Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Control, Responsibility, and the Evolving Role of Community Management

Questions of control and responsibility often arise when strategizing about the role of social media and social networking in the enterprise.

Questions of control may arise due to management’s concern that adoption of social media and social networking technologies will reduce the control the organization has — or thinks it has — over certain transactions and communications. If  “control” becomes more diffuse and decentralized following introduction of social technologies, the placement of responsibility and ownership for certain decisions and outcomes becomes more complex. 

The existence of such questions is one reason to track ongoing discussions about the emerging role of the “community manager” (e.g., see the Community Managers wiki). In a situation where control and responsibility are evolving, how should you define the role and responsibility of the community manager? (And, given that such roles are evolving, is it perhaps too early to be speaking of “best practices”?)

Perhaps a good place to start is to discuss the kinds of decisions you expect people to make and what ownership and responsibility you want them to accept for those decisions. 

What if your idea of “crowdsourcing” is to use social technologies to gather new ideas about products and services from members or customers. You as the “community manager” then pass these ideas on to the formal departments in your organization that develop those ideas further using processes that don’t involve the original idea sources. Will that be viewed by the original idea sources as a lack of sincerity — or just “business as usual”?

On the other hand, what if your organization establishes social-media-enabled relationships with members, customers, or staff, and these relationships involve group members in an ongoing process where ownership and reponsibility for certain decisions are acknowledged and shared. Will your organization then be able to sustain the level of effort (read: time and money) necessary to encourage and occasionally manage the involvement of the group?

Answers to these questions depend at least partly on management’s current philosophy and the nature of the business, irrespective of the specific social technology. In some cases, (1) the community manager will act as a sensory organ for the organization, listening and interpreting. In other cases, (2) the community manager will actively participate in the transactions and communications that are enabled by the social technologies. In still others, (3) the community manager may take a leadership role and steer or guide the communications that occur, taking into account company policy.

As you move from level 1 to level 2 to level 3, doesn’t it makes sense to give the community manager more authority and responsibility in the organization’s management hierarchy?

Question: as the role of community manager continues to evolve, what factors influence whether the community manager operates at level 1, level 2, or level 3?

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald


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