New Model Army

There was a very interesting conversation that played out some time back across a number of blogs. Shel Israel (author, with Robert Scoble, of the business blogging book Naked Conversation) began discussing the search by one of his clients, Scrapblog (an online multimedia scrapbooking service), for a person who could wade into the community that was growing up around their product. (They wound up hiring Alex de Carvahlo.)

This conversation, which began on Shel’s blog Global Neighbourhoods, began as a quest for the right title for this position. In this age of conversation, social media and online communities that often surround and either buoy up or drag down a company, what should a person be called who is part PR manager-part community manager, part never-been-seen-before, part same-old-thing?

Carlos (the Scrapblog CEO) was in the process of hiring somebody whose job it was to be to join communities, rather than start them; who’s is to join conversations, some of them having nothing to directly do with Scrapblog. The ideas is that this new community enthusiast will become known and trusted in the community, and when Scrapblog has authentic news, other community neighborhoods will be involved.

There is no job description for this person. You cannot go to an HR manual and find the requirements.

With that first post, commenters suggested “community enthusiast,” “buzz director” and “social reporter.”

With the next post, Shel said, “I am willing to bet that there would have been far fewer people expressing this very high level of excitement had I posted that a client needs either a director of marketing or a product manager.”

The conversation migrated to Carlos’s Scrapblog blog where additional possibilities were outlined, including (thanks to yours truly) Master of Conversations (quoting Zurb). Eventually, the Scrapblog folk decided for the folksy Community Guy title.

This conversation, which lasted over a week, spread across at least two blogs and included several dozen people, points out an important issue in a time where business no longer can rely upon the tried-and-true (tried-and-false?) model of the one-way infosuckling of its infantilized customers. The customer has grown up. Better treat him and her like adults. There is too much information about whom they can leave you for. And too many truly excellent ways for you to relate to them to waste the opportunity. But to do so you have to do one thing and that thing is hard. You have to be honest.

When I say that being honest is hard, I don’t just mean you can’t claim to be who you’re not and you can’t claim your patent medicine will cure baldness, sterility and the staggers. I also mean you have to be honest about what you’re doing. The one element of the conversation I was uncomfortable about was the apparent lack of interest in admitting that while the person who fills this type of role may well at any given time be on the side of your customers, they work for you. And they should. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. Otherwise, you’re still hanging on to that old model: tricking the customer.

Shaking the old model is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you different.


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