Community Management

1.  Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 01-25-2017 11:00

I'm new here, and excited to have found a group of CMs!

 As a technical business analyst/digital strategist, I occasionally write-up community business cases ad select community platforms for clients. For years I've been jealously looking over at what CM's are doing, and secretl
y longing to be a CM. Now I'm actively wanting to 'career pivot' into being a community manager. Ages ago, I sat next to Andy Stegges of Higher Logic at an old Avectra (now Abila) conference, I mentioned that I was an online community fangirl, as my educational background/interest is anthropology. He nicely said something about becoming a professional community person.  

So wish I would have taken his advice! Do what you love! My background in strategy (business objective, user needs, evaluate, improve - lather, rinse, repeat) is a big help, but I haven't done the day to day CM work before.   How did you break into the professional CM game?  Did anyone take formal training?  Is there an official CM credentialing program?  Which professional organizations should I join?  Has anyone started as a volunteer?

So many questions for you fabulous folk!


Kelly Hansen
Digital Strategist
Bountiful Development | Engagement Specialist

2.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 01-26-2017 10:26
Edited by Patrick O'Keefe 01-26-2017 10:27

Hey Kelly,




Many people who now work in community received their first taste of it as a volunteer, including me. Volunteering under a great community manager (or forum administrator) can be an incredible way to learn. After being a volunteer moderator, I decided to start my own communities, and I went from there.


Sometimes, I feel like new professionals miss the quickest way to gain real community experience: Start one of your own, in your free time. The lessons you learn from launching your own community, and being responsible for everything on a limited budget, are highly invaluable. If something breaks, you have to fix it. If there is a problem, you have to solve it. There is no one else to fall back on. It really forces you to think and learn. And whether or not you are successful, you'll have built some knowledge and experience. If you are successful, you'll have a case study of a community you built from scratch.


Plenty of people have taken formal training. There are some college courses and plenty of organizations selling seminars and training. There are also books. I think it really depends on what way you learn best and what budget you have. Take seminars and audio/video/in-person training if that is the way you learn, but take them primarily to broaden your skillset and understanding. Don't take them with the expectation that simply completing them will get you job offers, because most hiring managers will not have heard of most or all of the organizations offering seminars and training. There is no official CM credentialing program and I'm not sure if that would be a good idea or not. I am not a member of any professional organizations, but The Community Roundtable is probably the most widely known one, within our space. Their blog is free, and includes a helpful jobs roundup, once a week. Other resources I am a fan of include We Support and (both also helpful for jobs).


I hope this is helpful. Best of luck as you explore this career path.




Patrick O'Keefe

Community Signal

Twitter | LinkedIn


3.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 01-27-2017 14:36
Hi Kelly,

Much like Patrick, I'm also a bit of the old-school, learn-by-doing persuasion. When asked how I get started, I usually begin with telling them about an X-Files fan club I belonged to around 20 years ago on good ol' dial-up American Online. I was a bookish, kind-of-weird kid growing up, so being able to find other people like me by going online was truly life-changing. There has not been a time over the past two decades in which I haven't been an active member of at least one online community. And, when you're that active, you end up moderating, or running a subgroup, or otherwise building those community management chops.

So I slowly segued into being paid for it as I was working in other digital arenas and had zero training. However, since then, many more educational resources have cropped up—I'm personally a huge fan of the stuff put out by Feverbee, since it relies on social psychology, anthropology, behavioral economics, and other topics that tickle my inner academic. I've picked up strategy from there, CMX, the Community Roundtable, Patrick's podcast, conferences, blogs, chatting with people, and just generally staying curious. I've taken training, but that's been more for my own growth than for getting jobs.

That may not be the most helpful advice, but I did want to let you know that fangirl isn't the worst avenue into the business. Worked for me! :D

Lindsay Starke
Community Manager
Washington DC

4.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 01-27-2017 15:12
Chiming in as another fan-human! I also came from a teenaged and early-20s immersion in the very geeky world of online blog communities and massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). There are, of course, more direct ways to train for and find your way into community management careers--especially now. I feel as though I was of a generation that a lot of us were there as these communities first became a possibility, and there really wasn't any training to be had.

I 100% echo Patrick and Lindsay's advice to start a community yourself or volunteer or become a member of an existing one. As a member, you'll learn a *lot* from becoming personally invested in, forming relationships through, and experiencing moderation from the user side. You'll also likely find you'll grow up through the ranks of the community naturally, or at least learn to see how people grow up through community ranks--and see the frustration and churn that occur when there are no opportunities to grow through the ranks.

That experience will help immensely with seeing the needs and patterns of a community. As a community manager, you'll become both an implicit leader and a 'mine canary' for your community members--the first person to sense any changes (the canary part) and the person who helps guide those changes in the direction your members seem to need to go (the leader part!).

It's a lot of work, and can be draining, but it can also be quite rewarding. Good luck!

- Lara

Lara Harmon
Marketing and Online Community Coordinator
American Statistical Association

5.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 01-27-2017 16:05
Hi, Kelly... You might not like my answer:  I landed in this biz by accident.

I held a job with a group of people in a marketing department and we were all laid off at the same time.  Almost two years later, I got a call out of the blue from one of those co-workers who asked if I still needed a job.  Tho I had one, I wanted to hear more. She connected me with a guy who happened to need a CM, and he wanted someone w/ journalism skills.  That's me.

It was total luck.

Even luckier that I discovered that I like community work.

As for getting involved, it appears you may be in the right spot.  Time will tell, but I joined to learn and network myself, so, I'm hoping! I also like CMXHub.

Good luck!

Frank Field
Community manager

6.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 02-01-2017 09:18
Edited by Ted McEnroe 01-27-2017 19:59
Hi Kelly (and Patrick and Frank and Lindsay and Lara and everyone else)!

