2019 Australian Community Managers Career Survey: room for greater impact

by Venessa Paech July 25, 2019

The 2019 Australian Community Managers Career Survey – the third annual survey of the sector – has revealed an industry making its mark on organisations and businesses, with plenty of room for growth and impact.

The results have highlighted that, despite its growth as a practice, community management is still largely misunderstood and confused with social media marketing. Only one in five (22%) Australian community professionals say their role is understood and valued by the organisations they work for or with. Meanwhile, community itself plays a strategic role in 26% of organisations with community managers.

Why is this a problem?

Like any business or service, if you don’t know the problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll struggle to solve it. And if you apply a band-aid to a gaping chest wound, you’re unlikely to get the results you hope for.

Organisations who want to look at deepening loyalty, generating knowledge or co-creation networks, building movements around ideas, or peer support, would do well to explore community strategies and enlist community strategists. If you’re interested in marketing, brand awareness, reach and amplification or working with influencers, you’re probably going to benefit from a social media approach. Both measure success differently and demand different skill sets. Some professionals do both, others specialise.

As organisations get better at identifying their needs and objectives, we expect to see community applied more strategically, and value better captured across the board.

The number of community professionals facing online harassment or bullying has declined from one in three in 2015 to 15% 2018, however, 9% of community managers still identify it as a major problem in their work. One respondent described a “prevailing culture where Australians tend to treat strangers on the internet as though they were less than human.”

Setting yourself up for success

If you work with community managers in your organisation, it is important they have adequate protections and conditions for success. This isn’t just about stepping in once there’s an issue (such as online harassment or abuse in the communities or channels they oversee). It is about working with relevant internal stakeholders to cultivate responsible and ethical environments from the outset.

It means making sure your community staff:

  • are working reasonable hours
  • can take time out when they’re ill or need a holiday without worrying about the community and their job
  • creating structures and channels that allow them to work collaboratively and resist isolation
  • have access to legal resources as required
  • have assistance to help them understand their rights and responsibilities as both individuals and public representatives of your organisation
  • are working cooperatively on governance, facilitating safe avenues for discussing sensitive issues, and taking escalated matters seriously

Platforms need to help out

In the wake of the Christchurch Call, we have seen an increase of scrutiny on platforms that host social interaction. So, relationships with platform providers, especially social media networks, is an area of focus in the 2019 survey. For the survey, platforms include:

  • dedicated community software – such as forums
  • social networks like Facebook – while not designed for community building, their scale and ubiquity mean they are popular regardless  

The top issues community managers want to discuss with their platform provider include community management tools (33%) moderation tools (31%), platform design (23%), users’ data privacy (17%), content regulation (16%) and organisational data security (15%). Yet despite these concerns, only 13% of community managers said it was “easy” to make contact to discuss issues. 7% said it was “impossible” to talk to platforms like Facebook. 

Community managers overwhelmingly agreed four main areas were key to improving relationships with platform providers: consistency in response and outcome; responsiveness to ideas and issues raised; relevance of resources; and transparency around roadmap and issue status.

The future with AI

More than one in five (27%) Australian community managers are working with AI on tasks such as sentiment detection, content management and moderation. AI can help by performing strategic tasks at speed and scale, allowing community professionals to focus on relationship building and strategy.

It’s easy to get excited about the possibilities in this area. But remember, when working with AI in a community context, that context is always king. Most AI helps create efficiencies – such as speed and scale. However, these may not be as valuable in a social or community setting as they are in pure productivity terms. Relationships are not always strengthened if they form rapidly, and tasks such as information retrieval– which AI is often great at – play a different role in a social setting (a role that makes the community as a whole more successful over time). If you’re thinking of applying AI in a community setting, consult a community management specialist first, to ensure it’s lined up against your community and organisational goals and doesn’t end up working at cross purposes.

The 2019 Australian Community Managers Career Survey is the only vocational research into professional online community management in the Asia Pacific region. A special thanks to our survey partners Quiip, Higher Logic, Discourse and The University of Sydney.

The complete survey results are available for free download now.


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