What I love about community managers is that none of us actually trained for this job. The great community managers all seem to have fallen into the position and thrived.
Honestly, I got my first community management job because I was a native English speaker and had social media experience. At that time, I lived in Munich and there weren’t a lot of Americans around who had previous experience with social media and marketing.
I loved that job managing an online community of writers. And seriously, let me tell you – I learned things the hard way. I had no mentor, no community management friends I could turn to. The field was just picking up steam and all I had to rely on were online articles and experimentation to see what stuck.
After my first community management job, I moved on, quite literally, to Ecuador. I practiced my Spanish and worked from home as a marketing freelancer. But I was missing that community aspect of my job. It was then I knew I was hooked for life. My travels finally led me back to Colorado where my marketing and community worlds collided. I managed to arrive just in time to help with a guide on building communities. It may have been a happy coincidence. Or more likely, it was meant to be.
In thinking about my community management work, I invariably think back to living overseas and how much those two experiences were linked. Living abroad helped me figure out what being a community manager really means. Here’s why:
1) Research, reading, and more research
When overseas, before I took a trip anywhere, I read everything: guidebooks, recent news, fiction books written in the city/country. Everything. I talked with people who had been to that place and asked them their thoughts. I wanted to know everything I could.
Research and amazing reading skills are two of the most important skills a community manager can have. When you’re trying to blaze a path never before taken or just figuring out software, research is your BFF. I am so grateful that I can learn from those who came before me.
2) Roll with the punches
Ever boarded the bus you really need to take in a developing country only to find it is packed with people and no room for you? I have. What’d I do? I turned right around and sweet-talked my way into a crowded bench behind the driver. The ability to think on your feet and react to a changed environment (aka rolling with the punches) is invaluable.
Likewise a community manager can have the best made plans for a day and then have everything go haywire. For this job, you need to have a cool head and be able to think strategically. You have to make decisions with limited information and resources, and own the outcome. If nothing else, you’ll gain the experience and a funny story or two to tell your community manager buddies.
3) Challenge yourself
Whether out on the open road or managing a community virtually, you have to try new things. Trying new things is the way a community grows and thrives. It’s the best way for you to grow and thrive, too.
Last March, I hiked up Mt. Chimborazo, which is technically higher than Mt. Everest because of the bulge around the Earth at the equator (fun fact!). I didn’t summit, but I did get to 16,400 feet. Since I’m a hiking wimp, this was pretty amazing for me. I didn’t have a heart attack. I didn’t faint. I showed myself that I could do more than I initially thought I was capable of.
Getting to the Point
I don’t want you to think that the moral of the story is that you have to spend years abroad (or board an overcrowded bus in the developing world) to be a great community manager. I’m saying you need to work on you – do what you love, find your passion, explore and challenge yourself – so that you can be a great community manager.
Find out what your strengths are and play to them. Figure out your weaknesses and work on them (or work around them). If I hadn’t faced up to the challenges of living overseas and allowed it to strengthen my strengths and weaken my weaknesses, I wouldn’t be nearly the community manager I am today.