The second ever major survey of Australia’s professional online community managers has revealed a maturing industry increasingly dominated by women, rapidly embracing AI and automation, and managing significant issues around work-life balance and online toxicity.
The 2018 Australian Community Managers Survey, which followed the inaugural 2015 survey, found the number of community managers in senior level positions grew by 10 per cent to 43 per cent in the past three years.
It revealed that 68 per cent of community managers are female – up from 53 per cent in the inaugural survey – making it one of the few technology disciplines dominated by women.
Venessa Paech, co-founder of Swarm Conference and Australian Community Managers (ACM), said: “This significant shift may reflect a rise in women seeking to build healthier online behaviours and cultures against abuse and misogyny.
“It also indicates that community management may be a pathway to onboard more women into other senior technology roles,”
Automation and AI growing rapidly; innovation not so fast
There has been a dramatic acceleration of machine-assisted community management since 2015, with 37 per cent of community managers using automation or AI. Almost one in four (22 per cent) use AI, 12 per cent bots and three per cent machine learning.
“AI and automation promise to free community managers from the more banal and repetitive aspects of their practice, and can open up new opportunities and areas of focus to mature the profession,” Paech said.
Despite the adoption of AI, Australia lags the US in leveraging communities as a source of innovation to build better products and services. Just two per cent said communities inform product and services development.
Only three per cent said community is a driver of innovation, compared to the US, where 13 per cent of communities are used for product ideation, innovation and feedback for use in product strategy and development.
Online abuse down but still too high
On-the-job abuse has halved since 2015 but remains unacceptably high, with 15 per cent dealing with bullying and harassment as part of their job. In 2015, one in three Australian community managers said they experienced online harassment almost daily.
Online toxicity and work-life balance also remain major challenges, with a culture of burnout and overwork prevalent in community management.
Alison Michalk, CEO of Quiip and co-founder of Swarm Conference and ACM, said: “Abuse has no place in any job. While the decrease in abuse is a positive trend, it is still too high and indicates an ongoing need for more training and support to address this unacceptable working environment.
“Online vitriol from world leaders down is normalising ‘hate’ and creating difficult daily working conditions for community managers.
“The on-call and around-the-clock nature of the industry also means they are often asked to work excessive hours and attend to online issues 24/7, usually without compensation.”
Concerns around social media confusion and business alignment
Survey respondents were concerned about continued confusion between social media marketing and community building.
The ‘community manager’ title is viewed as too interchangeable with social media manager, adding to existing confusion between the skill sets and resulting in mismatched hiring.
The 2018 survey revealed a disconnect between business expectations and the realities of community management practice.
One in three said their role is partly understood and somewhat valued. The same amount struggle to communicate ROI, and only 37 per cent have a documented strategy.
“Community building can happen almost anywhere, including social media platforms, but its practice is very different from audience building and digital marketing. Michalk said.
“Community managers need their role to be clearly defined and understood in the broader business.
“Likewise, the level of community manager frustration where alignment with the business is not in place suggests meaningful efforts to integrate and align will positively impact talent retention.”
Positive industry outlook
Despite those challenges, 40 per cent of community managers are either enthusiastic or optimistic about the future of the profession. One in three expect to be working in the field in five years’ time, with one quarter expecting to leave.
Community management in Australia is maturing and the diversity of industries investing in community is increasing.
While there is still an urgent need to address online toxicity, harassment and burnout, the overall the mood is positive and energised, with a determination to build thriving communities and rewarding, sustainable careers.
The majority of community professionals are building communities for technology, government and not-for-profit sectors, while the industry sectors spending the most on communities are entertainment, telecommunications and fast-moving consumer goods.