title-iconCM1 Asks What’s in a Name?

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The most surreal moment of the first CM1 Community Manager Conference, held last Thursday in Toronto’s Second City Theatre, came when the cosplay characters filed onto stage. Speaker Jonathan Sy, senior director of Edelman Digital, showed that he had taken his crisis-management topic to heart, “When Shit Hits the Fan,” by continuing nonplussed after the unscripted intrusion had ended.

Apparently the costumed heroes were part of a stunt to promote Best Buy Canada’s Reward Zone Gamer Club. But bizarre events didn’t end there. Many in the conference followed the public dissolution of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on their smartphones. There was the remarkable image of city councillors turning their backs on Ford as he spoke. And how about when the leader of the country’s largest city clarified whose pussy he liked to eat? The silver-tongued devil.

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The events provided a surreal context for the valuable information provided by this conference, aimed at defining and refining the role of community managers, who are the frontline of contact between businesses and their customers.

While “community manager” describes what I do sometimes, I still feel self-conscious using the title. The conference made clear the term is of recent manufacture. It didn’t exist five years ago. One speaker opined that the role wouldn’t exist, at least not in the same way, five years from now. Finally, Andrew Cherwenka, co-founder, CEO of Authintic, felt that it shouldn’t exist now. He believed that the role is more aptly defined as “social content strategist.”

Whatever we call ourselves, we’re apparently the “now” profession. Ryan Ginsberg, senior account executive at Twitter – often speaking in sentences more than 140 characters long – pointed out that his service treats “life as a series of ‘now’ moments.” While good CMs will plan as best they can to take real-time advantage of cultural opportunities and other major events, they must also be prepared to change up their games on the fly. Witness Oreo’s off-the-cuff tweet performance during the Super Bowl blackout.

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If I thought this focus on CMs would puff me up, the conference’s first speaker, Sheldon Levine, community manager of Marketwired, quickly deflated this notion. He pointed out that there are three types of CM: Publisher, Customer Service and Fully Immersed. I am one of the first, the content pushers – often old media types churning out stories online, like they used to in print (ouch!). The other two roles involve greater degrees of interaction with customers or audiences.

The only thing wrong with customer service is the customer. Who wants to do that? I’ll have to be satisfied with being a pusher (sorry, no crack).

As the CM role evolves it has as much to do with research and metrics as developing good content. Ginsberg and speakers Rebecca Brown and Eli Singer of Entrinsic all discussed examples of ad spots that had their genesis in conversations monitored through social media.

For example, Singer pointed out that during last season’s hockey lockout many commentators thought the prevailing mood was disgust with the fight between billionaires and millionaires. But trolling social media conversations demonstrated to Entrinsic that the real story was how people were flocking to smaller rinks to indulge in their undimmed love of the game. This not only got RBC mentioned in the same breath as Nike “Hockey is Ours,” but the bank took the web video and turned it into a prominent TV commercial.

For his part, Cherwenka of Authintic advocated that CMs should do weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reports covering reach, engagement and demographics of their social audiences. Sorry. This holds about as much interest for me as going on a fishing trip with Doug Ford.

Still, the number crunchers always win. They snap their whip and creative jumps.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Cherwenka warned of “vanity metrics” (for example, just measuring number of likes, puffing up corporate pride, instead of more substantial metrics) and “data porn.” The latter is giving reams of statistics to a CEO who only wants the top three business points.

But data porn? I can see Rob’s face light up with interest.

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