Social Media Management vs. Community Management (Jen Cole)

Jen Cole

Are the roles of “social media manager” and “community manager” synonymous?

We’ve all seen some of the atrocious, unrealistic job descriptions that there are out there for “social media managers.” The listings I’m talking about literally appear to expect their ideal social media manager to excel at graphic design, grammar, Google Analytics, PR, video editing, photo editing, photography, videography, building community, copywriting, scheduling social posts, developing social media strategy, responding to comments, staying up-to-speed with reputation management, etc. While many of these things are separate careers entirely from what a social media manager actually is, so too, is a community manager.

It’s easy to lump “community manager” in with being the same thing as a “social media manager” if your the social part of your strategy is simply to react and reply to comments. I mean, that’s kind of being social, isn’t it?

Back when social media management started to become recognized as an occupation, the main idea for most brands was to post regularly and try to swiftly gain followers and, of course, to hopefully “go viral.” Content calendars became handy tools to keep the assigned person in the marketing department on top of making sure social posts were being written and published regularly. It was soon realized that posts with images were receiving higher amounts of likes, comments, and shares – we now call this an engagement rate – and then brands started paying more attention to analytics, times of day to post, and which kinds of posts resulted in the most website traffic.

I could go on and on about the morphing of social media management into what it used to be up to where it is today, but that might end up being an entire book (or even a series of books!) But our question remains… is social media management synonymous to community management?

When you think of a community, what do you think of? Is it one-person doing all of the talking/acting all of the time? Is it many people doing many things and having many conversations at one time about a similar topic?

One of the first online communities that I was part of was a community of people who regularly taught or attended fitness classes and fitness fundraising events. There were Facebook groups, there were many people asking questions and making announcements, there were people making plans to wear the same colors to class the next day, and there was the same general passion for these exercise classes felt throughout the space.

Have you been a part of something similar? And if so, have you seen this kind of thing happen around a brand before?

A few years ago I had the honor of being the community manager for the largest social media marketing conference in the world, and I still have a huge passion for that community. Sure, I was in charge of running the social media channels for that brand, but I also helped them solve problems. I helped them get in contact with thought leaders when they had questions about certain topics. I developed a Twitter chat so that we could regularly discuss big things that were happening in the social media space. If they needed help finding resources during our conference, I used our social listening tool to give them guidance. And when I saw them all in person one time out of the year, I spent as much face time with them as I possibly could.

It was far more than managing social media channels. I love seeing this happen – I’ve seen it happen for our local plant store, I’ve seen it happen for a big wine brand, and I’ve seen it happen all the way up to big name brands like North Face.

Real conversations happen when people come together over a common interest. When a brand sees these conversations start to bud on their social channels and then that brand provides a safe space for these conversations to morph into relationships, that’s when community management starts to happen.

Jen Cole @jencoleict
Community Crew + Founding Member

Tell Us Below:

Have you managed both social media and community? What were the differences you most noticed?


I always say that I don’t mind being a social media and community manager, as long as you adjust your expectations. A one person team cannot possibly do as good as those with dedicated teams of 5+ people.

I think it is a bit unrealistic to want social media managers to also be content creators, as it’s a completely different ballgame. If you’re ok with ok content then that’s fine, I suppose. But there’s a whole job for just video editors, and you’re wanting a whole production crew out of 1 person.

That’s why I mention expectations vs the ability to do it. If I need to spend 1hr+ editing a video, you can’t expect me to be on social at that time and vice versa.


ALL OF THIS!! Such a fantastic point there about managing expectations. Social media marketing and community management is a team effort, and each team member should have their certain areas of expertise, just like any other department. That’s the world we’re living in now, and I hope that. more employers start to see social media in this way.


If only they would! It’s a constant discussion I have. Even when I have mentored small business owners and they say they will “the receptionist” onto the socials - I then have to have a discussion about realistic expectations - how much time are they giving that person to be able to do the work that is not interrupted constantly by front desk duties? What skills do they have or are the prepared to put them through some training. Then if they try and say and we will start a community too right there and then its like… ugh… lets go back to strategy and look at realistically what. you can do and what each job entails.


I think all those tasks you mentioned already defines a broad spectrum Digital Marketing. A work of a Social Media Manager must be clearly defined to know where your task starts and end.

It helps one focus on their expertise and that benefits the company more than putting all the load to one person (unless you’re Superman hiding as Clerk Can’t!) :rofl:


have worked both jobs within a single role and I think the answer is - it depends. There is no difference if the company wants to be community-led. Social media becomes one of the many touchpoints to rally a community in those cases. For brands where both are separate, it is often better for community and social to merge into each other to ensure accountability for KPI’s for both.