The biggest mistake community managers make (and how to avoid it)

Your fans want to talk to a person, not a ‘brand voice.’ Don’t be afraid to show some personality.

SmartPulse—our weekly, nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media—tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

We asked, “Does your community manager share personal details when speaking on behalf of the brand?” Here are the responses:

  • No, all social media content comes from a single brand voice (62.82 percent)
  • Yes, but only occasionally (21.79 percent)
  • Yes, the community manager’s personality is front and center (15.38 percent)

As with all things social media, there are not really any known best practices. All of us work to develop better practices for ourselves, companies and clients.

The amount of personal details a community manager shares is a matter of preference, comfort and company culture. Sure, industry also comes into play, but employee empowerment, trust, and the fear of offending someone are at the core of this issue.

What the heck is a “single brand voice” anyway? Have you ever met one? We don’t talk to brands or companies—we talk to the people who represent them. People have feelings, emotions, personalities and interests. Ideally, a common interest between you and your online community is your company.

If your company ran a television ad during an episode of “Dancing with the Stars,” let your community manager talk about the show. If your community manager is a graduate of Syracuse University, allow her to say she’s upset the school didn’t reach the Final Four. These simple, personal touches—blended with social content—strengthen the bond between your brand and your community.

I don’t advocate rogue, misguided or misdirected online behavior from your community manager, but I do think community managers should express themselves.

The limits of a single brand voice cause me to hear and read tweets that direct me to “visit us at trade show booth #1234,” “join our upcoming webinar,” or “download our new product sheet.” To me, these tweets don’t educate, entertain or engage.

There must be a balance of personality and substance. Allow your community manager to develop the right mix for your company and brand.

If a community manager gets too personal, train him to act more appropriately. Tell him to develop your company’s online community management guidelines. Have him define what is acceptable. Hold him accountable. But whatever you do, don’t let the policy prevent personality. As human beings, we want to connect with other human beings, not “single brand voices.” Don’t you agree?

I leave you with a quote from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose,”: “Let your employees take risks and try new things. Let your employees bring all of themselves to their job.”

Whatever mistakes employees make, they can overcome them—even the big ones. If you limit your employees’ sense of contribution under the guise of a “single brand voice,” you ultimately limit your ability to build a thriving community of advocates both inside and outside your company.

Jeremy Victor is president of Make Good Media and editor-in-chief of For more of his writing, visit and follow him on Twitter and Google+. A version of this article first appeared on

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