In case you haven’t heard, today is Community Manager Appreciation Day, a moment to appreciate the community managers in your organization. These are the folks who are, in many cases, on the front lines of your online strategy. They’re engaging in and guiding forum conversations, responding to Facebook comments and otherwise interacting with the people formerly known as the audience.

image via UserVoice
image via UserVoice

As a group of us were discussing this in Slack an interesting theme emerged: There’s no one hard and fast definition of what constitutes a community manager. In some cases this person is only responsible for managing forum conversations. In others the title applies to staff who have the same responsibilities as others who are more generally tasked with social media content management.

Wherever you come down on this topic and however broadly or narrowly you and your organization define the role, one thing remains: It’s important to have this role filled. You can find out more about where community management stands by checking out the most recent State of Community Management report from Rachel Happe, who also shared her thoughts on the future of the role with Voce’s Randy Ksar a while ago:

Increasingly, prospects and customers seek out and get trusted, relevant information about products and services from peer communities. Because of this, companies are becoming much more intentional and strategic in their approach to community management in order to ensure consistency between the product, customer experience and market conversation. By providing community infrastructure that enables peer engagement, communication teams can contribute to and influence the conversation in ways that add value to both their market and their organization.

Most interesting from her comments is the emphasis on how the role is at least in part about enabling peer engagement. One thing that’s consistent throughout definitions of the community manager is that it’s not so much about pushing outbound messaging as it is about making sure the community’s organic conversation is going well, that it’s remaining on-topic and respectful and that people have their facts correct. So a community manager’s greatest tools are patience, a good and well-understood set of guidelines for participation and, in general, good people skills. They need to be able to guide people back on-topic, reprimand (either gently or more forcefully) people for guideline infractions and more. They are the traffic cops, correcting where they need to, enforcing where they need to and getting out of the way when they need to.

Go hug the community manager in your organization. Or buy them a cup of coffee (or something stronger) to keep them going and otherwise give them a shout-out. Odds are they’ve earned it.