Do Community Managers and Social Media Managers Have Different Roles?

Image via CrunchBase

Thanks to Jeremiah Owyang, industry analyst at Altimeter, one of my favorite resources, for reminding me that yesterday was Community Manager Appreciation Day around the world. All kinds of activities were held in celebration of the individuals who hold this relatively new position in companies.

You might want to read Altimeter’s study 10 Key Stats of the Community Manager Space #CMAD. If your company is considering who should manage social media within your company, then does it matter whether you hire a Community Manager or Social Media Manager?

Community Manager Role

According to Owyang’s definition on his Google+ account:

Collectively, Community Managers are the most powerful group on the Internet — but few stop to realize how and why they’ve achieved this. They’re trusted by the top corporations to relentlessly help customers in online channels, and are the modern day example of a concierge. Furthermore, they’re changing business and putting a human face, touch, to an otherwise cold digital landscape.

In reviewing Community Manager job descriptions, Altimeter found the most critical requested skills were writing ability (83%), customer relations in online channels in normal daily conditions (76%), and working with other departments (53%).

I’m not surprised by the writing statistic. The 140-word tweet and social media abbreviations are corrupting good grammar. Sad to say, good writing is in short supply these days. True story: I met with a young woman who had graduated from college with a Communications degree. She said she had never been required to take a writing course so she didn’t bother.

Role of Social Media Manager

Returning the title of this post, if the Community Manager’s job is so interwoven with social media, then what’s the role of the Social Media Manager? Are they often the same person?

I wrote about the seven basic duties of the Social Media Director in a post a couple of years ago, so I decided it was time to circle  back to the subject.

I located this definition of a social media manager on

A social media manager is the individual in an organization trusted with monitoring, contributing to, filtering, measuring and otherwise guiding the social media presence of a brand, product, individual or corporation. The role is similar to that of a community manager on a website forum or public relations representative. Social media managers are often found in the marketing and public relations departments of large organizations.

Sounds a lot like the role of the Community Manager.

The Job Boards

Social media network connection concept
I decided to check to assess the level of interest in both titles. Monster listed 356 current searches for Social Media Manager.

Then I searched Community Manager – only 66 listings for Marketing Community Manager and within those were included Community Relations Managers. Monster offered an alternative, “Web Community Manager” which produced only two searches.  But none for simply Community Manager.

I turned next to, a site that aggregates searches on job boards, for Community Manager and a variety of jobs popped up, mostly for property managers and a few for health community care managers. But none matching Altimeter’s definition of a community manager. Then I searched for Social Media Manager and dozens of jobs came up with variations on that title.

My question is this: can the Community Manager be that essential when companies are not listing the position on job boards? A whole day is devoted to celebrating managers who are barely on the radar. Maybe I’m missing something here.

I turned to trusty Wikipedia and turned up no content for Community Manager but Wikipedia suggested checking Online Community Manager. It turns out that Jeremiah Oywang is the leading evangelist for this role, which he held at Hitachi Data Systems. He maintains lists of Community Managers and, in 2010, Oywang created Community Manager Appreciation Day, which caught on and is celebrated in several countries.

Community or Social Media Manager?

I admire Jeremiah Oywang and have no doubt that many companies employ Community Managers, but I wonder if that title is familiar to the vast majority of companies that are seeking talented individuals to manage their social media efforts.

If you’re a professional interested in a position in social media with a company, wouldn’t you be more likely to search the term “Social Media Manager?” That’s how companies are listing this function and the job title they most often use.

What do you think? Community Manager or Social Media Manager? Please leave your thoughts in the comment box. Thank you.

Leave a Reply


  1. I think the term may be all wrong. Actually, I never heard of it until your post. Things SOUND like social media manager but maybe not. But hey, the idea about a day for them? Why not? Every one deserves a day and maybe it will help clarify and make the role more visible.

    • Pat — I think that companies are still struggling with the role and where it fits in the organization. Some companies have centralized it at the corporate level while others have social media managers for each division. Social media is so embedded in our lives now, that we forget that its still in its infancy and we’re all still trying to figure it out.

  2. Their time is coming. You are hearing more and more interest in this type of position, no matter the title. (although I do prefer Social Media Manager). As the whole interactive part of SM continues to grow, so does a companies interest in gaining an expert to help them engage with that audience. 🙂

    • Susan — And those of us who provide social media services to companies should also be receiving more assignments — right?!

      • One would think. The key is to approach companies with a plan or package to do this. Many don’t know what to do and how to find the person to do it. So I say go for it. 🙂

        • I agree! I have a client and one its senior executives I met for the first time immediately told me he didn’t believe in social media. Not everyone is a believer!

  3. Interesting article Jeannette and I think those in social media are in some ways confusing companies. I prefer social media manager as it is simple to understand where as Community Manager sounds fluffy. Also your description is better. One question for you Jeannette is why do community managers need writing skills. Is it because they including content into the job description?

