Skip to content
Community Managers: the silent Heroes in everyday Social Media Life
Communications – PR, Social Media, Content Tools 2 July 2019

Community Managers: the silent Heroes in everyday Social Media Life

Ever heard of the “Newspaper for cities, towns and villages”? No, it is not a local newspaper from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern consisting mainly of obituaries. Mr. Hermann Bräss’ newspaper is one of the most courageous and revolutionary media that our information society has ever produced. More than 200 years ago, at the time of the triumph of the printed word on parchment, Bräss called on his readers for the first time to send opinions and comments on current events in the form of a letter to the editor. The letter to the editor and with it a new form of public dialog between information giver and receiver saw the light of day. A world in which pretty much everything has changed since then.

radek grzybowski 74331 unsplash - Community Managers: the silent Heroes in everyday Social Media Life
Source: unsplash / Radek Grzybowski

Fighting on the social media battlefield

Since you started reading this text, about ten million people (absolute and completely fictitious number) have written a letter to a newspaper, a company, an institution, an association, a party, an NGO, a museum or anything else. They are digital letters to the editor. Letters to the editor, skim-reader-only letters, headline-only letters, don’t-read-at-all letters, listener-only letters – often of an astonishingly depraved nature. The senders no longer have to write them in ink on paper and march into town to share their rarely joyful message about current events.

A comment on Facebook, Twitter & Co. requires less effort. This, and the fact that every single one of them is published directly on every topic, makes today’s letters to the editor somewhat undifferentiated. Among many articles, they become an angry mob of opinions and counter-opinions – a battle on the social media battlefield. But what kind of foolhardy hero would face such an unpredictable danger? It’s the community manager – on his horse.

My blog post on the topic of shitstorms already gave an idea of the sometimes precarious challenges that await those working in community management. If someone represents a fire on the front line, a sword and shield are the least they need. However, if the subject of discussion is not a campaign or a sweet weekend greeting but an article about the European elections, a war, feminism or climate change, snippy expressions of opinion quickly become much more.

Journalism in two directions

Germany’s major print media are also confronted with countless comments on their social media presence every day. The tasks of community management remain the same here: Answering questions, dealing with criticism and adapting content if necessary, accepting praise, admonishing trolling, recognizing collective needs. All this with a consistent brand voice, clear attitude and comprehensible behavior. A task that, in the case of an online medium only true heroes are obviously up to.

alev takil ZeNciLLPQas unsplash - Community Managers: the silent Heroes in everyday Social Media Life
Source: unsplash / Alev Takil

What mission do Spiegel Online & Co. see in their community management apart from preserving official netiquette? What value do you attach to it in times of heated debate, crude language and populism on the internet? In an interview with t3n, Spiegel Online  Community Manager Ayla Mayer gave a glimpse behind the scenes and explained the most important purpose of her work: “Our goal is to curb these (…) attacks in order to make a real discussion possible.” Community managers try to direct the exchange of people under a post. They create a permanent dialog through interactivity. How proud Mr. Bräss would be of them!

Laura Oliver, Community Manager at The Guardian, also reported on the new “form of two-way journalism” in an interview with Zeit Online. But she didn’t just talk about the opportunities of her work. It was also about the big “gamble” that the team of reporters, editors and community managers would be taking. Reacting objectively, with watertight facts, on every topic, no matter how controversial, sensitive or polarizing – every word written in the name of a medium whose integrity must be preserved – silent heroes.

samuel sianipar 4TNd3hsW3PM unsplash - Community Managers: the silent Heroes in everyday Social Media Life
Source: unsplash / Samuel Siani

Secret weapon humor?

The differences to corporate community management become clear. The most important task here, on the other hand: Creating commitment. Users are encouraged to comment even more proactively. Brands can demonstrate wit and quick-wittedness – tricky for a medium that strives for objective reporting and credibility? However, Die Welt demonstrated the high branding factor this can have with its “Die Welt” intern from 2014 to 2016.

For around two years, the editorial team responded to comments under their articles with funny, sarcastic and sometimes bitterly angry answers. In the face of the danger that this could alienate readers, Die Welt declared a fictitious intern, who obviously does not have to live up to the editorial team’s high moral values, responsible for this. A huge success with broad media coverage. Those who can laugh about it, laugh about it. Despite its success, the infamous intern’s Facebook page dropped its final prank on December 2, 2016. Did its reputation as a neutral source of information suffer too much from the mischievous comments? Some of them were certainly heroic, but can a hero be mean? At least you won’t find any biting comments in Die Welt today.

The silent battle against windmills

And yet, every day, around the clock, even at weekends, numerous community managers bravely face up to the many, even snotty, comments that thunder down on them. They admonish the chauvinistic Detlef, block the racist Walter, correct the completely clueless Heike. And they advise the angry mob again and again to please read the post first before making a fuss. They do all this quietly and secretly. It’s not just about Detlef, Walter and Heike. It is about the reach that anti-foreigner, anti-woman, anti-gay and other anti-life thoughts have in our world. Comments from people who do not understand the interrelationships of our complex world, or only understand them incorrectly. Mr. Bräss would also have had his problems with the community management of his newspaper. There was only one thing he would not have been upset about in the 18th century: spelling.

Share this article