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Does the famed social media community management unicorn really exist?

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A couple weeks ago I spoke to a group of aspiring community managers at the Social Lights training program. During that talk, I spoke a lot about how the skills and abilities of community managers continues to evolve–and how the social media community manager “unicorn” still does not exist.

At least not in great numbers.

SM Unicorn

There are plenty of community folks who have SOME of the skills we’ll mention in this post. But I have yet to meet too many who have all of them.

Start researching “community manager skills” online, and you’ll find the usual suspects pop up:

* Strong communications skills

* Good judgment

* Empathy

* Dedication

* Strong organizational skills

* Level-headedness

* Adaptability

* A deep knowledge of online analytics

* Passion for the brand

* Patience

* Strong interpersonal skills

Personally, I’d add a few things to that list (which seems pretty generic, to be honest):

Art directing skills

I’ve talked about it before, but art directing skills are an absolute must for any community manager right now, with the weight of visuals in today’s online environment.

Strong copywriting skills

Note I didn’t say “communication skills”–there is a difference. “Copywriting skills” is the skill set people who work for Wieden & Kennedy have. Or Fallon. Or, Olgilvy. It’s the difference between communicating via a long-form email and communicating via a 140-character tweet (or 120 characters, if you want it to get retweeted and shared).

Video production skills

With short-form video taking off, video editing and production skills will be even more important in the next year. Just look at all the horribly boring corporate Vines out there right now. Community managers need to step up their game in this area, to be sure.

Strong negotiating skills

The soft skill no one talks about: Negotiating. As a community manager you have to be strong in this area. Why? Because you’re going to get constant requests from managers and leaders around things they probably have no idea about. Therefore, you’re going to have to satiate their needs, but also deliver something that makes sense on the social Web (fun, right?).

Look at the typical community management job description (thanks Jason Keath!). I mean really look at this skill set list and think about the number of people you know that have ALL these.

* Content creation skills

* Social media marketing skills

* Event planning skills

* PR, customer service skills

* Analytics skills

* Business development skills

Most people I know that are strong in PR are not-so-great (that’s putting it gently) when it comes to analytics.

Most people I know who are great event planners aren’t the best salespeople.

And most people I know who are great content folks have no interest in customer service.

And this is why we have our social media community manager unicorn dilemma.

As a new type of position, it’s a moving target in terms of skills and requirements. Two years ago, art directing wouldn’t have been a requirement for a community manager. Today: It’s an absolute must.

And next year, we’ll probably be saying the same thing about video production skills thanks to Vine, Instagram video and the continued reliance on YouTube.

So, if these unicorns are impossible to find, what are companies to do?

I’m not sure there is a lot they can do right now. But, there’s a lot aspiring community managers can do to round out their skill sets and become this next generation of “unicorns”:

Hack your own training program

The big problem with this role is that there really is no formal training for it. Universities, largely, aren’t addressing it–yet employers are expecting it. So, it’s on YOU to train yourself. Learn video production via a FinalCut class in your market. Learn more about art direction by joining AdFed and buddying up with some experienced art directors. There’s a way to hack your own personal training–find it and pursue it.

Find emerging programs

Like the Social Lights program here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. There are others starting to pop up around the country. Find them, research them and see if they can teach you anything you might be able to use in a professional community management role (but be careful, some programs aren’t exactly what I’d call “legit”)

Find a community management mentor

Every market has them–a handful of community managers who have now been at this job for 2-3 years. Find these people. They are fonts of knowledge and experience in a discipline that’s still growing. Even though some of these folks might not be the aforementioned “unicorns” they have plenty to teach you. Soak it all up.

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Does the famed social media community management unicorn really exist?

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