Community Management Crisis: What Am I, Anyway?

Ever since I got a ~formal title change~ in January, I have struggled explaining to people what it is I do. Most of the time I tell people I work in marketing at an ed tech company. If you work in community, you know it’s not so cut and dry.

I’m fairly positive “community manager” was not a thing when I started my job in 2012. Even now, though it is more defined and there are even conferences and summits for community managers (CMs), I’m still not 100% clear.

The exciting news is that as community managers today, we are helping shape and lay the ground for others who pursue this career path down the road. I really don’t think anyone leaves college saying, “I want to be a community manager!” And not because it’s not a great job (au contraire, my friends, it is). No one says that because there doesn’t seem to be an agreed-upon, general consensus definition as to what it entails.

From my experience, community management falls into two main “departments” within a business:

  1. Marketing and outreach
  2. Customer support

[well]Note: I totally understand that community “is not that simple” and it’s a fluid role that involves juggling work with several teams. That said, the majority of CMs I’ve met work primarily under these two umbrellas. (At a recent meetup with the CMX NYC team, we had an interesting discussion that instead of trying to bucket community within an existing department, those roles should really be bucketed under community. I couldn’t agree more… but more about that in a separate post.)[/well]

My point here is that the skills required to work on the above two teams are very different from one another. I have developed a strong understanding of marketing, in thanks to great colleagues and managers (thanks, Ross and Danny). I know how to evaluate analytics, strategize and execute campaigns, coordinate cross-marketing partnerships, and create and promote content and events to the end user… all in the name of building community. This experience, along with my “people skills” (whatever that means) and digital know-how, make me a kick ass community manager—within the marketing realm.

Learning all of the skills my colleagues on the customer support team possess would take ages. It’s a very different dynamic, and while we both support existing and prospective customers, our day-to-day responsibilities are starkly different. Yet, when I receive automated emails from LinkedIn about companies that “are looking for people like me,” I see CM postings that would be a much better fit for my pals on support than marketing (such as managing, documenting, and prioritizing support tickets to drive product development).

It leaves me feeling both nervous and excited. The former because, well, I question whether what I’m doing really constitutes as being a CM. Will the projects I’m executing and goals I’m meeting now help me grow to be a better CM later? This partial uncertainty, however, is offset by the fact that being involved in such a “new” field gives me so many opportunities to learn and grow with others along the way. CMX has been an invaluable resource (its Facebook group and Slack channel, particularly), and I’m pumped to be involved with the CMX Series NYC team.

If you were expecting me to come to a solid conclusion with this post… sorry, that ain’t happenin’. And that’s OK! The community management world is new, and becoming the best CM I can be is an iterative process. Not knowing “what” I am 100% keeps me driven to continue learning and growing in my role, and ultimately provides me with more opportunities. Having an awesome support system of other CMs from around the world (in both customer support and marketing!) to help me make sense of it all sure helps, too.

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