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The role of community manager has gone from being a social experiment to an integral part of the newsroom. But are they there to teach old hacks new digital tricks or is there now a genuine business imperative and ROI factor in having staff to represent your brand through social media?

Which side are you on?

Kate Day, social media and engagement editor for Telegraph.co.uk, and is about to appoint a community manager, a new role for the title. Although Day admits she spends a lot of time in both marketing and editorial departments the new role will be closely linked to editorial.

She tells me: “We received a lot of applications from journalists, and also social media marketing people. This role is rooted in editorial so we are looking for someone who really understands the newsroom and it’s likely that they will be a journalist. The role will involve helping journalists source and develop news stories by making the best use new tools and platforms as well as helping to build a loyal, engaged digital audience.”

As far as Day is concerned, this role is there to not only help journalists do more but also to recommend the best social tools and skills to others. They will be required to have an overview of the industry and what competitors are doing with socially online.

The Telegraph’s community manager will focus largely on Facebook and Twitter but also keep an eye on comments on the site and the My Telegraph blogging platform.

Making it count

Day claims that because the Telegraph’s audience is fragmented across external networks and its own website, it’s no longer possible to generate a single stat to measure success.

“We can measure referral traffic, the number people on Facebook and Twitter amount of time they spend on the site and so on,” says Day. “There’s no single number that represents engagement or revenue return very well.”

Justin Fogarty is online community manager for Ariba a spend management site. He oversees a customer community called Ariba Exchange as well as managing several LinkedIn groups. He maintains that even from a B2B perspective the money is often difficult to trace, at least at first.

He writes on Mashable: “It’s not about ROI or advertising dollars at the beginning. It’s not about messaging and positioning. Customers will come back to a place with a compelling reason for going there in the first place.

“Let the user determine the model, and look at the type of user that you want to attract as the primary driver behind the online presence.”

But surely some companies by now are reaching a point where we can begin to see the money?

Social monetisation manager?

Mashable’s community manager Vadim Lavrusik, who previously worked at the New York Times, says making money is the next logical step for news organisations. He cites a job advert from Cox Media Group, which emphasises the revenue generation aspect of community management. Cox runs 15 broadcast television stations, 85 radio stations and eight daily newspapers. Interestingly, it already has a social media manager, Mathilde Picard, and this is an extra role – another example of how media groups create interaction first before moving to monetisation.

“In some ways, Cox is making a big bet that social media will play a big role in its revenue strategy — at least one big enough to require such a position,” says Lavrusik. “The position is part of a further shift in company strategy to invest in digital.”

The question is: are we ready to take this leap into a focus on not just interaction but revenue in the UK? Social media is about conversation, not pound signs, and brands risk losing credibility by seemingly selling out to advertising and harsh marketing messages.

Originally published on TheMediaBriefing