Who has been an inspiration for you as a community manager?
I was a marketing major in college completely ready to be a market analyst or work for a big firm like Ogilvy. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s not the best fit. I’m a little bit more…animated than that. But going to a traditional university in uptight DC I didn’t see an alternative. That was going to be my future! Then I joined Google+ and my entire professional trajectory changed. It’s where I first became aware of what a community manager was. After all, it’s not exactly a profession you learn about in college….yet!
On Google+ is where I first met the two amazing women that inspired me to pursue community management: Google+ CM Natalie Villalobos and Hangout/Chat CM Katherine Gramann. I watched as these two people managed hundreds of thousands of users (probably more) every day. They interacted with G+ users directly, created fun events, announced new features, built expectations, helped manage a changing Google brand, and took in more feedback than I could ever imagine absorbing. Watching them engage, something clicked: they were having fun too. It got me thinking…
“This sounds right up my alley” I thought. I had a background in marketing, event planning, and campaign management. I loved interacting with people. “Seriously, this is my calling.” I continued to build my own brand on Google+ and manage my own community watching Natalie and Katherine carefully, ultimately becoming a community manager myself. Natalie and Katherine remain amazing role models and friends to me. I’m continually fascinated by their ability to be “always on” and by their sincere passion for involving users in product enhancement. They were so inspiring because they care. They’re a true inspiration and a true case study for how to be an effective community manager.
What do you like best about being a community manager?
The variety! Confession: I suffer from some gnarly – Oh! Something shiny! – ADD. I literally die a little on the inside if I do the same thing for hours on end. It’s why community management is perfect for me. Writing a blog post makes me think one way. Answering feedback makes me think another. Creating the next awesome contest makes me think another way yet! It’s honestly exhilarating. What makes it all the more cooler is that all of these seemingly different tasks all work towards the same goal: building a better community. Additionally, the way you accomplish that goal doesn’t have one correct solution. A community manager’s job lets your personality shine through and is flexible enough to let you keep challenging yourself.
What skill should every community manager have?
Empathy. You have to care about your community to understand your community. If you can’t relate to your community you can’t give your company useful information about them. A community manager is the voice of the customer inside the company and the voice of the company to the customer. The most impressive community managers not only have amazing communication skills, but can also quickly get to the heart of any issue, an ability made possible by being empathetic. From “Your product sucks!” they can learn that what a customer really means is “Search could be a little better.” They’re able to do that because they don’t go into a situation trying to convince someone of something – they go into any situation eager to understand and help. That approach is why great community managers are so valuable and hard to find.
What advice would you give someone wanting to become a community manager?
Evaluate your strengths and learn how you can use them in conjunction. I’ve learned that community managers wear a lot of hats. One second we’re social media managers, the next we’re support staff, and the next we’re event planners. Our job is to “build community” and there are a million moving different parts that go into that. Find examples of when you’re analyzed data as well as when you’ve interacted with people or calmed someone down. An awareness of your diverse skill set is key.
Additionally, and It should go without saying, but do a lot of research about what a community manager is. There are a lot of “gurus” and “social media experts” that miscategorize this profession. Reach out to a CM and get their perspective on things. Learn the difference between similar roles (hint: that difference is the diversity I just spoke about) and what makes a community successful or unsuccessful. Community managers are fairly new to the professional scene. Learn as much about them as possible!
Tell us about a job that helped prepare you to become a community manager and why.
In between my junior and senior year in college I interned for the Ad Council in campaign management. The Ad Council is a giant organization that you probably see once a day without even knowing it. They’re responsible for almost every national PSA campaign including, most famously, Smokey Bear. Working for them I learned quickly that the Ad Council is a facilitator and mediator between an organization that wants to get a message out (the sponsor) and a creative agency to make that message as effective as possible. Basically what this means is that campaign managers have to be master translators.
My boss there, Ricki Kaplan, taught me quickly how valuable it was to accurately understand a perspective or opinion. At the Ad Council I was dealing with a bunch of insanely passionate and particular people dedicated to delivering a message the way they envisioned. My job was to help find the happy balance between two parties (message sponsor and creative agency) to create a successful campaign. It’s really not so different than helping a company understand its users as a community manager. It takes empathy, understanding, a critical mind, some creative communication, and, to some degree, you’re always caught in the middle 🙂
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