Community Manager vs. Social Media Manager: What’s the difference?

Dana Lortie
Sep 15, 2016 · 6 min read
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People ask me all the time what I do, and I often respond with the same thing, “I manage online communities that help people with chronic conditions connect with others”, to which I always get the same confused look, followed by, “Oh, so you manage their social media?” No, the answer to that question is a big NO. There are many key differences between being a social media manager and being a community manager, most importantly the types of relationships that are built.

Now, I am not a seasoned expert in the field of community or social media management (yet!), but as a recent college graduate, I do consider myself an expert at researching a topic, forming an opinion, and then writing a short article to express my findings. That’s what school is for, right? Anyway, after sparking an interest in the similarities and differences between a social media manager and a community manager, here are my thoughts:

As a community manager my daily tasks include: moderation of conversations across our community platforms, writing community prompts to help increase engagement, responding to direct messages from community members, and staying up to date on any and all information related to my communities so I can truly understand them and, most importantly, build meaningful relationships. My typical morning begins by reviewing all of the comments and responses that were made on posts or articles overnight to make sure that everyone has been responded to (Yes, it is a lot of reading!). But it’s not just reading and responding. As a community manager I’m also: looking for new trends in conversations, recognizing sensitivities, identifying potential patient advocates, looking for community hot topics to create content around, and empathizing with where others are coming from. This is in addition to what, according to Sprout Social, is a social media manager’s typical day — product promotion, advertising, creating content to spread, and focusing on being the advocate for the brand. (3)

The key distinction that you may have already noticed, and as beautifully expressed by Vanessa DiMauro from Leader Networks, is that “Social Media Managers bring the guests (clients, prospects) to the table, and Community Managers welcome them in!” (2) Think about it this way: the community manager is there to be in the thick of it, a real advocate that knows everything about the community; what makes them happy, sad, angry, hot topics, really everything about them. In comparison, a social media manager is there to advocate for the company, to extend their reach to customers and get their name out there in the form of advertising. Also, “community management is the discipline of building technical and social environments in such a way that individuals can easily organize and collaborate to achieve an objective.” (4)

To simplify it a bit more, here are two quick role definitions made by Blaise Grimes-Viort from the UK firm e-Moderation (2);

Community Manager: Operates from deep within the company, managing customer relationships with a brand or product, and each other. She is focused on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration, which may include moderation and hosting of both micro- and macro-events on the company’s community platform. Placement within the Organization chart is more likely to be connected to Editorial, Product development, and Business development.

Social Media Manager: Operates from the edges of the company, managing brand recognition and reputation outside of the scope of the brand website. He is focused on listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to facilitate sales/advertising. He will usually be found within the Organization chart connected to Marketing, PR, and Sales.

So, why does any of this matter? Well, focusing on and understanding these key differences can actually have a positive effect on the hiring process of a business, which can lead to more efficient and effective work getting done. (1) If you go into the hiring process with a clear understanding of the direct qualities that you need to get the job done, and you then successfully fill that spot, the employee and employer will be happier and more productive. Consequently, if you want a community manager but hire a social media manager, it is likely that you simply won’t have the right conversations in your communities.

The quality of those conversations actually means a lot, especially for businesses that focus on engagement. Take, for example, a typical Facebook post made by Target saying “Target & Harry’s have teamed up to offer high-quality men’s shaving at an awesome price. The collection lands 8/10.”. It is clear that this post is not meant to spark any great conversations or offer support, but instead it is designed to advertise. This is even apparent in the types of responses that they are receiving:

  • “Jesus Christ Almighty In The Flesh! Jesus Christ Shed his blood and died for all of our sins on the cross…”
  • “If you wish to send an email directly to Target Corporation about their anti-safety/anti-privacy policy, go to Flush Target. It’s very simple…”
  • “C contact boone chamber of commerce erce”
  • “Your cashiers need to learn that “no” means NO. The poor woman ahead of me in line tonight…”

All of these examples have no correlation to Targets’ original post, which is alright because their goal is to advertise not facilitate a supportive community. So, this type of post would be made by a social media manager.

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On the other hand, check out this post made by (full disclosure: this is one of the sites on which I work): “You are not a bad person for being sick. It isn’t your fault. In your moments of weakness (and you will have them), remember what you do have, instead of what you lost because of your illness. 5 Things New Patients Experience (but are afraid to talk about)”. Now, check out some of the wonderful conversations between community members that were organically created from this:

  • “Needed to hear this, this morning.. feeling really down and upset because I can’t seem to feel better or have my energy back..”

With responses from community members to this comment:

  • “Thinking of you this morning love, hang in there. Xoxo”
  • “Me too! I am so drained”
  • “Hang in there ❤”
  • “So sorry you are going through that. I’m glad that this post by Amber helped you feel less alone. Having energy is one of the most difficult things for me a lot of the time. Fatigue is awful.”
  • “Sending lots of hugs your way. You are not alone!”

It is clear that this community has members that interact not only with the post, but with each other - facilitated by these posts. This post would be created, and moderated, by a community manager. The key difference between these two posts lyes in the reflection and support between members, because these conversations are what builds those meaningful relationships, which we at Health Union find very valuable.

So, while community managers and social media managers might use the same social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, the actions taken on these sites can differ vastly and using them effectively is crucial and results in efficient work being done.


Nelson, S. (2016, June 29). Community Manager vs. Social Media Manager: Which Hire is Right for Your Business? Retrieved August 18, 2016, from

DiMauro, V. (2012). Social Media Manager vs. Online Community Manager: Same or Different? Retrieved August 17, 2016, from

Patterson, M. (2014, October 30). Social Media Manager vs. Community Manager | Sprout Social. Retrieved August 20, 2016, from

Happe, R. (2016, August 19). Calculating the ROI of Customer Engagement. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from

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