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 Community.is (both also helpful for jobs).
I hope this is helpful. Best of luck as you explore this career path.
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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.
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