When someone says to me, "I am a community manager", the first thing that goes through my mind is that they manage some sort of community. Makes sense after all, right? The problem with the definition of community manager begins with the separate meanings of each of the two words, and then the resulting definition after you combine them.
What community are you referring to and how exactly are you managing them? The words and combined meaning are so broad, there have actually been abuses to their use. "Yeah, I am a community manager. I just so happen to manage for my neighbors in our community when they need someone to take care of their kids." Sorry, but that isn't a community manager. That is what families typically call a "baby-sitter" or a "house-sitter".
There have been many other loose interpretations, but the source issue is the fact that there are simply a lot of legitimate community mangers that have a variety of job functions and tasks that often merge with other positions in their companies. Call center support, marketing and production are just a few of those areas that will have a community manager involved.
The definition of "Community"
Dictionary.com definition - "a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage."
A community is essentially a group of living elements that share common traits and goals with each other. You could say that a forest is a community of trees. They all go through the same overall life cycle as other creatures around them, and are close enough together to provide a habitat for those creatures. All of which in turn provides further life and support for the entire ecosystem, which is the community of the forest.
When we often think of a community however, humans are usually involved in that vision. Humans are drawn to communities for support, protection, and mental well-being. Many of the same traits the trees in a forest share, except of course for the mental well-being part. These groups can range from a handful of members to well into the millions (and for humans into the billions).
As with the title of "Community Manager", there are no solid boundaries in numbers. From this point forward I will be shortening the phrase to the common acronym of "CM".
The definition of "Manager"
Dictionary.com definition - "a person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it."
To make things even more interesting, the definition and use of the word "manager" is even broader than that of "community". Managers may range from a garden tender managing his produce, to a CEO that manages a garden of a few thousand workers. Whatever the scale though in what they manage, managers are there to ensure a smooth operation. You certainly wouldn't want anything going wrong with that sewer pump, would you? The manager will take care to ensure knowledgeable staff are on hand to deal with the crisis, we hope...
I have to admit that I have even had one of those "yeah, I've managed, sure..." positions that I've been accused of mentioning more than once. Often my friends would gather at my home to play computer games. It was typically my responsibility to ensure access to enough computer space, a selection of available games, and of course a fully stocked fridge. I was the "CM" for my local LAN party. Not exactly a true definition to the title, but you can see how it sometimes doesn't have a clear boarder. What job title really does? A 3D facial artist perhaps.
A game developer CM
What is a CM when you're talking about the game industry? There are two key groups that are both distinct, yet work closely with one another that share the same goals and values. They are the official game CMs and the media network CMs. They both work online with the community, as well as the developers and their own immediate team.
There is only one outstanding difference in what a game developer CM does vs. a media one. Game developer CMs often have the added task of working with marketing in an official capacity. The key theme to recognize is that a CM's duties are to provide a link between all parties. Depending upon the organization and how closely they are with the game developers will determine their exact duties.
The way CMs link these groups are through the following important methods:
1) Keep the community excited about the game they play through developer Q&A
2) Keep the developers informed of player related feedback regarding their games
3) Represent the studio in a liaison capacity to publishers and all other parties involved
3) Post daily news and update their site to keep everyone "on the same page"
4) Interact in their site forums to stir discussions and for the above items
5) Attend events and marketing promotions to encourage excitement and growth for the game
Communication, or lack thereof
The CM ought to really be called the CCM, or "Community Communications Manager", as almost all of their duties and focus rely upon being able to effectively communicate from one group to another. The community relies on the CM to tell them what the developers are doing, while the development team relies on the CM to tell them how the community is reacting to the experience of playing their game.
Here are just a few of the things that can go wrong, or at least not function efficiently when there is a poor CM on your team, or worse, a lack of one altogether:
1) Players yelling at no one in particular because the game is broken and no one is telling them why
2) Developers yelling at players because they don't have a proper channel to go through (the CM)
3) Marketing yelling at the developers because their are no players playing their game!
4) No one yelling at anyone because nothing is being communicated about anything, so everyone just gives up and goes home because there is no money left to finish building a game the community knows nothing about.
The importance of CMs is becoming more apparent every year. Companies in all industries are finally realizing how important it is to have an online human presence that can properly and proudly represent the company, while continuing to be a communications bridge between all parties involved.
I am proud to be a community manager. I love learning about people and discussing their needs, and how I can help fulfill those needs. The trick in the trade is to get everyone else to come together with you and share those same goals.