I first got into community management from social media. There is a bit of overlap but there are distinctions, too. I thought it might help to clear up the differences here, even though the terms are used interchangeably quite often in job ads.
Social media manager/professional
A social media professional is someone who takes care of accounts, profiles, fan pages, etc on a social media site like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Snapchat, etc.
They post content from the person or company, take care of support requests, look for new post ideas, respond to comments, and share how the account is doing with the company.
This position can be very minimal where the company posts once a week and send support requests to another department or it can be very much a part of the company’s marketing department where posts are based on other campaigns, promotions, etc.
There might be goals for increasing followings (fans, followers, etc), getting a certain number of clicks to a website, getting purchases, etc. You’ll be tasked with getting responses for surveys, feedback, and identifying important information the company needs to succeed.
You could work with partners to share their post ideas, run challenges or contests for the followers, run ads for promotions, even write the copy (wording for posts and ads).
This is a position where you can start with limited company and social media knowledge and use other resources to help you grow as a professional and with a decent salary.
As I mentioned there is overlap. With social media, you may be dealing with multiple partners, departments, customer followings, etc. But in social media, the approach is usually 1 to many. The company is the 1, and the following is the many.
In community management, you might also cover social media, but you generally have a group, a forum, or another place where members come together.
This approach should include the 1 to many but needs to include the many-to-many approach, as well. This is about making the connections between members.
When people follow a company they do want information, ideas, tricks, etc. When they join the community they tend to want to directly connect with someone at the company, get answers to their questions, learn from others (other members), and network (get introduced and meet other people in the same type of job or hobby as they have.
As a community manager, you are also going to work with several company departments, you talk to members and need to bring that all back to the right people. Yes, this can be done in social media, but in community, it tends to be a much greater amount of information to share within the company.
You are overlooking the discussions between members and learning new ways the company can make customers happy, change what they are selling, and make it easier for customers to be successful.
Again a lot of this can be done in social media accounts but the amount of all of this is a lot more when you have hundreds of people having conversations.
Now you have to plan ahead for the community; what is the strategy, how do you get members to participate in discussions, who would want to participate in a particular topic, what department would want to know what a group of customers just shared? How can you get members to come to zoom calls, chat with experts, and share their voices regularly?
It’s about relationships with the customers, partners, your management, your executive team, investors, and the public. But it’s also about really knowing what the company does, and what the community needs, then constantly (9-5) making sure everyone’s interests are protected.
I like to think of it as the difference between being a tour guide in a popular city vs championing a city’s population to increase the quality of living. A tour guide has to know a lot about the city, and collect feedback from the tourists, but bringing people together for a cause is a bit different.
Social media is a very popular job but increasingly community management is as well. Both of these positions can end up making a great income and holding a lot of responsibility.
But I like community management as a way to help both sides become more successful with a lot more connection, relationship making, and additional value to the company (in my opinion).
You can start at a very entry-level position with community management and grow quickly based on your interest in learning more, training, connecting with experts and other experienced professionals, and testing to see how your community responds to your leadership.