University libraries have a unique role in the landscape of higher education. Once the stoic archives of ancient tomes and precious manuscripts; modern libraries offer more and more user services for both faculty and students alike. Some of these services are adopted once the need is identified while others are introduced from other departments in the university hierarchy. We spend countless hours and resources honing and manning these services but all too many of them remain just outside the scope of the target users’ awareness. I for one wish I had a penny for every time someone in a library planning meeting yearned for “better communication with our community” or “improved outreach” or “increased awareness”. If so I would have already been able to comfortably retire.
So why is there a gap in service and awareness in the library? One could argue that libraries have struggled to stay in the view of their users through traditional and not fully modern techniques. The traditional methods are sometimes adapted as times and technologies changed but all too often relied on limited roles to manage these changes. New monikers are often attached to already existing job titles, but this is not often enough to urge them into the correct mindset to properly create the connections and interest needed to facilitate the needs of the campus. What then is the role we should be asking them to fill? Instead of juggling these responsibilities between several people or committees, or heaping it upon someone with other responsibilities; should we not start allowing someone to manage the library persona as a full time job? Can we treat our initiatives like marketing campaigns so that we can more effectively measure their impact as well as entice new or existing users to give them a try? What should our voice be in the realm of social media and future media? How will we know if the university community is aware of what we do?
As a purveyor of video games and gaming culture, I recognized a role that exists in that industry; which I believe would fill this gap. That role is a community manager. Many companies and development teams utilize community managers to span the gaps in multiple processes and areas of the business cycle. At the onset of a new project the community manager keeps their proverbial ear to the ground to see not only what the target audience is hoping for, but for what other companies and related sources see as their future trends to watch. The community manager works to inform their colleagues on what possibilities they could include in their development.
Once the development process has started moving forward, the communication manager works to keep the vision of the project clear in the minds of the target community; as well as the stakeholders, developers, and media. At the same time they collect and attune the feedback from each of these sources as to weigh positive and negative reactions to the message. However; this is not to say that the sequence of communication is as archaic as in times gone by. Community managers engage in conversations through social media, direct messages, conference attendance, and publicity events. As the development continues the community manager must cleverly gauge how often to update the public and internal audiences so as not to let the project slide away or become an annoyance via inconsequential reminders.
Once the development of the product nears either testing or release, the community manager begins to entice an often select set of the public to become “informed experts” on what they have seen. This allows for them to organically share their input within their own communication hubs. This sort of organic advertisement is then buffered by key points that are echoed in advertisements and official communications. This continues in even more venues than before; community forums, reddit, You Tube, etc.
As the product releases the community manager maintains their role of feedback shepherd so that any immediate oversights can be corrected. They also work to assure any long-term changes that have been built into the product will be properly understood with timing, cost, and impact effectively described. Depending on the frequency of the company’s release timetables, the community manager may have already begun to shift gears into the next project while still assisting in the marketing and management of the previous campaign. At all points in the process the community manager gives a voice to the answers the public wants to hear.
Beyond the chess game that is marketing and communication, a community manager puts a face and voice to a constant stream of new ideas and strategic changes. Not everyone follows what is new by checking an organization’s main webpage, but if they catch that tweet from the same company’s community manager; it just might peak their interests. Did someone complain about a feature missing in a new service? A community manager’s direct message to them would be valued much higher than a redirect to a URL by a faceless customer service representative. We all have many things that steal away our attention each day. A community manager is the person that reminds you of the important facts and pays attention to the cacophony of feedback. Their job is to provide your organization with attention, information, and conversation; to everyone you wish to reach.