How to Earn Your Chops as a Community Manager

According to Community Roundtable’s 2015 State of Community Management report, all of the best-run forums have one particular thing in common: they’re backed by organizations who intentionally and consistently invest in their community management team.

I probably don’t have to tell you that not every community manager receives that kind of support. For some, their organization sees them as a glorified social media consultant to be hidden in a dark room and left to their own devices. For others, however, the community manager is the organization.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, today’s post is for you. I want to help you develop as a professional community manager for two reasons:

  1. So that you’ll succeed in building a thriving online community.
  2. So that you’ll have an easier time finding a new gig if this one comes to an end.

And so without further ado, here are 5 ways sure-fire ways you develop your community management prowess:

Read Books

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on the value of reading for your development as a community manager. In a nutshell, here’s the lowdown: reading helps you understand people, communicate effectively, and generate meaningful and compelling content.

Blogs like this one are a great place to start (see #2), but please don’t neglect long-form writing in books and magazines. The internet can help you with the latest trends, but books are where you pick up  prized information you can apply to your work.

Read Other Stuff as Well

That said … of course you need to stay connected; and the web is THE place to  discover breaking developments in digital marketing technology.

But that doesn’t mean you should waste your time reading everything. If you want to be intentional about growing and developing as a professional, you’ll need to  skip over the vast majority of baby’s milk on the internet and cut through to the meat and potatoes. In other words, you need to establish a steady reading diet of only the best sources.

How do you do come up with that diet? Keep reading. Literally.

Connect with Other Community Managers Online

I know it’s a bit on the meta side, but the most successful community managers recognize that the best place for them to flourish is… you guessed it: in a community.

There are a number of ways to connect with your colleagues (such as Inbound.org, Growth Hackers, and CMX, just to name a few). Another great place to look is on Facebook or Twitter.

Connecting with other managers will not only help you cultivate a fruitful professional network; it’ll also help you with step #2 above. Rather than scouring the web for quality articles to read, rely on your community manager colleagues to serve up the best content without absorbing your precious time.

Connect with Community Managers Offline

Need to grow your network? Offline events are the places to rub elbows and make connections. Learn from your colleagues about what’s working and what’s not, in person, in real time.

Sound interesting? Here are a few places you should check out:

Any of the networks I mentioned above will also keep you in the loop on CM gatherings. Win.

Hone Your Professional Skills in the Classroom

Community managers have to draw from an immense swathe of professional skills in their everyday work. Many of these skills can be isolated and improved upon fairly easily. So do it.

Here are a few areas to work on that produce the most bang for your buck:

Communication – Before anything else, your job is to communicate—usually, in writing. Pick up a book or two that are focused on improving your writing skills (both Stephen King’s On Writing and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well are a great place to start).

Conflict Resolution – Managing relationships within your community is an important element of any community manager’s work. A class on conflict management at your local community college will put a few more mechanisms in your psychological toolkit.

Data Analytics – An effective CM knows how to parse data and capitalize on shifting trends. I’m not saying you need to get a Master’s degree in Business Data Analytics, but a class or two could really help you make the most of big data.

Graphic Design – What happens when you need a graphic on the fly and your designer (if you even have one) is tied up on other projects? You fire up Illustrator and spend 3 hours designing a simple GIF. Too much of a time commitment? Then make life easier on yourself by taking an online course in graphic design or two.

User Experience Design – If customer experience is the key to the future, then community experience may just be the DeLorean DMC-12 that gets you there. A basic grasp of UX design can help you design elegant and intuitive experiences for your community members. It will also impress your boss.

To echo the entrepreneurial coach Michael Gerber, we’re all a little too busy working in our community management roles to work on our community management skills. But that’s no excuse. We need to find time to keep up with our trade.

What’s the ultimate takeaway here? Start small, but start something. Pick one of the five areas above and promise yourself to take one simple step this week to improve. Keep moving forward and before you know it, you’ll find that little steps add up to significant improvement further down the line.