Community Strategy Consultant & Co-Founder at Talentled.co
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Community Strategy Consultant, ilkerakansel.com & Co-Founder, talentled.co
Experience: 6+ years
Book: Four Hour Working Week by Tim Ferriss
Pets: YLove them, but never had one as I just don’t have the perseverance to look after them.
How did you start into community management? What was your career path across the years?
My community journey, like many people in the industry that I know, started at university where I was the founder of a student community on technology during my time that I was majoring in Management Information Systems. My affinity with community would catch up with me many years later, when I spotted a vacancy to lead Olympic volunteers at London Olympic Games in 2012 as part of the division that transported athletes, officials and indignetaries. I can count this as the official start of my professional journey, as it taught me how to keep volunteers motivated and keep them enthused around a shared identity – things that I would use after that.
My return to my hometown in Istanbul in late 2012 saw me working at many sports events in the next few years that included international outings such as World Swimming Championship events in Istanbul and Barcelona and FIFA U20 World Cup that was held in Turkey in 2013. I and the leadership team I worked with eventually formed the ‘Turkish Sports Volunteers’ community, which eventually became an official association that is the premier source of volunteers for any big sport event in the country today.
After a few years as a business consultant, my community journey would shift to a permanent route when I had the opportunity to join Google to coordinate their developer community programs in Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus – a vast region comprised of 10 countries, which eventually reached a big community of 50 thousand developers under my watch. This was a wonderful opportunity to cut my teeth in community management and learn the craft comprehensively, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as being able to attend the last in-person Google I/O event in California before the pandemic hit in early 2020.
The pandemic was a difficult time for many, but it also catapulted online communities under limelight, which meant that there now were big opportunities in the industry. There were just a handful of community consultants in Turkey and beyond, and I decided to take the first mover advantage by resigning and starting my own consultancy in 2020 while launching CMX Connect Istanbul, the local chapter of the global network of CMX Connect chapters, simultaneously, which would become Turkey’s first community of community professionals. I have been working for myself in this capacity since, which enabled me to take part in wonderful multinational community efforts, as well as to establish a presence in the industry as a community strategy consultant, which got me the opportunity to speak at prestigious events such as CMX Summit last year.
I have also started to write what will be the first book on community management in Turkish, which I plan to publish later this year.
Finally, my conversations fellow community professional, Todd Nilson, led us to found TalentLed, which is what we believe to be the World’s first boutique community consultancy that is solely focused on ‘talent communities’ – certainly not just virtual piles of candidate resumes, but proper communities of candidates, employees and alumni covering the entire journey of talent within an organization. Improving talent management strategy through community is something that we are both very passionate about, and we see today in 2023 that this improvement will indeed be indispensable for both companies short on talent, and talent that is looking to continue their journey in this uncertain World.
What have been the main challenges of your career?
I lived in three countries – United Kingdom, Switzerland and my native Turkey – and adaptation and constraints of local labor market was the main challenge to deal with during these journeys. When I was going through these living experiences, which was a relatively long time ago, you had to have physically be present in the countries to be able to hold a job and make a living, which also meant that you had to have a certain experience and mileage in the local ecosystem. There also were language barriers – English was never a problem for me, but Switzerland required – and still requires – German to have full access to opportunities, which meant that it was very difficult to change jobs in the country if your current job does not require to speak the local language.
I have always been interested in thinking about why we work the way we work and organizations are formed in the way they are, and my Masters degree in International Business in Manchester was the perfect opportunity to go deeper on this interest.
I completed my degree with a thesis on workplace surveillance and technology, which was probably one of the first academic pieces talking about ‘remote work’ and how then-nascent tools would enable and enhance workplace control and surveillance – all very new concepts back in 2001!!! So my choice of Tim Ferriss’ 2007 bestseller ‘Four Hour Working Week’ as my favorite book is no coincidence – it reinforced my belief in remote work and new ways of working, and I was able to put that into motion as soon as I started working for myself, which very incidentally became a permanent part of our understanding of work culture so quickly after the pandemic.
And, to refer to my challenge that I told you at the beginning, you can imagine how interesting it is for me to observe countries, administrations and countries changing tack and now offering virtual citizenships, digital nomadism opportunities and the like!
What has helped you develop yourself as a community professional?
