Having been around the digital media industry in Africa for the past five years, it has been amazing to see the kind of calibre of talent that has emerged and grown in leadership and in terms of respect. Recently there’s been a renewed focus on talent for the African marketing and communications industry as a whole with musical chairs going on and transfers across the East African landscape as noted by Kenyan weekly newspaper segment Smart Company some months ago.
Recently the question presented itself: what makes a successful, thriving and leading African social media manager? Or specifically a community manager within the realm of social media? To begin, it is only befitting that we come to an understanding what the term “community manager” means. There’s a number of definitions across the web but for purposes of this let’s work with the definition below according to community strategist Connie Bensen:
The person in an organization that is the social media specialist and works cross-functionally and holistically to ensure that the business objectives in regard to social media are met. The primary objective is to serve as a translator between customers and prospects and the company and vice versa.
There’s more to this definition. Though a good one, we need to dive into the community as it has different meanings in different organisations and can evolve over time.
A community manager needs to support customers, prospects and colleagues. The three constituents have very different needs. Customers require excellent service and appreciation shown for their support of the brand. Prospects require information about the products and services that the company offers. Both will appreciate from information about additional services that will benefit them. And colleagues need training and support in best practices for utilizing social media to meet the objectives of their roles.
I’ve been fortunate to network and interact with a number of social media managers and in some specific cases to even headhunt and recruit several of them, so with no further ado I present the five attributes of a successful community manager in social media.
A Conversation Starter
The thing with social media that can be hard for most seasoned marketers to get is the shift in power that the audience gets as a result of social networks and communities. The scale of 1.3 million Kenyans on Facebook and my guesstimates of +400,000 on Twitter mean that traditional “advertising-speak” doesn’t cut it. The long lost art of the conversation is an incredibly useful skill as the brand finds its feet and gets to know users and their interests before sharing product information and sales material.
It is a listening approach mirrored off of Steven Covey’s bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: First Seek to Understand, Then to Be Understood. It’s alien to most marketers and yet ingrained in most community managers. One person that I’ve seen do this consistently for years now has been Christine Mwiti who works with retail footwear brand Bata in Kenya. She embodies this and her personality has pushed the brand to the engagement levels they’ve grown over the years. Both in her personal capacity as a blogger and that of representing the brand and connecting with their audience, her and her team have grown and she personifies the ability to make the conversation about the people and not about the brand.
Inquisitive in Technology
When Soud Hyder and I hosted the #140Conf in Nairobi a few years ago, besides putting together one of the first social media conferences in the country, one other thing excited me. We were going to have someone who had created a track record as being part of Kenya’s best case study of corporate social media. At the time, I can tell you in my opinion it was one of Africa’s best I had come across alongside Guarantee Trust Bank in Nigeria and some of Cerebra‘s work for Standard Bank at the time being two other shining African lights to note.
We had among us for our panel discussion someone who paid a great personal and professional price to take Kenya Airways to the prominence it had. Not only by investing in an iPhone from as far back as 2008 but also in the time on and off the clock responding to customer tweets as well as using reporting tools on social media to show progress to management. That was Anne Muthui.
Her insatiable curiosity towards technology would have put a lot of today’s tech bloggers to the test. We had first met at Africa Gathering, where she presented a case study on the internal ways that Kenya Airways was monitoring and growing progress in social media. That quality is what separates her and no matter where today’s community manager comes from, a hunger for knowledge and enthusiasm in technology goes without saying.
Note: I must say however, that in this day and age, it’s not so much that community managers lack the skill of knowing what’s hot and happening in technology as much as they know too much news and have too little insights of their own. The delicate balance that I believe can be struck here is one where one is hungry to build their own insights and still “gets work done.” For more on this, have a look at the group of people known as “the grinders.”
Casual Yet Brand-sensible
In a day and age where a radio presenter (Ghetto Radio’s Githinji Mbusi Mwangi) growing in popularity is reinventing the next level of Kenyan slang and popular culture on a daily basis, never has the ability to converse in English, Swahili and even sheng become as important. Not only at a personal level in contemporary urban society but given that Facebook’s population is comprises 39% of 18-24 year olds, this may be a skilled called upon indirectly in translating and responding to the audience.
