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Feeling the Burn(out)

Written by Molly Talbert | on January 18, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Some call it the “dark side” of community management. It isn’t often discussed, but as they check emails late at night and have stress dreams about work, many community managers worry it’s just around the corner -- burnout.

Community management is a new, exciting and growing field -- there are great reasons to get in on the action and become one or hire a community manager for your organization. As you jump on the train, don’t be fooled -- it’s a multifaceted profession and can be emotionally taxing.

In The Community Roundtable’s 2013 State of Community Management report, they found burnout is pretty common among community managers. Among the people they surveyed, three main reasons for the trend emerged:

  • Resources for community managers are often limited.
  • Lack of executive support within their organization. Since community management is new, executives often don’t understand the challenges community managers deal with and don’t know how to support them.
  • Resistance to social technology in their organization. Many organizations -- especially ones larger or older -- are set in their ways, making virtual communities poorly received. It can be tough constantly starting conversations yourself.

Based on these main reasons for burnout, it seems like the profession’s greatest asset -- its cutting-edge newness -- is part of the problem. Organizations know they need a community manager, but don’t know how to properly support them. And, to compound the situation, community managers often work alone, which can feel isolating.

How do you know you’re burning out? You may know your job is important, but tasks pile up quickly and the will to complete them vanishes at an equal rate. You dread checking email, yet never stop. You become paralyzed when writing responses. Rather than excitement, you feel angst when thinking of engagement strategies.

As a community manager, this high burnout rate is scary. How can you fix this? Better yet, how can you avoid it all together?

We asked Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, what she suggests. She’s an expert in her field (she recently spoke at our 2015 Super Forum) and knows how important it is to rekindle the fire in your community management belly.

Here’s how you can manage burnout:

1. Prioritize your focus – Always prioritize members first, organization second (as it benefits directly when members are engaged) and sponsors or affiliates third. This creates a measuring stick for what new features get launched, who’s password to fix and whose needs to serve. Socialize this with the team internally, so everyone knows how you roll and buys into the plan. This is common practice with sales professionals (sales first, operations second) and can be used with community, too.

2. Clear communication and measures with executives – if you set the strategic goals with executives and gain their buy in, then your reporting and efforts can orbit around those goals and measures. Develop a clear definition of success for community, phased over quarters. Report on your progress using a 5X5 method -- for example, every Monday, report on five things you did last week and five things you are going to do this week to advance them. This strategy keeps everyone’s eye on the ball.

Part of the education process is ensuring your community is appropriately staffed. If your work environment is a no win battle, then at the very least you need to know what you are up against, and set manageable expectations accordingly.

3. Make community a team sport – get volunteers within your organization to help people understand community. Your job will become easier if you recruit others to raise the barn walls with you.

4. Be empowered to say no (or not today) when appropriate – if points 1 and 2 are in place, then saying “no” becomes easier. By nature, we community people are pleaser personalities; it’s hard to not try delighting everyone we encounter. It’s part of what makes us great. But if we don’t set limits, others can prey on our good nature. Which leads to the final point...

5. Self care – Even if you follow all the points above, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll burn out sooner rather than later. Don’t overlook this point!

Just because the community manager burnout rate is high doesn’t mean you’re destined for that fate. And if you are headed down that path, take comfort in knowing you’re not the only community manager out there who's struggling.

One of the strengths of community management -- an inherent love of community -- can be part of the remedy. Although you may be the only community manager in your organization, there are many out there who love to connect and share ideas.

How have you dealt with burnout and rekindle your fire? Where do you go for professional support?

Topics: Online Community Management

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