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Are Product Managers and Community Managers One in the Same?

Station #28, Mesa AZ Grand Opening
Image by CWaterhouse via Flickr

When you’re surfing around the web for products or communities, have you ever stopped to wonder what the difference is between a product manager and a community manager? I know I have, so you’re not alone. And I’ve had this idea that today’s web product manager also really needs to be a community manager for the products that they are trying to place. The theory could even translate to project management if you have a big enough imagination.

Maybe everyone out there in internet land is one step ahead of me on this one, but it’s been a hard sell at work. Nobody believes me.

Here’s what I’m seeing though: gone are the days when you were able to just get your product out the door on time, and on budget. That doesn’t seem like enough anymore, does it? I know from experience, dude. It’s all gravy to build something on time and budget these days, but building it is only half the battle now. You’ve got to get people to buy it, or better yet you’ve got to convince people to use it for free… which, amazingly, is tough to do.

Today’s managers want you to use social media to get your offering out in front of the right crowd, so that they start a social “friendzy” around your product and spread your message out to all of their closest online contacts. The problem is that figuring out the right crowd for a given product takes a lot of leg work, and I haven’t come across a product or project manager, recently, who is willing to put in that kind of time while they’re attempting to get their product ready for prime time.

Therefore, I’m posing the question to you so you can set me straight. Is a traditional product manager now expected to locate a community, or even build one if it doesn’t already exist, of people who would potentially be interested in their product?

– If so, then what is involved in a product manager’s community efforts?

– If not, then who gets the targeted word out to the right people? Someone other than the product manager?

4 Comments

  • Sunny Ray says:

    Doesn't anyone have a marketing department anymore? Or is it that they may be (are) behind the tech/social curve? Beyond that, the PM certainly is a Community Manager of at least the Project Team & Stakeholders.

  • Hallicious says:

    I don't disagree with you, Ray. But to me the question becomes: do we need a marketing department anymore?

    I would argue that the PM or Product Manager is more in tune with product features and release schedules and that they have just as much access to online focus groups (read niche forums/message boards) as anybody else. They also have the ability to take any data from online conversations and turn them into product features.

  • Hallicious says:

    I don't disagree with you, Ray. But to me the question becomes: do we need a marketing department anymore?

    I would argue that the PM or Product Manager is more in tune with product features and release schedules and that they have just as much access to online focus groups (read niche forums/message boards) as anybody else. They also have the ability to take any data from online conversations and turn them into product features.

  • […] really buying into product managers becoming community managers as their product is being built and through launch, so I put together a slide to illustrate how […]