Yesterday (13/04/11) I went to the April “Gov2.0 Canberra” Lunch to discuss social media and its role in government. Among the people there was Alison Michalk (@alisonmichalk) from Quiip, a social media company that provides community managers to help private and public agencies. Having previously worked at, a Fairfax Digital site for Australian parents with over 200,000 members she has had extensive experience managing online communities for large organisations.

As the main presenter of the event Alison outlined 3 roles and 3 risks community managers must be aware of as well as their importance in online interactions. She also briefly discussed how technology was less important to creating a good community than people are, and succinctly summed it up as the ‘Field of Dreams’ paradox – just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. For people to want to engage, there needs to be not just a technical platform to do so, but more importantly there must be engaging content and interactions.

The roles of a community manager (CM) include acting as a:

Leader - As a leader a CM must enforce the rules of the community and own the inherint risks of online interaction. The rules a CM must enforce include both the rules imposed by the managing agency and the rule that the community has organically agreed upon.

Participant – In this role a CM also acts as a member of the community, rather than an authority figure. This included engaging with other users, such as encouraging and recognising good work, listening to community concerns and creating content as a member.

Advocate – Alison describes this as the most difficult role of a CM, as it requires the to act as an advocate, not only for the agency, but also the community. This means both guiding the community as required by the agency, but also acting on behalf of the community when communicating back to the maintaining agency.

What was also discussed was the inherent risks involved in establishing a community, including:

Legal Risk – Legal risk is one of the first thing people recognise as an issue with any venture, and is mostly focused around the legal issues related with online engagement such issues around Intellectual Property.

Brand Risk – This is the threat of damage that a brand may face online. This is when a brands value becomes damaged via inappropriate user interaction, such as vandalism or extreme criticism.

User Risk – User rick is one of the harder aspects to manage, understand and account for. This is the potential for harm to happen to users as a result of the community. For example a user may be harassed or attacked by other community members, and while this may not impact an agency legally, or threaten its brand it may cause damage to the community itself.

Lastly, discussions were raised afterwards about how to find good community managers. With this being such an important role in a new field, finding appropriate staff was perceived to be difficult. The immediate response from Alison was that journalism, communications and media staff would be most likely to already be within an agency, and could easily be repurposed to understand the role of a community manager quite quickly. However, Pia Waugh (@piawaugh) suggested that open source communities may offer an excellent place to find suitable staff, chiefly as they would already have people who are skilled in (and most likely quite passionate about) the management of online user-spaces.

Overall, it was a fascinating event, and the discussions around understanding how agencies can invest in the right people to guide there online spaces was educational.