Community Management is a Career, Not a Job
'Community Management' is a hot topic, & a hot job field, but I think it's important to articulate that it's not a role which should be approached as a 'job'. What do I mean by that? Community Management should NOT be:
- A role you 'settle' for because you can't do other things
- Something you do as an ancillary part of your 'real job'
- Something you get into 'because it's hot right now'
- A position that you can perform in isolation, without constant upgrading of your skills/knowledge
I've talked in the past about what kinds of skill sets I believe are necessary to be an effective community manager, and as I thought about my own career path, I realized that early on in my community management career, I considered myself an engineer doing community management, whereas I now think of myself as a community manager with an engineering background. It is a subtle, yet hugely important difference - one that allows me to draw on a breadth of engineering experience to help me steer groups of developers in the right direction, while also considering the needs and requirements of the business and management communities that tend to drive the formation of communities.
One thing that is common between my engineering hat and my community hat is the need to constantly seek to improve not only the knowledge of my craft through reading blogs, Twitter, and other RSS feeds of community news, but also to give back to those same communities. From my earliest days in computer science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, I remember learning what community was (without even realizing it at the time) through things like Usenet News Groups (wow, I'm getting old! :)). The closest thing we had to community 'managers' may have been a wiser, older member of the 'tribe' who kept things on a reasonably even keel (including privately emailing yours truly when I got a bit out of line), but the lessons of cooperation I learned in those formative years of my education have stuck with me. Some of the community management/social media professionals whose writings I try to read regularly are:
- Chris Brogan
- Jono Bacon (check out his new book "Art of Community" - highly recommended)
- Amber Naslund
- Rachel Happe/Jim Storer (Community RoundTable)
- Martin Reed
You don't have to read the same resources as I do, but I'd encourage you to find your own 'community of community pros' to draw from, as I've found reading what other people are doing in the field stimulates my creativity and gives me new insight into areas I could be better addressing in my own communities.
It is tremendously exciting to see how community management has evolved, and grown into myriad different directions, but all with the core of cooperation and collaboration to meet the common needs of the group. To continue moving the practice of community forward, it is critical that those of us in the field truly work toward making it a profession - something that we can proudly point to and say 'yes, I'm a community manager, and I try to make a difference every day with my constituents'. I know, it sounds a bit cliched, but the notion of 'community' has been a powerful force in human history for a long, long time. What we are doing now is just formalizing its practice to harness it for productivity. I firmly believe that to be successful at anything, you need to treat the pursuit of it with the respect it deserves, so if you want to make community management your career focus, make sure you give it your full attention and skill.