How did you start into community management? What was your career path across the years?
I worked in a marketing role at a small B2B technology company in London from 1994 – 98 and managed their very early channel/ecosystem partner bulletin board forum. I didn’t understand the technology, but I was good at convening people, communicating and making things happen. It was my first taste of community and I loved being able to access ‘the internet’ at work and take part in anonymous BBs and forums as ‘greenwellys’, making amazing friends and connections across the world.
I moved to the UK’s first ‘online PR’ agency and started to work with big consumer brands like Guinness, Disney and the Discovery Channel. At that point I was helping big brands understand how to work with community, bulletin board and forum owners and to also create branded presences in community spaces like DoBeDo and Habbo as well as doing very early SEO. We did a lot of world firsts At the turn of the century I moved to a PR agency, and we were doing incredible things with more and more big consumer brands (Coca-Cola, Dominoes, Dove, eBay etc.) in spaces like SecondLife, Bebo, MySpace, Orkut and then social media.
I also advised technology clients on their customer communities/forums and set up one of the first web/social listening services merging a few tools together to help our clients understand what was being said about them across various online spaces. Then I moved to Econsultancy in 2007.
I was a visiting lecturer on Community Strategy at Manchester Metropolitan University on their very first Digital Masters programs. We also had an extremely active web forum and built a hugely successful virtual community of 600,000 digital marketers. During this time, I was also a consultant to my own client base, including V&A Museum, London2012 (I was part of the award-winning social media team on the first ‘digital’ Olympics), Multiple Sclerosis Society and many more, helping them all navigate social media/digital engagement and community.
I joined Guild in 2019 as head of marketing. I’m now CMO, and I’ve been able to use nearly three decades of experience in community, marketing and comms to help shape a platform, communities and content to support community managers across the world to create safe, private or discoverable, branded, mobile-first communities, groups and networks. It’s a privilege to be part of the team, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful place to work. I can’t imagine any alternative business model to Tech for Good and being purpose-driven in the community space. We probably don’t shout enough about it. We just do it.
What have been the main challenges of your career?
My (grown up) children are my world. But I didn’t have a choice as to whether to work or not, so having two babies at a time when flexible and asynchronous working and fast internet access was challenging. I remember crying at work because I missed my babies, and I believed I was a bad mum and worrying about work when I was with my family. Things are thankfully much better for working parents today.
What has helped you develop yourself as a community professional?
Learning from community greats like Venessa Paech, Tamara Littleton, Marjorie Anderson, Ashley Friedlein, Blaise Grimes-Viort, Christie Fidura, Evan Hamilton. There are a lot of self-styled community experts who spit out ‘community is…..” Twitter threads like they are community ‘gold dust’, but they have a mere two years of developing Discord Servers under their belt. If you really want to know your community stuff, look out for the quieter ones who have experienced building communities on bulletin boards, forums, social, virtual worlds, in-person communities, chat – all types of community platforms and many different groups of people. These people are the ‘real’ community experts.
What's your favourite community platform?
Guild of course.
What is “community” for you?
“We” not “I”.
What's one single strategy that you may suggest to increase member engagement?
Focus as hard as you can on member onboarding to create trust, a sense of value and worth and quick orientation at the earliest possible stage.
What would you recommend to those just starting into community management?
Join the Guild Community Collective. The excellent Blaise Grimes-Viort hosts a super supportive community for community professionals, regardless of platform choice and at all stages of their community careers/journey. It’s free to join, and you’ll see a few of the people I’ve mentioned, including the people behind Led By Community on there giving sage advice and helping the global community of community builders.