Online Communities by .mw It’s a new field where there are no experts; no real training for classification or certification, and it’s difficult for folks participating in it to explain how it works. It’s not a lawless field where anything goes, but the cowboys still roam the prairie where social media grazes. Christopher S. Penn describes the problem and the process quite well in his post How to Become a Social Media Expert, comparing social media to the nuances of martial arts training – pretty good analogy in my book.

Since there are no real experts with years of schooling and experience, how does a company find a community manager? Heck, how do they determine what they’re looking for – most companies really don’t even know exactly what they need. Several are starting to here “community manager” more in relation to social media, and I suppose it does make a bit of sense to the average hiring manager.

As I’ve been looking around in this space as a consultant myself, I’ve noticed a bit of mislabeling, and misunderstanding of what these positions do. They can range from being a glorified forum moderator, to the public figurehead of the company in social media circles. The vagueness and inconsistency is frustrating to both those looking to move into these jobs, and the companies who realize they need someone to fill this indefinable niche they have.

Normally, a company would hire a consultant to help define the needs, address the process, and sometimes assist in filling the role. The problem though is… aren’t consultants experts and there really aren’t any social media experts? Catch 22 huh?

Some firms are looking internally and finding candidates in their existing staff. This could be anyone from marketing, to information technologies, to human resources (and beyond). Sometimes it’s easy to get noticed and get in front of the right people. Other businesses are going for the big guns and hiring out consultants from the A-List to assist them in their social web endeavors.

At least, several of the A-List actually have participated in building, shaping, and forming the concepts of the social web through the work of Cluetrain and their own pieces through the years. This is a great place to start, even for organizations with small budgets – many of the thought leaders in social media give away really good information for companies to start from.

So in this nascent “industry”, there is confusion on both the side of organizational need and individual growth in social media. The next step for those mastering the dark arts of the social web is to be bold, go forth, do good things, and prove that you have the vision and understanding. Both to the founding concepts of Cluetrain and to the fiscal responsibilities of corporations that want to participate in, not control, the message.

Photo credit: .mw

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