The issue with community management as a subset of management science, so to speak, is that it is a very young field of specialization still, and there are very few roadmaps that a novice professional can follow. However, I like a challenge and to develop a strategy from scratch to overcome ambiguity of sorts, so I took the opportunity to carve a path for myself in my chosen area of community strategy. Why strategy? I always wanted to become a management consultant when I was at university – well helped by my degree of Management Information Systems being practically an IT consultancy training – but I have also been fascinated by the human side of computing, systems and processes. Looking back, I believe that my ongoing curiosity on these matters, and my choice of degrees to pursue, trainings to receive and materials to consume, led me to conclude that community management, as it is today, is the perfect melting pot of everything I was really interested about.
Finally, one interesting coincidence was perhaps the reason why community work became so important for me. When I attended my degree it was practially a brand new program in Turkey, and I left university as one of the very first MIS graduates in the country.
You could argue that this is a great first mover advantage, but on the other hand it was really difficult, as I had no one to ask for mentorship or guidance! Having made many mistakes during the early part of my career in particular due to this, I eventually promised myself to share my knowledge with anyone who would ask me for my support – something that enabled me to help other people steer their journeys to what they deem as success, which is one of the greatest satisfactions ever and, as you all know, is what community is all about!
What's your favourite community platform?
While not exactly a community platform, I am a big fan of Slack. With so many people using for work or other means, it has now become ubiquitous and there are many tools and integrations you can use to make it a great community and communication platform. As for specialized platforms, I like Discourse due to its open source structure, which provides interesting flexibilities such as being translated into different languages by volunteers, which made it the very first community platform that is available in Turkish!
What is “community” for you?
Ah, the million dollar question. I stand by the standard definition, that is a group of people who are connected to each other with a sense of care and support with no other expectation, with a healthy denominator of a common identity. Of course it’s important to add to that, and something that’s super important to me about community is ‘intentionality’ (I’ll forever be thankful to my good friend Todd for unearthing this word).
Community must mean value for its members first and foremost, and for all other stakeholders thereafter. Would you spend time in a community where you don’t find what you are looking for, whether it’s answers to your question about something, meeting like-minded people or just a safe, tolerant space for you to share what’s on your mind? Relaxed or welcoming it may need to be, what sets a community a good place to do all this is the ‘intentionality’ its members, and ultimately its community managers and designers, weave into its fabric. An intentional community, for me, is a real community.
What's one single strategy that you may suggest to increase value for the people in your community?
Let’s continue on the intentionality bit – how can you ensure that? And that is about knowing your members, and knowing what they want from the community. I’ve seen so many communities being designed and initiated with just assumptions, run-of-the-mill personas and just the concerns of the sponsoring organizations in mind; they invariably fail.
Make sure that you get to know your members and ask them the right questions to make them feel that you care about what they want to get out of their commitment to community. While this may not be possible for all the members of a large community, the moment you know the names, the stories, concerns, aspirations, expectations and dreams of your – most prominent if not all – members, only then you will be able to design the right experience for them as a community manager. In my perfect community, a member must feel that you’re always one step ahead of them, providing what they exactly want from the community to deliver to them.
I always found this to be the key for (the right kind and volume of) engagement, as the members are so compelled to take part in and commit to conversation and events that fit their expectations.
What would you recommend to those just starting into community management?
Firstly, you have joined the industry at a wonderful time, where there are many experts sharing their experiences and books and other resources that you can benefit so well! Organize an onboarding structure around your needs and get consuming!
Secondly, pick yourself a niche and get deep in it quickly – let your interests, past experiences and other so-interestingly-called ‘unfair advantages’!!! guide you. Are you a musician? Have you trained, say, as a lawyer and found yourself in community world? Are you an engineer of sorts? There are countless opportunities that could enable you to marry what you know already with community, so get those wonderful advantages to work!
And thirdly, community is about sharing and supporting, and we community folk are amongst of the most selfless, giving and collaborative professionals out there. Turn the lack of a formal degree in profession around by asking your favorite community builders to become your mentor – you’re far more likely to get a yes than any other industry! Ask questions, ask for direction and get moving! And finally, if you ever find yourself in a spot of bother or despair, remember my words here – you have chosen a wonderful, fulfilling, impactful profession that will make a direct difference in countless people’s lives. As your fellow community builders we admire you, congratulate you, and are thoroughly proud of you!