How did you start into community management? What was your career path across the years?
When I graduated university in the US in 2008 with a degree in Journalism, it was a tricky time to find a job. Not only for journalists, as the landscape of journalism was quickly shifting, but college grads in general. The recession job market seemed bleak, however, looking back, I now can see that this was a crucial turning point for the economy – innovative ideas emerged and there was a lot of possibility that eventually followed.
I personally didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to do something fun that connected people, made an impact, and allowed me to travel. It was this vague “vision” that led me to a career as a community professional.
In my first two years post graduation, I took part in the Americorps VISTA program working for this larger organization called Illinois Campus Compact. My role was in higher education at Loyola University Chicago as their Community partnerships program coordinator, working in a University department called the Center for Experiential Learning. Here, I built a community of students looking for meaningful Financial Aid positions and a community of not-for-profit Chicago organizations that had open entry-level positions. I connected these groups together, helped the students get roles within these organizations, and then told their stories in order to keep the program going. The program was awesomely successful and still lives on today.
What happened next was a year abroad as an English teacher in the southwest of France. I was traveling a lot that year, which led me to discover Airbnb in 2010. When my teaching year was over, I applied for a customer support role, and got it. I stayed at Airbnb for five incredible years and learned a LOT. I switched out of support in my last two years and worked as an events and internal community manager. It was a very unique position that I would describe as an event designer meets employee experience manager meets community manager. I experienced a crazy hyper-growth period with the company, helped to open a new office and was a part of building employee communities as well as host and guest communities.
Looking back, these three roles, in conjunction with the boom of tech companies, set the foundation for me to shift into building online communities for various community-centered companies.
I moved to Berlin, Germany in 2015 and have since worked with US, German and other international companies helping to conceptualize, build, and maintain digital communities. I still love working with IRL communities, but you can’t beat the reach of working digital communities. That’s it, that’s the (semi) short summary!
What have been the main challenges of your career?
I’ve spent a lot of my career at start-ups. Start-ups can be demanding and don’t always have a clear vision or a grounded way of operating. I think this is slowly changing, but I’ve found it takes a lot of persistence, dedication and emotional strength to stay sane in these environments! Also, community teams are usually rather small and often need to fight for resources.
What has helped you develop yourself as a community professional?
Being a part of CMX, going to different events and conferences, meeting other community folks, asking LOTS of questions, reading books, and listening to podcasts.
What's your favourite community platform?
really like Patreon and I also see Airbnb as a community platform
What is “community” for you?
“Community” to me is a fundamental part of having a balanced emotional life because I equate community to human connection. I think it’s crucial for people in general to have a group, large or small, that allows them to maintain a sense of self while also feeling accepted, cared for, and challenged.
What's one single strategy that you may suggest to increase member engagement?
Get to know your members in whatever style feels natural to you (standard interview, feature them in your socials/newsletter, take them to coffee, invite them to an event, etc). They are collaborative partners so take an interest in getting to know them and listening to them! This is your secret weapon if you do it well 🙂
What would you recommend to those just starting into community management?
Ask a lot of questions and join some communities for community professionals. There are SO many more resources out there these days, like online classes, books etc., that will help you out. Also, a lot of non-community colleagues may try to define your role for you, call it “fluffy”, or generally not understand what you do.Stand your ground and be proactive so this doesn’t happen.
Suggestions to be proactive: share your work/present it often, explain why good community management is relevant not just for the people being part of the community, but also for the success of the business in general, ask for feedback from trusted sources, and try to build interdepartment collaborations to understand how you can constantly improve and add value to your organization so that your role and contribution are never questioned 🙂