Thanks to those of you who gave The Community Roundtable a shoutout - and made reference to some of the other great resources in the space. There are a lot of great ideas and resources (and job listings) out there, and it's also a great space in that the resource providers get along really well. You'll see CMX sharing our stuff, we've had Rich from Feverbee present to our members, he shares CMX things, etc. 

There are also a number of podcasts starting to gain traction. Patrick does a great job with Community Signal, we at The Community Roundtable have one called "Conversations with Community Managers" which provides shorter takes with individual CMs about their work... and there are others continuing to pop up.

Another way to target individuals to connect with as resources is to think about the kinds of communities you might find interesting, keeping in mind that communities are being applied to much more than the traditional support/association/networking/customer roles. You may find folks there who share your passion and community interests... keeping in mind that some of them may not even recognize themselves as community managers!

From a job front, while there is some training out there (including ours), I'm not sure I'd worry much about credentialing, per se. Do it for you rather than the certificate. And good luck!

Ted McEnroe
Director of Research and Training
The Community Roundtable

7.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 02-06-2017 10:14
Dear Patrick, Lindsay, Laura, Frank, and Ted,
Thank you so, so much for sharing your experiences and offering fantastic advice!  
Apologies for taking so much time to respond!  I broke a big community management rule - slow response time in answering posts. It seems that In Real Life (IRL - does anyone say that anymore? So dating myself) community is demanding a good deal of involvement these days. Anyone else feel that they have been at a never-ending organizational/action meeting?
A little bit more about my background.  Many moons ago, I studied online communities in graduate school (anthropology), primarily Muslim engineering students who had codified the Koran into databases, and how they impacted Koranic exegesis methodology with their online community and technical knowledge (spoiler alert - it didn't end well). This was long before 9/11.  I am still ABT, as I left to take a coding job that paid more than my major professor made, figuring I would finish it up, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.   I didn't get back to the thesis, instead I went down more of a technical track with my career and raised a kiddo.  
As a consultant, I do write up CM strategies - but mainly from a requirement/technical perspective for clients. There is one platform I especially like because of how easily it is to integrate other systems with, and the people who work there are, hands down, the best co-vendors I've ever worked with.
Thinking I will get back to that degree - so much more material to work with now!
Patrick and Lindsay!  So honored to meet you virtually. It was Patrick's fantastic podcast, specifically Lindsay saying something like 'empathy was an important CM value' on Patrick's podcast that I knew I needed a career pivot.   Holy cow, I almost wept!  After a week of writing up a community strategy for a company which didn't want to hear much about 'soft' ROI, I needed to be reassured that yes, although a well-tended mature community will impact the bottom line, it is still all about the beautiful (and terrifying) stuff I used to write about - CONNECTION!  Fangirling it up over here!  
Uh...Lindsay...I may have been in your X-Files group!  Those AOL communities were (are they still around?) fantastic.  Lara, love that you started in role playing and are doing it for a living now.  Thanks for the reminder to look for patterns (as all good anthropologists do!)
Frank! What wonderful kismet of how you made your way to CM - but says so much about how wonderful you must be to have an old colleague reach out after two years.
Taking everyone's advice:
  • Volunteer.  If I don't start my own community (not sure as there so many good ones out there that may be doing the same thing I would do) - I certainly can volunteer.  Reached out to the manufacturer of my kiddo's cochlear implant, and looks like I will be pitching in over there.  Since I now have a teen with CI's, I certainly can help the parents who are just starting on the CI journey with their kiddos.
  • Train:  CMX, Community Roundtable, Feverbee
  • Read & Listen: Patrick's podcast, the vendor blogs, CMX, anything else I can get my hands on
Are there any must-join associations or must attend conferences (CMX)? Community Roundtable is a wonderful one - its just a bit pricey non-affiliated community managers.  
Again, thank you for your responses.  Very much appreciate the mentorship.
All the best,

Kelly Hansen
Digital Strategist
Bountiful Development

8.  RE: Becoming a CM - Tell your story!

Posted 02-07-2017 16:41
Edited by Patrick O'Keefe 02-07-2017 17:28

Hey Kelly,


Don't worry about the delay. It's good to be away from community spaces. I think it's really interesting to think about online communities in the context of anthropology. I think about that whenever I hear of some large, storied online community closing and simply wiping out their databases. There is often something lost, culturally, when that happens.


What you said about the podcast is very kind, thank you. It means a lot. I enjoyed Lindsay's episode, too.


There are no must-join associations or must-attend conferences. I'm not a member of any, and I've never been to a community-focused conference, either. Not that there isn't value there, but there are a lot of people selling things, and you don't need to spend a lot of money to join our space or to become great at the profession, so don't feel like you're missing out if you can't justify it. In addition to the resources I mentioned earlier, being on the e-mint mailing list is fun because so many super veteran community pros are on it, and they're a friendly bunch. If you're on Twitter, I'd recommend following people like Bill Johnston, Derek Powazek, Venessa Paech, David DeWald, Sherrie Rohde, Sarah Judd Welch, Ted Sindzinski and Talia Stroud, as they all regularly share relevant worthwhile links and insights. Conference-wise, the folks at Swarm do a good job, and Community Leadership Summit might be interesting.


Most people in our space, especially those in the trenches doing the work, are pretty approachable and kind. So, if you hear someone like Lindsay on a podcast and think she's great, I wouldn't hesitate to reach out to those people you respect if you ever get stuck and want some focused advice. Whether they work for a Fortune 500 or a startup, most people are happy to offer a little advice or guidance.


Thanks again for your kindness.




Patrick O'Keefe

Community Signal

Twitter | LinkedIn