Over the last few years, social media has evolved from an idea that only the most bold and courageous marketers faced to a more sophisticated and mature way of doing marketing. It's moved beyond its "test and learn" phase and is becoming interwoven into a lot of business models. Social is no longer a way to simply extend marketing, it's a way to do business. As a younger person still cutting his teeth, it's been a fun evolution to watch.
For a lot of people out there around my age who work in social on the agency side, many of us play the role of "community manager." We are the ones acting as the voice of the brands, interacting with brand participants, writing content and responding to posts. As a community manager, you take complete ownership of the brand and probably know its ins and outs better than anyone and have your thumb on the pulse of their community.
That said, I don't believe the community manager role inside of agencies as we know it today will exist in five years.
Abundant Career Growth
I don't think this is a job risk for people my age. Inside the agency world, the career path for a community manager is ripe for opportunity. Eventually, social media won't be as specialized of a task as it is now. Creative directors, account execs and project managers will all be ones that also know the social landscape. It'll just be one other thing everyone will know how to navigate (some better than others). As a community manager at Engauge, I know I had the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with our creative team on concepts, how to break down KPIs and successes with our analytics team, client budget and SOW work from our account folks and even had a significant amount of client-facing time educating our clients on what was new in the social landscape. These experiences have helped me learn something across disciplines, widely opening up doors for career growth for myself and others who work in similar roles as me.
Today's community managers will be tomorrow's media buyers, account directors, or even (gasp) developer team leads. Agencies that survive in the future will be the ones that are inherently social in knowledge and don't have to lean on a couple of people for a wide bucket of information.
So What Will Social Agencies Do?
I could be wrong (after all, I'm 25 and making business predictions) but social agencies won't get their bread and butter from community management. As companies and brands continue to grow, they'll most likely hire their own internal teams for the actual managing of communities. The burden of responding to fans and engaging will fall on the brand and not the agency. It's already starting to happen in some cases and will continue.
Agencies will continue to find value in their consultative services. Helping define the brand voice and tone for social pages. Providing creative content that works in social but remains consistent with other marketing initiatives the brand is taking. Helping with development of tabs, landing pages, Open Graph apps and data collection to help brands send more effective and targeted messages. Agency partners will also help set up and train larger corporations who may have many chains or sub-companies maintain a consistent voice across their entire enterprise system (like what Edeleman Digital wrote about here).
At the end of the day, agencies should stay valuable through the creative thinking they can provide their clients. Not the day-to-day management.
I'm A Community Manager....Now What?
As a community manager today, don't be content to just be the content writer and responder. Learn more about how businesses in general can be inherently social. Learn how to speak the same language as your developer co-workers next to you. Find ways to grow your skill set outside of Facebook and Twitter. In today's economy and rapidly changing landscape, developing your agility to learn how social also fits into other skill sets will make you tremendously valuable in the future.
I truly believe today's "digital natives" have a leg up on the competition years down the road (provided they continue to learn and grow their skills).
What do you think tomorrow's community manager will be?