Managing ROI for Community Managers

 Graphic credit: Buzz Canuck

Earlier this month, I responded to a question that was posed by a friend on Twitter about her role as a community manager. There was an issue about determining what return on investment (ROI) there is for having a community manager working within a particular company. Is there one? Shouldn’t we just ignore what’s going on with the conversation and just move on with our lives? People will still buy our product regardless if we’re talking, right? No. If you’ve started a community, you’d better get someone on board who knows how to moderate and offer a point of support for those engaged.

So just why should you consider having a community manager? Because that person is essentially the first line of “defense” that your company & brand has to respond to anything in a crisis or to offer feedback/support should there be a question about product effectiveness, troubleshooting, Q&A, etc. Business leaders should learn that when dealing with the web, marketing is not always measured in numbers and statistics all the time. Moreover, while one can measure the number of hits, page views, unique visits, or clickthroughs on a web analytic tool, the point of generating success with a community manager is through a long-term investment. We’re not looking at simply a one-week timetable or perhaps even 30 days. Rather, the focus should be over the course of several months – very much like a campaign.

To have a community manager, you must first have a community. The role of a manager isn’t to just parade around a single network like on Ning or simply on Twitter. Rather, they’re to go around to various websites and networks and check out what’s being said about their company. The community is not a structured presence. You cannot simply pen in the community as they’re a wild heard of virtual voices. The skill of the community manager is their expert knowledge in finding these “voices” and listening to them. Where exactly would they be led to? Who knows…it could be on Facebook, Twitter, Utterli, Myspace, Friendster, blogs, message boards, GetSatisfaction, and many others.

Earlier today I came across a great post on the Organic blog about community management and it seemed very appropo for this topic. In one part, the post reminded me that the community is very much like a party and as a manager, you’re the host. So in order to make your “party” the best one that people would continue to come back to celebrate your brand (or at least know where the fun is), there are several steps you can take.

  1. Who are my biggest supporters?
  2. Am I being a good host/hostess?
  3. Have a given people a reason to come back?

Those were from the Organic website and make great sense. For community managers, they’ll need to look at finding those that are talking about your brand & company and make them your biggest supporters – some may consider these to be called evangelists. Also, if you’re a good host/hostess, then your customers will be more inclined to revisit the conversation over and over again, thereby giving you a reason for engagement. Lastly, if you’re giving them a reason to come back, you’re building a (dare I say it) relationship.

So what’s the end game here? Where is the return on investment for having a community manager on staff? Simple. You bring in someone who can break through the convoluted mess called the Internet to determine who is talking about your product. Then the community manager will produce people who are talking good things about you, those that are asking for help, and those that aren’t too happy but being worked on to understand how to improve the company’s product(s). The ROI here is to build enough relationships and improve your positive perception about customer service which will equate at least one of two things: evangelism via word of mouth and/or some sort of action like purchasing a product or subscribing to a listserve – there’s your numbers.

As Geoff Livingston of CRT/Tanaka points out in his blog post, “without a community manager, companies can fail to harness the many benefits organized social media can offer.” Just look at the role a community manager plays (see graphic above) within an organization that Buzz Canuck put together. If you think that multiple people whose jobs are focused on non-conversation relatied issues can handle this every day, then you probably don’t see the benefit of a community manager. These responsibilities in-of-itself is probably all the ROI that you’d need to bring one on board.

If you happen to have some extra cash lying around, you might want to look at the community management report ($299) by ReadWriteWeb that may offer some additional insights into why you should look carefully at those forming your community.

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