In the Fall of 2017, the Manning School of Business introduced a new course, Online Community Management. Categorized as a management elective, the class is the first of its kind. The topic of online community management is one that offers very little academic opportunity, despite the industry growing volumes in the digital era.
As a former UMass Lowell graduate, Professor Georgina Cannie chose her alma mater as the ideal destination for the nation’s first online community management course. “It is my belief that students should be able to study [community management] and I wanted to offer an introduction for UMass students into an up-and-coming, valuable and important field of work”, said Cannie.
The Lowell native used a mixture of former professors and newly established connections at UMass Lowell to propose the teaching opportunity. “I felt as though the UMass Lowell motto of ‘Work Ready, Life Ready’ was incredibly applicable to community management because this is something that [students] can go directly into [upon graduation]”, said Cannie. The task of syllabus creation then became the unprecedented next step. Upon completion, the course was introduced as a three-hour, evening class.
Many might ask, what is online community management? Not to be confused with social media management, Professor Cannie has detailed the correct definition. “Community Management is the discipline of setting up online spaces for either customers or employees to allow them to collaborate with each other to create deeper knowledge. You are working within a platform to facilitate the interactions of community members”, said Cannie.
Online communities do not only benefit the end user’s side of business. Cannie details that business owners are able to see meaningful results from using an online community. Online communities are currently being used internally (for employees) as well as externally (for customers).
From the vantage point of a customer community, there are many benefits. “The value benefit for a customer community centers on customer and product support. It will cost [businesses] less to support their customers – who have purchased and need help with a product. Brand loyalty and customer retention also increase in organizations that maintain a community because your customers feel valued and recognized. They can see their contributions in the businesses’ decisions”, said Cannie.
In an internal community (for employees), benefits vary but are plentiful. “In terms of employee communities, work gets done faster. Companies see value savings when salaried employees increase their productivity. Employees are able to do more, faster. More efficient and higher quality work is where the value comes from on an employee community”, said Cannie.
By day, Cannie serves as a Community Strategist for The Community Roundtable. Her company offers expertise in community building through deep industry research, training for community managers, and advisory services. Cannie’s tasks are mainly focused in community assessment, strategic planning and implementation/improvements for existing communities. The Community Roundtable operates as a cloud-based business, meaning they do not have a brick and mortar office. All employees use a variety of communication tools to collaboratively provide solutions to their customers.
Translating her experiences into the professional world, Cannie envisioned a modern and practical sense of teaching for her course. “I don’t believe in doing things the traditional way for no other reason than that is how they have always been done. I feel there needs to be thought and intention behind class design”, said Cannie. The new professor deviates her course from the normal college class experience. Late work is not accepted because Cannie says “When you work in a business, your boss/clients will not accept late work” and all academic resources are entirely electronic. “[Textbooks] are outdated and expensive. They don’t reflect the rapidly evolving knowledge of what’s out there right now”, said Cannie.
Although this philosophy is different than traditional practice, Cannie keeps her student’s best interest in mind. “I want students to have an experience that is as close as possible to the experience that they will have when they start working”, said Cannie. Rather than a solely lecture-based format, Cannie offers a variety of activities within the classroom to educate her students. “My goal is that only one-third of each class is used in lecture format. The other two thirds should be exercises and hands-on experience with collaboration with your peers because that’s what community is all about”, said Cannie.
Online Community Management will be offered again in the Spring of 2018, under the ‘MGMT 4800 – Current Topics in Management’ category. The course will be held Monday evenings from 6:30 – 9:20 p.m. in the Pulichino Tong Business Center. All UMass Lowell students are welcome to enroll. For additional information, please email Georgina_Cannie@uml.edu.