Over the past three to four years, the role of community manager has become central to organizations that actively use the social web for marketing, fundraising or campaign building.

The traditional definition of a community manager is someone who represents an organization on the social web either using its own social assets like Facebook, Instagram or Google+, or inside social networks “where people might engage with the organization’s products, services or intellectual property.” (The quote is from course notes for the social media course I teach at Ryerson University.

And to test the limits of my hubris even further I wrote this four years ago:

But if you accept there is power in harnessing the energy of committed people — and their social graphs — to further your product strategy, service or cause, then giving someone the mandate to be your voice in online communities, to listen, share and help members of these communities just makes sense.

However, the role has also become increasingly strategic, in tandem with the flourishing sophistication and complexity of social media programs themselves.

CM in 2014

The chart below from The Community Roundtable’s The State of Community Management 2014 is a useful summary of the stages organizations go through in managing their social web programs and content. It’s also a useful auditing tool for assessing progress and for benchmarking against competitors.

Looking through its lens, I’d say many organizations are treading water at stages two or three. The networked stage is still a leap for most.

Next Stage CM

That will have to change as storytelling and organizational content sites become more common. It has always been important for community managers to create, curate and shape content to fit the design and audience/readership imperatives for each platform they are managing.

But as we move from content marketing to storytelling, a couple of things happen.

First of all, as my colleague Gary Goldhammer says stories have to be layered:

The new model isn’t convergence, where different media platforms come together to deliver the same message. It’s about layers – not how media comes together but how it works together, while still retaining the “native” characteristics of the individual media types whether paid, earned, owned or shared.

The narrative has to be created with the form and function of all platforms in mind, and coordinated across all of them so they reinforce and amplify each other, becoming a close-knit story or picture.

Second, story production becomes an indispensable and strategic role that requires community managers have phrenic dexterity: conceptual AND functional; visual AND journalistic; academic AND chummy; clannish AND ‘catholic’.

By 2015 I bet we’ll see a progressive shift in the role of the person charged with creating an organization’s story in social networks and on digital assets . . . from digital native, manager and curator to poet, lyricist and graphic artist.

Humanities and English graduates may finally have the upper hand in employment prospects, at least in the storytelling business.

Originally published by our senior digital strategist Boyd Neil on his personal website on May 21, 2014.