Looking for a Second Career? Consider Being a Community Manager

Out-of-Work Copywriters and Journalists Can Reinvent Themselves as Social-Media Brand Advocates

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Traci Armstrong
Traci Armstrong
In advertising, there is a widely known but rarely discussed career path for the wise: Approach your career like any smart professional athlete or super model might -- have a career back-up plan arranged for after you "peak."

Second careers for ad professionals are so common, there is actually a documentary movie being made about it: "Lemonade." Touting an inspiring tagline, "It's not a pink slip. It's a blank page," "Lemonade" is about what happens when people who were once paid to be creative in advertising are forced to be creative with their own lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (summarized here in Ad Age), there are plenty of people being forced to get creative with their careers. At least 163,400 advertising jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession. Our sibling industries, media and journalism, are trending on a similar path. Papercuts, a blog following journalism jobs cut for the year, estimates that 14,713 jobs have been lost at U.S. newspapers in 2009. Where will all of these unemployed people find work?

Many like to blame ad-industry job losses on the digital shift. As marketers continue to steer their dollars toward a digital approach, traditional workers are left scrambling to transition their skills. And, the truth is, the digital era is creating new jobs that recruiters are having difficulty finding talent for. One such area of job growth is social media and the evolving role of a "community manager." This role may be an ideal career move for out-of-work copywriters or journalists.

So, what exactly is a community manager? Some describe the role as: "an externally facing advocate for a brand within the social-media space." Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang outlines the four tenets of a community manager:

1. Community advocate. Actively monitors and listens to customers in addition to engaging with them by responding to their requests and needs.

2. Brand evangelist. Promotes events, products and upgrades. As a respected member of the community, the individual has a higher degree of trust.

3. Savvy communication skills, shapes editorial. Very familiar with the tools of communication, from forums to blogs to podcasts to Twitter, and understands the language and jargon that is used in the community. Importantly, the role is responsible for the editorial strategy and planning within the community, and will work with many internal stakeholders to identify content, plan, publish and follow up.

4. Gathers community input for future product and services. Responsible for gathering the requirements of the community in a responsible way and presenting it to product teams. The opportunity to build better products and services through this real-time live focus group is ripe; in many cases, customer communities have been waiting for a chance to provide feedback.

Are there enough community-manager jobs to employ the thousands of out-of-work copywriter and journalist refugees? With the evolution of community-manager jobs still in its infancy, it is unclear exactly how many jobs are currently available. Not even the naming protocol for this position has been decided upon. Other sample titles for community managers include: web-communities manager, conversation manager, social-media communications specialist or community evangelist. A recent search on Simply Hired turns up more than 700 openings for "online community jobs."

What is clear, however, is that any brand taking online community and communication seriously may have a need for a community manager. Judging by the number of brands jumping on the Facebook fan page and Twitter bandwagon, that could translate to a lot of jobs. And, in a recent community-manager salary report by strategist Connie Bensen, the average community manager salary was $81,000 with a median of $72,500.

Many copywriters already possess the key components of being a community manager: excellent writing skills, an understanding of marketing and strong research experience. But where most traditional copywriters fall short is in having a solid understanding of online cultures and trends.

Here are three things you can do to build your expertise:

1. Engage. Create your profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, FlickR and YouTube and then participate. Immerse yourself in the communities and talk about your passions. Learn about proper online etiquette and language so you don't unknowingly publicly embarrass yourself. Many local chambers of commerce or community colleges are offering workshops about basic social-media usage.

2. Volunteer. Combine your thirst for social-media knowledge with the opportunity to help a local nonprofit organization build an online community. Cristina Lorenzetti, a Detroit-based freelance copywriter and social-media neophyte, volunteered her services to be the community manager for "The Bottomless Toy Chest," a nonprofit devoted to pediatric cancer patients. This allowed her to practice community-manager skills while benefitting the organization. Prospective employers will now be able to view her writing and community-manager skills in real time on these social channels.

3. Network. There are many resources for community-manager wannabes to network with others. Owyang hosts a list of community managers on his blog. Peer groups such as Community Manager, Advocate and Evangelist on Facebook or the Online Community Manager group on LinkedIn are available to join and learn from those doing the job today.

So is community management for you? As evidenced in "Lemonade," ad veterans are making career moves to everything from yoga instructors to deep-sea fishermen to professional cyclists. Considering a job as a community manager not only requires writing skills and social-media know-how, but it also requires a passion for the brand you'll be representing. If anything, community management might be the bright side to a bleak job market most face when being told their current job no longer exists.

A community manager qualification checklist

Recruiters approach community-manager hiring as part job interview and part casting audition. Finding the right fit based on the brand persona can be just as important as writing skills and social-media knowledge. Here is a checklist a recruiter might use to consider you as a candidate:

  1. Do you have a presence on social-media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr or You Tube? Does the content on your profiles reflect that you have a good understanding of social-media etiquette?
  2. Do you have a blog? How long have you had one?
  3. Do you use a book-marking site? Which one?
  4. Do you have writing samples -- including headlines?
  5. Do you have examples of generating story ideas and editorial strategy?
  6. Do you subscribe to RSS feeds? Which ones? What are your favorite blogs?
  7. Have you done community management for any other organizations? What was your approach?
  8. What e-mail service to you use? Does it reflect your brand? Are you using a cutesy e-mail handle? Are you using an outdated e-mail provider?
  9. Is your personal brand a good fit for the brand you will be representing? Will you be able to relate to the demographic of the community served? Are you passionate about the cause?
Traci Armstrong is the director of talent acquisition at Organic. Follow her on Twitter at @tannarmstrong.
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