If you work in community management, you’ve probably heard of Jeff Esposito by now. Either that, or you’re sick of his Baltimore Ravens chest-thumping which has become borderline unbearable according to multiple sources as of late In all seriousness, Jeff is the community manager many aspire to be–smart, savvy, hard-working and ethical. In this interview, we talk about the Oracle Community Manager of the Year Award Jeff recently took home (see below), Jeff’s take on the future of community management and what’s next for the Vistaprint community manager.
You just won Oracle’s Community Manager of the Year Award last week–congratulations! What are you going to do next (insert Disney joke here)?
Thanks sir. You know, a trip to Disney sounds pretty awesome now, but I doubt it’s in the cards. I’d also trade any free trip for them to give one to another guy from Jersey…In all honesty I am evolving roles again and moving into the marketing department at Vistaprint to oversee social media from a strategic standpoint and aligning it with the business more.
You come from the PR industry–most of your background is in PR/communications. But many community managers come from diverse backgrounds–HR, IT, real estate, interactive, etc. Do you feel like PR provides the ideal background for a successful community manager?
I love that question Arik and I think a lot of folks don’t ask it enough. At the end of the day a community is full of people so you need to have someone who can communicate; with that said PR folks should be good communicators, writers and relationship builders, giving them a leg up in transitioning to the space. While this can give a flack a leg up, not all PR folks are great at community because they aren’t as honed in on other areas of the business or are too square and stick to the straight and narrow. One thing that I would advise any PR pro looking to transition into a social or community role is to take a step back and do a self evaluation and also realize that this role will be more work than drafting press releases or firing off a few pitch emails.
In a post I’ll make next week, I predict that community managers will have more stressful jobs in the year ahead–but also make more money. Do you agree? Why/why not?
I agree and disagree. There is no question that the job is stressful and may contribute to raising a glass or three at the end of the day. The problem with community management is that it is one of those “hot jobs” that companies are now hearing about and think that they need – much like social media managers were last year – but don’t truly understand what they need. Many of the job postings that I have seen are looking for interns or junior folks to fill the role. Hiring like that can put the person in a position to fail as opposed to succeed. The way that I see community managers getting higher salaries is when they are able to get past the fluffy unicorn metrics and show how their work and the community impact the business in a positive manner.
I also posited that the there will be a talent hole in the community management area in 2013 (in many ways, there already is). Do you see this, too? How can we fill it with and grow the next generation of community managers?
I think that there already is a gap in talent. The reason for this is kind of what I said in the previous question. On a grand scale companies don’t put to much investment into communities and will throw a low level staff member on it. You know, Chris over there uses the Twitters and Kelli Instagrams, let’s put them in charge of social/community while also doing their 9-5. I think this will improve in the coming year, but there will still be companies that don’t commit to doing it right.
What’s the most challenging part of your job at Vistaprint? What’s most rewarding?
The biggest challenge is avoiding pitches – I feel for reporters. My inbox gets filled each week with tools, vendors and platforms looking to chat about what they have going on. Aside from that keeping up with trends, news and platforms is pretty challenging. The most rewarding part of the job is seeing things get done and educating folks on what social/community are.
You started your career interning for a number of sports franchises. Why didn’t you pursue a career in sports PR/marketing?
I loved working ion sports, I really did. Working in major sports really prepared me for the role that I have now. Sports franchises really are the strongest brands as fans invest so much into them and get geeked out over the little things like a pocket schedule or returned letter from the team. One of the downsides in sports though is that you don’t have a life and everything really revolves around the team. So while it was fun, I really do enjoy weekends and spending time with the lil one. If the opportunity arose to do social or community for a major sports franchise, I would definitely be hard pressed not to jump back into the fray.
As the community manager role evolved at Vistaprint, what drew you to the role? Did you find community management or did community management find you?
I didn’t want to go into community or social to be 100% honest. I was good at PR and dealing with the media, but a team meeting and an issue of BusinessWeek changed all that. In 2008 my then VP of PR tossed the June 2 edition of BusinessWeek that had Stephen Baker’s Beyond Blogs cover story about Twitter and said figure this out. From there it was my job to chat with folks on social sites, and as things evolved and grew, my PR duties shrunk. Interesting fact is that my business cards still say PR manager on them and community and social were never on there, but will be on the new set I am ordering.
Finally, where do you go from here? How do you follow up Community Manager of the Year? Is a spot in the Community Management Hall of Fame in your future?
You know we all take it one step at a time Arik and hopefully when it is all said and done, the Hall committee decides that I am worthy – now if I could only win over those pesky reporters from Cleveland. In all seriousness, I am heading into a new role that started on February 1 looking to tie social closer to the business. So outside of making sure we’re keeping the community happy, I need to help tie it into our business. This year will also be interesting as we’re bringing on a social support team that I’ll be overseeing so I am sure that there will be a lot of learning and some bumps along the way, but hey that’s what makes it fun.
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