A case and point was Kevin Madegwa’s work for The Team. The Media Focus on Africa-backed TV show held intense debates and engagement with a Facebook audience through its Imani FC (the football club from the TV show) account and a good deal of it swinging between sheng and English. To manage both languages and yet keep the show’s sensibilities and mandate on behaviour change communication was more an art than science.
That body of work there is part of what ended up in him getting his current role of Online Media Manager at the Kenya Wildlife Service*. There if you follow his work you’ll find that the focus, brand ambition and audience are different and yet the sensibility behind the communication is the same and so is the casual level of conversation that takes place.
A Bridge Between Corporate and Community
One of the key elements about the role of community manager is how many stakeholders there are in “community.” It could be the agency of record, or customers and prospects and it could be co-workers or suppliers. A great community manager knows how to balance all these relationships and get the most out of all of them.
Truth be told, the first place that the community manager must excel is internally. Setting clear expectations of social media within the company and creating the systems to deal with the change and rapid turnaround time that come with taking a business social is key.
Maryann Michuki at Safaricom has excelled in this role. In one of the most competitive telecommunications industries on the continent, she’s been responsible for taking Safaricom from a place where social media was a “nice-to-have” to a point where it is part of their competitive advantage. They went from a legacy call centre centric system to a dynamic contact centre with an evolving offering. Adoption of new technologies to match changing customer expectations including online customer care support that was initially a hybrid model alongside their agency of record, Squad Digital to today where this is managed by a dedicated team of internal subject matter experts at Safaricom.
It’s here that they connect with their tech savvy community (who if you think about it are using mobile data to get customer service which makes it a win-win) who get served on Twitter and Facebook. It should also be pointed out that with Facebook’s new timeline Safaricom have done a commendable job of taking advantage of it to tell the brand’s story. Great effort on their part in addition to the newly launched Self Care portal among other online exploits. Credit where it’s due, to execute, manage and lead especially in the Kenyan telecommunications industry is no mean feat and Maryann’s work speaks for itself.
Propensity to Share
Non-profits have plenty to gain from social networks and web 2.0. Technology allows information and action to be mobilised much faster than before. From what Vance Muriu is doing with KunaVijana and his blood drive(n) startup Wanadamu and what the effect they’ve had which has shown plenty of other larger organisations that they can’t afford to ignore technology.
Take Philip Ogola’s work at the Kenya Red Cross for example. They are taking it to a new level where they’ve moved from being a breaking news source to putting their community to task on volunteering information and support back to the Red Cross. Their current efforts with the #iVolunteer hashtag and their community’s strong response has been remarkable to watch. The Kenya Red Cross share pictures and updates from the front lines and give the latest on casualties, accidents and helping to avoid calamities.
In all this devoting time, resources and attention towards relief as sourced by their online community. Recently when nominated for the 2012 Bloggers Association of Kenya Award for Best Corporate Twitter account, they went the extra mile of asking select members of their large SMS database to vote for them and consequently won by popular decision. See the rest of the winners here**.
There are far too many great stories of other community managers and social media managers across Kenya and looking beyond in other parts of the continent each with their distinct approaches. Overall this is a great space attracting good talent and amazing driven people doing memorable work with brands here across the continent as more Africans join social networks. As for the role of the community manager, I expect that to evolve but not the principles of sound judgement, engagement and sensibility to remain at the heart of it.
In some cases the work is added to existing members of staff with technically skills in I.T. and in some cases to those in Marketing and PR. Either way it’s becoming an inseparable part of a new job description involving communications, technology and business. And it won’t be the person with the aptly phrased Twitter bio or the scores of followers that takes the crown, but the person ready to understand a brand, nonprofit or small/medium sized business and the challenges and set out to create a memorable online identity.
* – KWS is a client.
** – I was a judge at the BAKE 2012 Blog Awards
Who do you think is doing a great job (company or community manager) online in Kenya? Who do you think could use some improvement?
Originally posted on HapaKenya.