Wait, What's a Community Manager?
Rania Bolton, Community and Content Manager at Athena Club, breaks down the role of a Community Manager—which, BTW, is not the same thing as a Social Media Manager.
Every brand wants a “community”—but few know how to actually build one. I’ve hesitated writing this newsletter for a while because I think the term “community” within social media and marketing has, for the most part, lost its meaning. A brand having lots of followers is not “community”. Making community management one of your social media manager’s 14 other sub-roles is not “community”. Paying influencers to talk about your brand is not “community”. To me, for a brand to build what is actually a community they must, first and foremost, invest in a full-time role (a Community Manager, likely!) that fosters past, present, and future customer relationships. Someone who is engaging with customers online, listening for insights, and creating meaningful conversations. Today I am talking to one of those people!
Rania Bolton, currently head of Community and Content Manager at Athena Club, has led community at brands like Topicals, Parsley Health, and Shopbop. We talk about everything from building an inclusive community, ambassador programs, and lots more.
Rachel Karten: First can you tell me a bit about your current role and any past roles (social or not!) you've had?
Rania Bolton: I'm currently the Community and Content Manager at Athena Club, a self-care essentials company. I've held similar positions at companies like Topicals, Parsley Health, and Shopbop in the past, while also designing on the side. My career path has been quite all over the place thus far! I started out as an Associate Account Executive for a men's accessories company and realized very early on that it wasn't for me after ordering 10,000 units of the wrong color belt. After a few styling jobs and an editorial gig at Fashionista.com, I landed at Athena Club and haven't looked back since.
RK: Your career has focused a lot on community. If you were explaining community roles within social media to someone who had no idea what that meant, how would you describe it?
RB: I think people often forget that there's a person behind a brand's account. A lot of the time, that person looks like me! I'm posting content but also interacting with those who engage with said content. I'm essentially the first point of contact for our brand whether our audience loves something or has a more serious customer service inquiry.
My idea of community has really expanded since starting at Athena Club because I've been working alongside our team to build an ambassador program from the ground up. We really had to dig deep within our current community to hand pick those who we think could represent our brand and represent it well.
RK: Can you talk a bit about the ambassador program you're building out? What are some of the goals of a program like that?
RB: Our goal is to build a strong community of loyal brand champions (customers, high referrers, previous partners, etc.) who can speak to our products and ethos. We have a great subscription model and are always trying to find ways to get people on board. I mean, who doesn't want their period and body care delivered straight to their door when and where they need it? The program is in its early stages, so it's literally unfolding as we go on.
RK: I also think the word "community" within marketing and social has almost gotten so overused that it has lost its meaning. Everyone wants their brand to have "community", but few actually nurture one. What's your personal philosophy around community building?
RB: I think community starts within. Is our internal community representative of those we're trying to attract? To me, community starts with a brand's philosophy, its morals, and how it chooses to show up in the world. When those questions are answered, I think building an external community comes easily.
RK: Do you have any advice on making sure your brand is building an inclusive community? I see a lot of brands whose communities are very homogenous to the point that it's alienating.
RB: Right, you have to be genuine because people can sniff out disingenuous behavior from a mile away. I've worked at brands in the past (I won't name names...) who were super strategic about including more Black people on their feed even though I was 1 of 3 Black people in the company altogether. I was literally told to count the number of Black and POC on our channels every month to present during our monthly hindsight meetings.
To emphasize my point above, I think building an inclusive community starts within. When you don't have any voices internally that can speak to and for the type of consumer you're trying to attract, it's not going to come across genuine when you go to interact with said people, or when you're casting for a campaign, or when you're speaking to a global issue that impacts marginalized people every day.
RK: For brands who want to build a community, how important is it to have someone dedicated to Community Management in house?
RB: I think it's probably the most important position. Having a community manager allows a brand to figure out exactly what their consumers, or potential consumers, like and dislike about the brand. It's getting an up close review. And, it also allows for us to build external brand champions that can speak profoundly about our brand. We know there's no recommendation like a personal one, so it's really important to build a community that can speak to that.
RK: Are there any tactical tips you have for building a community?
Absolutely! I try to respond to every comment, every mention, every post that we're tagged in— we're appreciative of those engaging with our brand and I think responding is the least I can do to show our gratitude. It's also helpful in showing that there's a real person behind the brand. Our Customer Service team does a great job at being personable in their response, too. We host our community on the platform Geneva and every time someone joins, I try to welcome them in. It's really about being intentional with how and when I respond. I think the biggest thing with community management (and something I'm still learning) is how to keep older ambassadors still engaged as we scale the program. We're trying to do weekly prompts they can respond to and monthly All Hands and programming they can come to.
RK: I think a lot about the work life balance for social managers and community managers. Do you have any tips or advice for making sure working in social is sustainable and not a career where you burn out a few years in?
RB: When someone figures this all out, let me know! But no, really, I've done a somewhat good job at not obsessively checking a brand's social once I've posted or responded to a few questions. It's staying off of my own account for more than an hour that I'm really bad at. Nothing could be going on at all, no one could be messaging me or liking my photos but I'm still checking in. It's getting out of hand.
RK: Is there an initiative/campaign/project/post/reply that you're particularly proud of? Tell me about it!
RB: I love when people comment on how good our page looks because despite the feed not mattering anymore, I do take pride that things still look good at the end of the day because so much work goes into each individual asset. I try to be excited about all content that goes out and I push my team to make sure they are, too. In the past I've helped launch a brand in Sephora with incredible influencers and graphic content—we sold out that same day. I've stepped in to stop an entire voting campaign from launching with a Black model as the only face of the campaign (another day we can go into detail about why this isn't okay). I've launched multiple pride campaigns that I'm happy with.
When working at start-ups, it can be really hard to step back and relish in your accomplishments because you're so knee-deep and in the weeds that once it launches it's immediately onto the next project. I'm proud of the work I do at these smaller brands where the resources are slim and the direction changes often. I'm proud of the work I'm doing at Athena Club now; it's so refreshing to have an extremely talented team that trusts one another to get shit done.
RK: Any advice for someone who is thinking of getting into social media, specifically the community side of it?
RB: In all seriousness, think really hard about why you want to be in this industry. It's non-stop and almost 24/7 and takes a lot of mental strength and capacity. The feed looking pretty is one thing but I'd say that's only 15-20% of what is actually done on a daily basis. You have to have some big kahunas to be on the community side of it because you're interacting with people in every stage of their experience with the brand: sometimes they'll be over-the-moon happy with you and other times they'll be spamming your comment section asking for a refund and tagging their entire follower list to do the same. Go into this job knowing that you don't know all because social media evolves every day and so do people.
RK: What's the most rewarding part of working in social media to you?
RB: A campaign from start to finish. I absolutely love visualizing a campaign with my team and watching every asset come to life. By the time I'm ready to post, I've seen every asset at least 10 times throughout every rendition so it's not always exciting––more so relieving––to release it to the world. The part that really gets me is creating a brief and watching our creative team work their magic to bring that brief to life. It's like they are actualizing what's in my brain in real time.
RK: Are you hopeful about the future of social media?
RB: With all that's going on in the world, my hope is that we spend a little less time online and a little more time being social IRL.
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