Geek Speak: Theodora Lamb, online community manager
As an online community manager, Theodora Lamb says being open, honest, and transparent is key. Lamb is a 29-year-old consultant who works with the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation and Mountain Equipment Co-op’s The Big Wild conservation campaign.
Born in Ottawa, Lamb also works with Capulet Communications, a Vancouver-based web marketing agency. After earning a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Victoria and a broadcast journalism diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology, she spent two years as the news director at RJ1200, a local Bollywood radio station. Lamb lives in the Commercial Drive area.
The Georgia Straight interviewed Lamb by phone.
What is the role of an online community manager?
An online community manager is often the individual working within your organization or you brought into your organization to look after, manage, and nurture your online channels. In one capacity, that’s your social media channels—your Twitter, your Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, all those different channels. This is also the person who often does a lot of your online writing—it could be for your newsletter or your website—and then often goes one-step further and is responsible ultimately for creating and curating all of your online content. In a very traditional sense, that’s like an e-newsletter. But, as content like web postcards and photos and videos become more and more popular on our social media channels, we need people to create and curate that content on behalf of organizations.
What kinds of organizations need someone like this?
I think all companies and organizations need someone at least dedicated to managing their online content. I work primarily with nonprofit organizations. That’s a really good example of an organization or a group or team who are strapped for resources and time, so they can’t always dedicate a full-time position to an online community manager. But there is still a specific skill set that applies to that role. Often what happens—at least in the nonprofit sector—is that role falls on an existing communications person, and so often they have to do it off the side of their desk or don’t have at least the support of the team that they need to really do a kick-ass job of representing their brand or their issue or their movement online.
How do you see the job of an online community manager changing over the next several years?
I touched on this a few minutes ago when I said “create and curate”. I think curate is the keyword in there when we think about online community management changing in the next year or two. There is so much content out there, and deciding what kind of value a single piece of content is going to bring to your community is a decision that falls on an online community manager. So the more content and the more choice audiences have online informs the role of online community management within an organization. I think what’s going to happen with online community managers is there’s going to be an expectation that they need to get better and better at selecting the prime content out there and deciding whether that brings value to an organization. So I think curation is just becoming a more and more important part of any organization that lives online.
Of the emerging social networks, which ones interest you most in terms of this work?
I think anything that prioritizes graphics or anything visual is worth keeping your eye on. We’re just going to a much more visual place on the web, even in how we search. Pinterest has exploded online. Facebook still remains strong in my books, because it allows you to focus specifically on your own communities and share visual content. But with that comes the responsibility of sharing content honourably and making sure that things like copyright are respected and artistic integrity. All those things come into play when you’re sharing photographs and video and original pieces of content that are creative and thought-provoking and inspiring.
How should an online community manager deal with a PR disaster?
Well, in a lot of cases, online community managers don’t necessarily work within an organization. Like myself, I’m brought in, so I am definitely in a position where I have to be in constant communication and contact with the communications team that I’m working with. But I think the most important thing with online communities like Facebook and Twitter is transparency is pretty key, because it’s essentially a crowd-sourced community. You can try and control that message or control your brand to the best of your ability, but it’s an open forum. People are always going to be able to come forward and question and comment the way they want to. The wonderful thing about social media for me—at least what I’ve experienced in the nonprofit sector and the online communities I manage—is that the audiences I nurture and I support online love the truth and have the best intentions.
What happens, for example, with B.C. Children’s Hospital is that is a strong community of parents and supporters, so no matter what’s happening the end result is a community that supports the hospital and the children that depend on it. That becomes clear in comments and conversations started online—no matter what’s happening outside in the world. I don’t know what they teach in Communications 101: Crisis Management, but be open, honest, and transparent, because your community’s going to hold you to that anyways.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? You can tell Stephen Hui on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.