AS WE RAMP UP for the Internet Experience in Education Conference and Workshops (22 May 2008 in Tipperary Institute), I'm looking at several proposed seminars that bump up next to the idea of communities online. Invariably, those communities will run counter to the flow desired by management if they are perceived as anarchistic or time-wasting. To combat that damning conclusion, some friends have recommended giving the advocates some kind of title, like "community manager" being the person responsible for fostering a company's online social network. Others in the business point out that a "manager" is normally annotated at a specific level in an organisation's wiring diagram and that's not likely to happen in the case of some of the most fervent online networkers. Many of the most sociable people sit outside the executive suite so it might be pretentious to label them as managers.
Some of my friends think this is pedantic and when I talk to them about their opinion, I point out some of the community job titles I've held, including the very Irish moniker of PRO (Public Relations Officer). Anyone inside an Irish organisation could be the Online PRO without offending the sensitivities of an organisational theorist. Several of the early adopters of social networking tools where I work would be excellent in this posit
Before my computer screen delivered colour to my desktop, I worked in positions that would handshake with a PRO. In a NATO control centre, I was a marshal (Airlift Ops Marshal to be exact) where I worked behind a phone console containing 21 phone lines, six hotlines, two 32" screens of dynamic data, one telex and one consular phone. My job description articulated how I determined airlift priorities. Doing that effectively meant talking with people on the phone, reading their requests on a telex or seeing their cryptic movement codes on a large screen. This was social networking over ARPANET, around the time Marc Andreessen was starting college.
After hours, I worked as an assistant forum moderator in Compuserve's education forum, a lightweight PRO position, where some of my most critical activities involved barring stalkers from the student forum.
We had a mailing list and I was a List Mom on that. We also archived important class materials on USENET and I was a moderator in that space.
While working in Arthouse (now defunct), I installed and served as sysop for a bulletin board.
None of these activities qualify me as a manager of social spaces but all of them suggest I was filling the role of a PRO. I was a service specialist, dealing with requests and hanging bits of information on hooks to ensure others could benefit from them.
So when I hear people talking about the role of a community manager, I just wonder if they really think the person who tries to facilitate effective social networking is actually managing resources along the way. I also wonder if these newly-designated community managers have the respect of their organisations at a management level. If there's no resource allocation or organisational affirmation of a person carrying a manager's title, I think the terminology could confuse people. Confusion is not a good quality when trying to build a community.