    • Susan — In my view community managers need writing skills because they are the face of the company to external (and often internal) constituencies. If you can’t write, you can’t communicate. I’ve seen pretty horrendous writing on some corporate websites and blogs.

        • Selfishly, I would hope they’d outsource the content because that’s one of my services. But many companies do everything inside. By the way, not every consultant who specializes in websites is a good writer, either!

          • Agree about consultants not always being a good writer. It is a skill that those like you have that many of us (me) admire. And I believe in outsourcing to those that have the skills so I hope more outsource to you Jeannette.

  4. I can see where a Community Manager would be necessary and useful to very large companies and groups. But I think that Social Media Managers are now a key position in nearly every company, as if your company is not active here online,m it’s really missing the boat!

    • Doreen — I, too, think that Social Media Manager as a function and title will be the norm in all companies sooner than later!

  5. Interesting Jeannette. Must admit I have never even heard of Community Managers in this context. What they do is necessary but why not simply call them Social Media Mangers.

    The need for writing skills limits the amount of people who can do the job. Your example illustrates that very well. Not to forget the abundance of blogs out there on interesting subjects that nobody reads because the person writing it cannot write.

    • Catarina, glad you agree about the need for writing skills. As you point out, there a lot of blogs that are simply poorly written.

  6. This is my first time pondering the question of whether or not there is a difference, so my thoughts might be a bit rudimentary but I figured I would give it a go:

    I would think a “Community Manager” would be one to oversee a particular online community- I’m thinking of the message boards on a site like iVillage, or groups on Meetup, for example.

    A Social Media Manager seems to be one who would oversee not only that community but all of a company’s social media channels. So the community manager may be in charge of only one aspect of the entire social media strategy for a company.

    • Victoria – thanks for stopping by. You have yet another take on “Community Manager.” The title could certainly be construed as narrowly focusing on a particular online community. I hadn’t thought of that possibility.

  7. Though the description for the roles share commonalities, the inclusion of the word community is very important. How to foster a sense of community is related to, but still different, than managing social media. I’m not surprised at the mention of the communications major who was not required to take a writing course in college. How can these roles be effectively filled if the applicants have not undergone rigorous training in all modes of communication? Oh well, we will always have the “like” button 😉

    • Jeri — Both you and Kelly bring up the point about the broader responsibilities of a “Community Manager.” But no matter the term or the title, an individual must know how to write because it’s our most fundamental communication tool after the spoken word.

  8. I do think that social media managers are popping up as a position more and more these days, but if the actual job fell under a broader umbrella than just social media platforms, they should be referred to as a community manager. Although, most of the “community” of a business is online these days so that pretty much only refers to social media. Good conversation and ideas brought up in this though.

    • Kelly — Interesting observation that “Community Manager” may be a more appropriate term for an individual who has social media as well as community outreach responsibilities.

  9. I prefer the term “social media manager” because community manager sounds too vague. In either case, the company has to define carefully the role of the manager. And yes, the person will be representing the company, so writing and communication skills would be vital. I would think the company looking to hire can seek out those who are already active on social media to see if a person is interested. If the person is interested, then the company can define the need more carefully with either title.

    • Leora — good point about seeking out people active on social media. It surprises me how many professionals are still not proficient at even the basics. I think the role – whether social media manager or community manager — is still being defined and the responsibilities will depend a lot on what the company does.

  10. Cheryl — You’re right. The social media role is huge. I still know of companies that think it’s a big waste of time but they will be left behind. Let’s face it — social media rules the world!

  11. Social Media Manager makes a whole lot more sense, and must be essential for even relatively small businesses now. Marketing manager can go in all kinds of directions, and Community manager just sounds like a PC way of saying Social Media Manager. Enjoyed the post Jeannette. Thank you.

  12. As someone who often talks about community building (on my blog), the term community manager makes a lot of sense to me. My thought is that there would be more of a focus on building relationships in the job description of the community manager whereas there may be more of a focus on the how-to skills for the social media manager. Possibly, the community manager would rely more on strategic planning.

    I wasn’t familiar with this position either. (Actually, I’m intrigued by it and can’t help but wonder if it isn’t something that would interest me). I just did some quick research of my own and I ran both terms through the Google AdWords keyword tool. The results were interesting. It returned 201,000 global monthly searches on “community manager” and only 60,500 global searches for the term “social media manager”. Then again, that term could be taken out of context. My years working in a non-profit makes me wonder if it could be a term related to non-profit agencies. At the United Way (where I worked), there was a Community Building department.

    I’m really glad that you brought this to light. It’s an interesting topic for sure.

    • Sherryl — please excuse my delay in responding, especially because you decided to do your own research. I found in searching the job boards that when I inputted community manager many community relations jobs popped up. So people searching Google for community manager may actually be searching for a different function. Also, you make a good point, that the community manager may have — or potentially will have — a more important strategic role the social media manager.

  13. Dan — thanks for your take on the role of the community manager. Possibly the community manager can focus on all communications channels to reach a company’s various communities whereas a social media manager is focused on the social media channel. It will be interesting to watch this unfold.