I have been tossing this question around in my mind for some time because I am a community manager with a public relations background. I am constantly balancing my roles as an active listener and organization liaison with being a participant and engaging the community without being a pr megaphone. The question first took form with the anthropologist angle after watching The Nanny Diaries.
Please do not judge me for my movie taste...truly, I was bored and needed to chill in front of the TV without thinking and this movie was all that was on television.
In case you haven't seen the flick, it is about a girl (Annie) graduating from college as an anthropology major and freezes during the interview for an internship at a big corporation. To find herself, she takes a job as a nanny in Manhattan's Upper East Side, and moves in with the X family - a cheating husband, a control-freak wife, and Grayer, a lad of five. Annie puts her anthropology skills to use to save her sanity. She classifies all participants and documents their interactions while trying to maintain a level of separation because a good nanny cannot "go native" and fall in love with the family/child or begin to make excuses for their behavior.
Didn't I say I watched that movie so I wouldn't be thinking?
I know, but I couldn't help but think of the nanny role being similar to the role of a community manager. We keep a safe distance and do not become too emotionally attached as not to negatively alter our job performance. We allow our kids (community members) to foster their own thoughts and beliefs and we act only as guides and facilitators with their parents (organizations). Like a good nanny, should we as community managers reject the invitation to go native?
As the title of community manager becomes more mainstream in organizations, the question of what defines this role is a hot topic of conversation. Is it better for the community manager to be a member of the established community or take the role of an anthropologist? I am sure there is no black and white answer...we seem to live in shades of gray. However, when I ask this question, I am yearning for a b/w answer from a measurement approach.
While a community manager, unlike an anthropologist, is not meant to be an invisible insider, going native may lead to ethical problems involved in participating in some of the community/tribe customs. Undoubtedly, field work, in an attempt to develop relationships with community/tribe members, works best when the researcher becomes wholly accepted as members of the group. The community manager goes native. What happens to perspective? Objective? Any less or more objective than the role as organization liaison?
Another crucial problem is that describing what people believe and how they act may be neither valid or reliable. Data is not likely to be exact or replicable. Yes, trends may be identified and participation requested, but if the community manager is not native and remains an outsider, the community manager is denied the opportunity to truly understand the world view of those studied. Do you agree with this?
The discussion surrounding community management is awesome. More voices are discussing the role and future of consumer tribalism then ever before. It is fascinating to watch and learn. I encourage you to join in the weekly Twitter discussion, #CmtyChat, Fridays at 1pm EST and read the newest community initiative, The Community Roundtable. Also, check out the Blue Sky Factory TV Episode from IMS Dallas, where Amber Naslund discusses the role of community manager.
(Image courtesy law_keven.)