community Manager?

Though they can overlap, social media and community managers serve two different business functions. Here's how to maximize the efficiency of both roles.
April 29, 2015

If every other company seems to be hiring a community manager these days, it’s not your imagination. Demand for the role has grown 29 percent year over year. But a quick look through job descriptions for community managers may leave hiring managers confused. Isn’t this the same role as a social media manager?

Though the roles may overlap at some companies, they're different job functions. Social media is an online marketing and communication channel defined by the ability of consumers to create their own content and directly interact with brands and other consumers. A social media manager manages this marketing channel and sometimes also manages the marketing content distributed on the channel.

The goals of social media are to:

  • Increase brand awareness and reach (ultimately, to acquire new customers)
  • Distribute relevant marketing content and advertising
  • Provide customer support 

On the other hand, community management is the discipline of engaging consumers with each other. Often, community will also include ensuring customer happiness, acting as the customer advocate internally within a company, maintaining customer retention and facilitating the creation of common resources. 

The goals of community management are to:

  • Connect customers to one another
  • Keep customers happy
  • Make customers stay (retention)

A community manager may use social media channels to achieve these objectives. However, social media is just one communication channel for engaging with and growing a community. Social media is to community as graphics are to design; it’s just one potential output of the discipline. A community manager may also use email, independent platforms, in-person events, forums, product features, etc. The options for channels can be endless, because community management is a channel agnostic business function.

A community manager may also touch or even manage customer support, whether via email, phone or social. However, a community manager’s focus is on resolving the issue indefinitely so as to not be repeated, rather than responding to and resolving individual issues. For example, an airline social media manager may help rebook a flight via Twitter direct messages. A community manager may also do this, and work with a technical team to create an app allowing customers to more easily rebook flights themselves.

So which role do you need for your growing company? Let’s reframe this question: Are you currently looking to market to new customers on a low-cost channel, or are you aiming to retain and leverage your existing customers? Most likely, you need both. However, you may need different employees for each function. The interviewee who's an excellent copywriter for social content is likely not the same interviewee who instinctively knows how to find commonalities between and introduce customers to each other.

When discerning community from any marketing activity, just remember that marketing brings people in the door and community can ensure they stay.

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Photo: Getty Images