Community is an impressive and under appreciated profession. Good community managers need maturity and must be able to navigate the politics of the organization as they sit between the community and the rest of the organization.

In most organizations social media managers act as customer service representatives so not only need to know how the entire organization works and how to use the plethora of social platforms available to them, but they need to have diplomacy and know when and how to react to those moments that can turn into a crisis. Anyone in this role needs to be innately curious and ask questions, meet experts, and go to events to meet the right person to help the community feel connected to the company.

Community Management at Ford

Ford is interesting as it’s such a large organization and the social communication team sits in the centre of the organization as part of the corporate communications team. They represent many different brand voices – for instance “Ford vs Mustang” and they have also engaged the service team to also respond in social channels so it doesn’t all fall on the community manager to handle it all. This is a big addition to the social team as the service team will have an intimate knowledge of current as well as older products.

Community management is important part of running social media but new platforms brings more opportunities, so it’s about keeping an ear to ground. For Ford, they look to employees as advocates as they are faces of Ford but Untereker stressed that they couldn’t cover the pages without agency support and they work with Buddy Media to manage all platforms.  Despite the support, Ford is not as nimble as other brands (like Oreo’s response time during the Super Bowl) and aren’t at the level of three hour response time with creative but would like to get there.

At the end of the day, the team have to think what their priorities are and pick the platforms to support the objectives of the brand. As they are a small team, they aren’t on Pinterest but for them, that isn’t a priority at the moment. As they are a very visual brand, it would be fascinating to see them experiment in that space but not if it sacrifices the rest of their channels.

One of the big questions asked across the panel, was how to have a consistent brand voice that reaches across time zones, countries, etc. Ford has brand guidelines developed for each product but the main brand has general guidelines to stay aligned.

Keeping community management in-house at Whole Foods

While Ford is completely centralized, Whole Foods has separate metro accounts and a role in every region to cover the individuality of every community they are in. The teams communicate and bring one approach to how they work in social and, unlike Ford, all of its community teams are in-house.

This ensures that all those working on the whole food accounts understand the company from the inside rather than an agency led approach where those managing social will also be managing more than one brand and may not have the background knowledge of the products or core philosophies behind the company. At Whole Foods, you have to work in every department when you are a new store leader. The same goes for the community teams.

The Northeast region of Whole Foods has seven individual stores wanting to contribute to the regional page so there is always a balance that has to be achieved as there is more to talk about. Though Norwood would prefer to keep their postings down to one per day, they often have to post two to three times due to the volume of events, news and diversity of their community.

Sometimes negative news is an opportunity to make your brand more relevant. For instance, when the news about pink slim came out, the Whole Foods team promoted a tweet detailing the fact that the company never use pink slime and rather do all their meat grinding in house. This was the most successful promoted tweet for the company and helped solidify the brand message behind Whole Foods. 

Whole Foods also experiment with new platforms as they come out. As food is immensely popular on Pinterest, Whole Foods is there nationally and have a tumblr dedicated to the millennial food movement. It’s really about who you are talking to, where they are found rather than what message you want to put out there. 

What about measurement?

As for KPIs, these varied across the different companies on the panel. It’s really what’s important to executives. So volume and favorability are key at Ford with engagement as the key priority and the only set benchmark they have.

On the flip side, quality of customer service is key for Whole Foods. It would rather have people interacting rather than having large fan numbers as then the Whole Foods team knows they are engaging with their actual community and not fans who have come there through competitions or incentives to drive numbers. 

It’s no surprise to say that community directors have a huge role and has to work in parallel to other roles across the entire company. They need to be passionate about what it is you’re talking about as their role is to be honest, share core values, and speak in that voice as themselves to connect with their community.

But what’s next for these community leaders?

There still isn’t enough budget to maintain 24 hour coverage on social platforms so this can lead to burn out. As we move to become more integrated across business channels and with our customers and employees, we need to take this as an opportunity to restructure how we respond as a team and work together to strengthen social channels as a key avenue of cohesive communication with the right numbers of team members in place to make it happen effortlessly.

If you want to see the whole panel discussion, it has been live streamed, so you can watch here.