How I became a superhero … I mean Community Manager

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So, I’m no superhero despite the cape and red underwear (okay, so I don’t have either of them even if they were on my list to Santa this Christmas). But the ups and downs of being a community manager take you from feeling like a superhero as you break through and celebrate that great success to wishing you had super powers whilst battling the latest attack from a Level 49 shouter-troll. Oh yeah they do exist, but I’ll save that story for another time!

Like many Community Managers I can honestly say that when I was younger, whilst deciding what to do with my life, being a community manager wasn’t on my list. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew it existed. However, as I finalised my studies and moved from flipping burgers to the world of banking (where I actually spent 6 years), I realised there had to be more to work life! I guess the mega-corporate, red taped, rigorous way of life became too much for me. It was during this time I discovered forums, creating a buzz of the latest hot topics to getting kudos from someone you just helped,

“OMG, I’m on the leader board!” I was hooked.

The diagnosis was in, OCMD “Obsessive Community Manager Disorder”

Given my newly found interest “slowly becoming a passion,” I started my own travel community following a recent holiday. I’m not going to lie to you, it was small and basic, running on an open source platform. I remember the excitement when I had my first member, then my tenth, and how I would check every lunch time for updates, which soon became every hour. It didn’t get past 100 members, but during this time I learnt a lot of the basics, mostly the hard way—but hey, we’ve all got to learn.

During this time I decided to make myself a promise: “Do what you love!” If I’m honest, I’m a bit of a fanatical person with “shall we say” obsessive tendencies, and so it was really important for me to do something I totally enjoyed. It was back in 2007 when I applied for a role as Community Executive at the TalkTalk Group. At the time I didn’t realise what the role fully involved but I knew enough to run at it full steam ahead with open arms.

So, my first real community manager job. Well, I can tell you, it was a baptism by fire of monumental proportions. Initially my brief was to seek out customers in need of help online. “How can I listen to the entire web?,” I thought to myself. That’s where I discovered Radian6, which to this day I still use, and in my opinion is one of the better listening tools out there and weapons of any community manager. For me, being aware of all off-domain activity is as important as the on-domain discussions, as it’s a great opportunity to promote your community and recruit fresh blood. As demand increased, we launched our first “real” community built with vBulletin. Over the next 5 years, I not only learnt to master that platform but also to hone my skills as a community manager.

Top Tip: Don’t be afraid to fail. Community management is as much a science as it is trial and error. If you’ve got an idea, try it out, involve your super users and see where it takes you but don’t be afraid to fail. Just fail fast, learn and grow as a community manager.

Hot potato, hot potato

I know what you’re thinking, that great kids classic from the wiggles? Sorry to disappoint. I’m actually talking about the feeling I often had as a new community manager in a company who didn’t really understand what my team and I did, or where we really belonged.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a great experience. In my current role, I’ve worked in Brand, Marketing, Sales, Online, Operations and even PR, which has given me great insight into the business I work for. I doubt I would have had this exposure in any other role. Although it’s a challenge to constantly get passed around like a parcel at an eight years old birthday party, it’s actually a rare gift. I’ve spoken to other community managers who have shared a similar experience, which has lead me to believe it’s often common place for people who do what we do. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a similar situation, “Embrace it.” It will pay off in the long term, I promise.

It’s been a rewarding 12 months

I guess one of the signs you’re doing a good job is when your community get so busy you realise you need help: be it a new platform, cultivating more super users or growing your team. For me, my one man band went from “me” to a team of 5, then 8, to now 13 guys’ n gals providing support across social channels, blogs, review sites, forums and our own community. 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

As you may have guessed, I’m passionate about community management: both learning from others, which I’m constantly doing, as well as sharing my experiences and thoughts on the topic. Following a migration I managed from vBulletin to the Lithium platform, I became very involved in Lithium’s community. Initially I was involved to learn the platform but soon found myself amongst friends and like-minded people, sharing best practices and helping others. Last year I was invited to join their Stars Program as one of their top contributors, which totally rocked.

Meet the Lithium Stars: Community Experts from Lithium on Vimeo.

At the risk of starting to sound like a total narcissist, it’s worth me pointing out that I have built a great team of people who are equally passionate without whom I wouldn’t have grown my community to where it is today: having launched a super user scheme, which saw a 300% increase in contributions from our top super users, almost tripled our registered base and driven contribution levels of all active members to an all-time high.

How I became a super hero … I mean Community Manager - Stephen Fell

So what next

Honestly I don’t know but what I do know is that community management is one of the most challenging yet rewarding roles I’ve ever had and nothing is going to keep me away from doing it.

Stephen Fell

Senior Online Engagement & Content Manager at TalkTalk Group
Stephen the is the Senior Online Engagement & Content Manager at TalkTalk a UK based telecommunications company has over 7 years community management experience and an unquenchable thirst and passion for his role as a CM. When not working he enjoys travel, anything geeky and is a self-confessed Fan boy of all things Nikon, Nissan & Apple. Not forgetting his love for “not too long walks” with his better half Michelle & Maisy their 5 year old Yorkshire terrier.

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