5 Ways a Community Manager Can Help Your Media Outlet

    by Roland Legrand
    June 12, 2009
    People at an event organized by our newspaper. The event was a success, but next time we'll use more social media tools to enhance the community aspects.

    Recently, the New York Times appointed its first ever community manager, someone to “concentrate full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms to improve New York Times journalism and deliver it to readers.”

    Of course, the New York Times is a huge operation, and has an enormous community of print and online readers/users. Do we at Mediafin need a community manager at our newspaper? Or maybe we already have community managers, but we forgot to tell those people that they are, in fact, community managers?

    The community manager becomes the chief deconstructor of boundaries -- the boundaries between community and newsroom, and between storytelling and story promotion."

    Our newspaper may be smaller, but more questions than scale alone can be raised about the need for a community manager.


    Shouldn’t every journalist help to manage the community? Once a journalist engages in a conversation with his readers, whether on forums, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or on his or her own website, that journalist is managing a community — if the conversation is done right.

    A good conversation means that the journalist actually listens to reactions and suggestions, intervenes if reactions threaten to lower the quality of the discussion, and asks for input on upcoming stories or for feedback on published ones.

    However, even though journalists have a crucial task here, I am convinced a community manager is essential for our media.


    I have been reading a special report by ReadWriteWeb about community management. It consists of a 75-page collection of case studies, discussions and advice concerning the most important issues in online community. Complementary to this, ReadWriteWeb offers a companion online aggregator that each day delivers the most-discussed articles written by experts on community management from around the web.

    The report includes case studies in various industries, such as newspapers. Reading this and reflecting on my own experiences, I have to recommend appointing community managers at media companies.

    Five jobs for a community manager

    So what is the role of a community manager? I’d like to suggest this non-exhaustive list of 5 key points of attention:

    • Helping the individual journalists enter into conversations with the community. It is not yet the case — at least not at my newspapers — that journalists happily enter into conversations with people commenting on their articles. They don’t use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn enough to research and promote their stories. Someone has to point out the possibilities and help them with this new media. That someone could very well be the community manager. Besides, new tools develop so fast — for instance, various Twitter clients, Twitter tools, the Google Wave project — that someone has to cover these rapid developments.
    • Thinking about the design of the website and the print publications. Does this design facilitate conversations? Is it possible for the community to rate comments and articles, to look up profiles of journalists and fellow members?
    • Developing formats to enhance immersion into the community. I think synchronous online events, like live blogs, regular and special chat sessions using 2D tools or even virtual environments, are important here.
    • Developing formats for events in the physical world. The community manager would put together community conventions, feedback sessions, and specific conferences. The manager would think of ways we could better organize these physical encounters, using online tools to create interaction long before the event takes place and continuing long after the actual encounters.
    • Dealing with criticism and irritation. The community manager would be the advocate for the community in the newsroom but would also explain the newspaper’s coverage and reporting decisions to the community in response to criticism. The organizer would help the community to understand the behind-the-scenes “making of” aspects of news reporting. This overlaps with the traditional role of the public editor or ombudsman.

    Blurring boundaries

    As yet our publishing company has no formally designated community manager. But several people are involved in some of the above mentioned tasks, so we do have some experience with community management. From this we learned that managing a community can blur the boundaries between marketing and journalism — an unsettling proposition.

    Once individual journalists are told to promote their projects by using social media, they actually become marketers.

    And once the community manager wants to organize feedback sessions and community events, one can be assured the marketing department will take notice.

    i-143aeb6ec34fd842c1fcd73bce0e8202-cluetrain book.gif

    Traditionally, journalists are wary of becoming marketers. In the division of labor they are used to, they search for the truth, write or make videos, pictures and illustrations, and a completely different department — the marketing people — promote all this beautiful work in the marketplace.

    The problem is that not only is journalism a practice in transition (crisis?), but so is marketing. Since the Cluetrain Manifesto was written, there has been an ever increasing awareness that marketers too need to acknowledge that hysterical campaigns full of empty slogans no longer work. They too need to engage in honest conversations with the audience.

    At least, that is what I think about it. So my colleague Raphael and I decided to run our latest social media workshop not only for our fellow journalists, but also for our marketing colleagues. I’ll let you know how that works out!

    Crossing boundaries

    Maybe less controversial, the community manager is a person who will have to meet lots of people. The people formerly known as the audience, of course, will be a big part of that, but the manager will also have to deal with event organizers, marketers, site developers and fellow journalists.

    Thus it is very important that the manager has a clear mandate and the support by the publishing company leaders, because being the voice of the community can and will cause tension. But then again, it will also point out opportunities, and actually engaging in a conversation with a whole community is an exhilarating experience.

    In my humble opinion, the community manager becomes the chief deconstructor of boundaries — the boundaries between community and newsroom, and between storytelling and story promotion.

    Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

    Tagged: communities community management events marketing online communities
    • Hope this isn’t off-topic, but your thoughts about community managers for media outlets started me thinking about the need for community managers at libraries. Like journalists, librarians are often intermediaries between information and information users (there’s surely a better term). Shouldn’t librarians become active members of communities organized around common interests, if only to help others explore their interests more reliably and efficiently?

    • Great and comprehensive post Roland. I work for a digital news media company in Australia, on a parenting site with a huge community. It’s an amazing role and one I’m very passionate about for so many of the reasons you’ve listed above. It’s fascinating and empowering to engage with the audience over news stories and even have those members participate and be interviewed. I feel I’m at an exciting convergence point – there is so much potential for integrating news/information and community.

