BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- At Procter & Gamble Co., where the brand manager was invented, one of the growth job titles of late has been "community manager," in charge of engaging a brand's community of followers wherever they pop up in social media.
P&G is far from alone here. Job listings for community managers with duties that encompass social media began showing up in late 2007, then hit an explosive growth curve in April 2009, according to job search engine Indeed.com. While such listings are off their peak reached this January, they're still coming at triple the rate of a year ago.
Recent listings come from marketers such as Walt Disney Co., Allstate, Office Depot, Citibank, Vonage and the University of Chicago in addition to numerous tech and digital players where the job title has existed far longer. They're the foot soldiers in a recruitment wave that has placed social media terms in four of the top 10 trends currently on Indeed, including "Twitter, Facebook, blogger" and "social media."
A Facebook group for community managers now has more than 3,400 members, though many of them appear to have marketing or social-media roles beyond those of just community managers.
Jeremiah Owyang, partner at Altimeter Group and a former Forrester analyst who started his career as a community manager for Hitachi, keeps the most definitive list of such managers at corporations of Fortune 1,000 size and large education institutions, currently numbering 41.
But the list is far from all-inclusive, as it only covers community managers who apply and was last updated in January. It doesn't include a group P&G alone has designated for 10 of its brands in the past year, a spokeswoman said, including Iams, Eukanuba and Pantene.
While clearly being a community manager is a marketing job, it's not necessarily staffed by classically trained marketers. At P&G, they often come from the consumer-affairs area of the company, though beauty external-relations director Anitra Marsh said in an April talk at a BlogWell conference in Cincinnati that they could come from a variety of the company's brand-building functions.
P&G declined to make any of its community managers available for interview. But one who's playing a role in the current re-launch of Pantene hair-care products is Ashley Bryant, a consumer-care executive turned "Pantene Beauty Maven" who engages with consumers both on the brand's Facebook and Twitter presences and elsewhere while also maintaining her own Twitter account.
Iams and Eukanuba's PetCareBev operates a blog, PetCareBev.com (by Bev Van Zant), and a Twitter feed (Twitter/PetCareBev) where one recent post expressed a private sentiment: "HEY DELTA AIRLINES!! YOUR PHONE SYSTEM IS CRAPPY!!!" though she's usually talking about pets or Iams own products.
Ms. Van Zant also around to answer ticklish questions elsewhere in social media, such as this from Yahoo Answers: "Can Iams kill your cat?" Her not-surprising response, ranked best among users, essentially was no. "I've worked at Iams for nearly 15 years," she said. "A very high percentage of our employees share their lives with dogs and cats. ... We would never intentionally put something in our food that we wouldn't feel comfortable feeding to our own furbabies."
It's an approach that just might work. If community managers "sound very corporate or PR-ish they lose trust, and therefore aren't very effective," Mr. Owyang said. They need to be trusted by their communities, and "often come from the same lifestyle as their community," he said.
Therein, of course, lies the Zen-like paradox. Community managers are expected to be "brand evangelists" while blending into the milieu of online communities and not coming off as shills.
The difficulty of finding the right person to navigate that path is probably why marketers appear ambivalent about whether formal marketing experience is a prerequisite, said Lisa Bradner, president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Geomomentum, a hyper-local media unit.
For example, the recent online listing seeking a community manager for Disney Music Groups says "marketing knowledge is a big plus," but experience there is no pre-requisite.
But Ms. Bradner, who last year was the lead Forrester analyst on a report about how brand management should be structured in the age of digital marketing, isn't sure community managers are the answer to marketing's social-media staffing needs.
"One of the dangers of how it's being handled right now is the idea that every brand is going to have a community, and every community is going to have a community manager," she said. "The challenge is whether there's really a reason for that community to adhere."