GOC: Why You Need a Community Manager

by Denise Eisner

Every week it seems I hear of another government department that is drafting its social media strategy to “communicate with external and internal audiences.” Once implemented, a member of the Communications team is tasked with overseeing the social media channel, which typically involves getting approvals for messages to be posted in both official languages. The icons are put on the departmental home page, and management is content that they are in the game.

But not so fast. It isn’t a social media strategy that’s needed as much as an engagement strategy, and to engage, departments need specialists who perform that strategic role. That’s the view shared by Kelly Rusk, a consultant with Thornley Fallis here in Ottawa. With a background in PR/communications and stints as a community manager, Kelly has experienced what it takes to put the social into social media. We asked her to share her thoughts on why government needs community managers to oversee their social media efforts.

How did you start?

My first job was at a small e-marketing firm, where I carved out my own role in PR/communications which looked eerily like the role of today’s community manager. I started up and managed our company blog, managed our newsletter, updated the web site, hosted events for our customers and wrote for industry publications. Later I was head hunted by a Montreal-based start-up and hired as community manager where I managed the company newsletter, blog, Twitter account, and was responsible for finding and retaining members in our online community. I also did media relations and travelled to industry trade shows and conferences to help get our name out and meet our online followers/fans/community members in person.

There are social media managers and community managers. Which role best fits government departments and agencies and why?

Different people define roles differently, but in my eyes the community manager is a strategic role that revolves around building a community of interest, whether that is in a separate online community, through various social media and marketing channels or whatever makes sense for the audience. Building a community also means getting members to speak and interact directly with each other so engagement tactics play a huge role as well. A social media manager is usually a marketing position for someone whose main responsibility is updating social properties and creating content specifically for those properties/channels.

That definition in mind, I think community manager makes more sense for government department and agencies because it’s a goal-focused rather than tool-focused. Government needs to be adaptable and accountable when it comes to online strategies and I see the community manager as a more adaptable position. The trend is spreading where social media functions across an organization, rather than putting it in a separate silo, which is what a social media manager position might be perceived as. I like and believe in this approach and feel a good community manager is poised to lead this type of change internally both in private organizations and government departments.

Given the role you identified, what are the key activities that must be managed?

A community manager starts with a plan that feeds a business goal (i.e. increase membership, revenue, awareness etc.,) and defines target audiences (customers, partners, employees, stakeholders, etc.). Then she/he must determine the appropriate ways to reach and engage those people. In my experience this can include a mix of the following: a newsletter and/or email list, an online community site, a blog, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), webinars and in-person events (meet-ups, conferences, tradeshows, seminars). Often these activities feed into each other. For example, you can collect email addresses – with permission of course – at events to add to newsletter or place social follow buttons on the blog.

To be in that role, what skill sets are needed?

Excellent communication skills are essential. Often times a community manager is the “face and voice” of the organization, so s/he needs to be able to express him/herself professionally and in a way the organization is comfortable with at all times. A community manager needs to be forward thinking and always looking out for new industry trends as things can change quickly online. This person also needs to understand how to measure his/her activity, use web analytics and probably Excel.

If you were hired by a government department to lead the organization’s social media efforts, what would be the first three things you would try to accomplish and why?

I would conduct a social media audit by looking at what’s happening inside and outside the organization with relation to social media, what tools are available, training etc. Then I would focus on developing internal guidelines and policy. Ideally a community manager is most effective when he/she has buy in and support from the entire organization. The guidelines and policy help make other employees comfortable with potentially using social media at work, as well as to help management understand and buy in to employee usage. And lastly, I would build a strategy – this would outline what I would be doing, how it will be executed, and how it will be measured. It would feed into or be part of a larger communications strategy.

Kelly Rusk is a consultant at Thornley Fallis. Follow Kelly at @krusk.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant focusing on information architecture, performance measurement and web strategy. Follow Denise at @2denise.


Denise Eisner is a senior-level web strategist and communications specialist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a member of the Government Service Excellence practice, Denise’s experience and specializations include web strategy development, information architecture, web analytics (WebTrends and Google Analytics) and web project management. She has led large-scale content audits, developed performance measurement frameworks, and coordinated site updates to meet Treasury Board policies standards and guidelines. Engaged in the evolving spheres of information technology, corporate communications and media for almost two decades, Denise has transformed business objectives into web strategies and information architectures for corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Canada.


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