      @Michael You’re absolutely right. You should check out Connie Bensen. She is not only a thought leader in the community management space but she has over 10yrs experience in the public library system where she got her start… http://www.communitystrategist.net/about

    • I don’t like the word ‘manager’ in this context. Communities – or community conversations – shouldn’t be managed, but rather facilitated.

    • To be fair, Chrystal, management is more apropos than facilitation. The former is all-inclusive; the latter is someone who either leads or steps in to assist.

      Roland is correct that one way for newspaper staffs to embrace new media is to not merely use it but to be on the cutting edge of understanding new tools, training staff on the tools, and/or outreach to clients and customers with the tools. Any existing reporter or editor can facilitate, but they have their own jobs; and wouldn’t know what it means to manage social media. For the most part.

    • @Michael Henry Starks I am totally convinced librarians should be exactly that, facilitators and community members. I know for instance that libraries are rather popular on Second Life, because it helps people to interact while browsing through the virtual books. Not that I think that all libraries should establish themselves on Second Life, but it demonstrates how important interaction is (between readers, between readers and librarians).

    • @Ari @Chrystal Yes, I agree with Ari. I do not mean “management” in a kind of a top-down relationship, but it is rather all-inclusive. One cannot expect a journalist, who has to cover her or his beat, to reach out constantly to the community, the newsroom, the marketing department, the ICT-department, to learn constantly about new developments and tools in social media etc. I am already very happy when journalists respond to comments on their articles and use social networks for research and promotion of their work.

    • dirkmilbou

      A community facilitator seems to me a better jobdescription indeed.

      Last week, at the INMA conference in Antwerp for Dutch and Belgian newspapers, Gregorz Piechota from Warschau brought an interesting cases. to serve the digital natives better, his newspaper evolved form one single news site towards 90 community sites, all targeted to specific segments, such as e.g. ‘female kids between 11 and 15 years old’ or ‘people wanting to loose weight’. Some of these sites are ‘facilitated’ by only one “journalist” who acts and reacts with his community, generating more than 1 mio pageviews / month.

      On top of that, they started together with the other editors from Poland, new ‘advertising’ sales houses, dedicated to one target group, offering the community to potential advertisers with different ‘advertising’ formats from different editors (offline and online).

      That’s what I would call an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’

    • @Dirk very interesting. We often talk about “the community” while for many media outlets it would be more appropriate to talk about “the communities”…

    • This is a very interesting discussion that has developed surrounding the community manager vs. facilitator issue, but instead of haggling over the best word to describe the act of building, directing, managing conversations, I think journalists should be thinking about how they can develop their social media skills to fill these kinds of roles.

      I’m a great example. Just three years ago, I was working full-time as a broadcast news reporter, and as much as I enjoy(ed) reporting, the job opportunities aren’t as available as they once were. On top of that, commercial news is a burn out business, and I don’t know that I would have retired from the profession anyways.

      That being said, I’ve built my social media skills over the last several years and was recently hired as the “Content Manager,” for a social community that Public Broadcasting Atlanta is developing called Lens on Atlanta (www.lensonatlanta.org)

      It is certainly a shift, but I believe that there will be more career opportunities for content/community facilitators,managers, or facilitators.

    • I am a Community Manager for a news organization and was quoted heavily in the ReadWriteWeb special report mentioned in this post. This is a tough job that requires tact, great finesse, an amazingly thick skin, and work ethic that will not quit. This is more than communicating on platforms. It’s about building relationships, understanding your community and ambassadorship on a very large scale. I have grown an online community from zero, to more than 12,000 members in less than two years and it is a tall task, believe me. I would encourage folks to check out my newly released book: “18 Rules of Community Engagement: A guide for building relationships and connecting with customers online.” I am actually sharing it with several J-school professors.
      Angela Connor | @communitygirl

      Here is a post I wrote about the real skills community managers need to be successful.


    • One more thing. I see a back and forth in the comments about the actual word “manager.” Let me say this. That is *not* the argument. Some days you are a facilitator, others you are a manager. And depending on the niche and demographics of your community…some days you are a babysitter. Remember, you cannot know what to expect. So going back and forth about the title, is pointless. You wear many many hats in this job, and at the end of the day, it is absolutely “management.”

    • @Angela yes, interpersonal communication skills and a thick skin are needed in this job :)

    • Newspapers have been using the title “Reader Advocate” and while this practice has been in place for a long time it rarely used constant interaction of the readers. I like the idea of a community manager. Clearly people are looking for more transparency from news organizations. That’s why social media is so important with the youth. They feel it’s more open and real.

    • Roland, thanks for mentioning the RWW guide here and hosting this conversation! Glad the guide was useful for you and enjoying the comments here.

    • I’ve only just come across this post and it offers some great points.

      I think a Community Managers role differs by company/brand and community, but the one thing that remains constant is the need for the CM to have his/her finger on the community pulse. A CM also needs to wear many, many hats depending on the situation, we are true multi-taskers.

    • music is a part of our life.Thats i love ………much

    • really good

    • Sorry to venture off topic a bit, but unfortunately the first sentence of this article is incorrect.

      The New York Times, under the auspices of “New York Times Digital,” owned Abuzz.com, which I believe was their first online community and I was the community manager.
      I wish this new gentleman all the luck in the world and hope the Times learns from it’s horrible mistakes of the past (i.e.- don’t change the business model every 2 months).

      Otherwise, the article is great, thanks!

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