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A Career in Community Management: What Experience Do You Need?

Written by Molly Talbert | on February 3, 2016 at 8:30 AM


So, you want to be a community manager. Since “community management” is such an umbrella term, encompassing many things, it can be hard to know exactly what to highlight in your resume -- or even know if you’re qualified for the job.

Many community manager titles are simply that: “Community Manager.” Although it’s a vague, broad title, most community management positions benefit from a similar background and skillset, even if there are specific nuances to each individual role. No matter what the exact title is or what department the position is in, these core backgrounds will serve you well:

  • Communications or English: no matter the specifics of the role, being able to write coherently and effectively is an absolute must. Most of a community manager’s job takes place in the written word, either in discussions or email, so they need very strong writing skills.
  • Psychology: they don’t need to have majored in psychology or be an expert, but it’s valuable to at least have an interest in what makes people tick. How is it helpful? A community manager needs to know what drives people, how to motivate them and how to phrase questions so people answer them.
  • Experience in a forum: this doesn’t necessarily mean previous professional experience in a forum. Are they part of any online discussions or communities, like Reddit or a common interest group? This is important because it shows that they know what it’s like to be part of an online community and that they have an inherent interest or appreciation in them.
  • Analytics -- community managers don’t need to be data nerds, but they do need to have a basic grasp on analytics, such as Google Analytics. Most platforms have a data dashboard to help track engagement, but a good community manager needs to be able to interpret that data and create plans. Is your community engagement on the right track, or do you need to tweak things? And, if so, what needs to change?
  • Customer/member service -- although it isn’t the whole job, community managers often help clients with many issues, whether it’s with your product, the community platform or something to do with your organization. Knowing how to answer questions, to be responsive and have empathy is important.

One confusing aspect of community management is that there isn’t clear consensus which department it belongs in -- for some organizations, it’s marketing, for others customer support or something else. Depending on what department the community manager job is in or the specific title, different backgrounds, beyond the core ones mentioned above, are particularly relevant.

These backgrounds aren’t necessarily integral for every community manager position, but could be helpful depending on the specific functions of the job or department it’s in:

  • Marketing -- this may be obvious, but if community management is in the marketing department, having a marketing background will help you align with the department's goals and objectives. As community manager, you know better than anyone what your customers’ needs and pain points are. This is valuable information for the marketing department.
  • Content creation -- communities are rich content resources, which can be one strong reason an organization invests in community. Knowing how to spot good content or create good content out of discussions will allow you to take full advantage of the community -- making sure the organization, as well as the members/customers, receives high value.
  • Social media -- although social media and community management are different -- social media is for the organization’s voice, community is for the customers’/members’ voices -- they have complimentary skillsets. Social media teaches you how to speak to a specific audience online, how to track engagement and how to strategize.
  • Event planning -- even if the community manager role doesn’t require in-person event planning, if you have launches, awards or kick offs, a little event planning know-how is helpful -- even if it’s all online. It’s just another tool in your tool belt for engaging members/customers in effective, fun ways.

Finally, no matter the specifics of the role, it’s important that each community manager is capable of leading. This doesn’t mean you need to be able to lead and manage a team of community managers or that you need extensive leadership experience. It means you need to be able to be assertive, authoritative and empathetic in the community.

If you’re looking for a community manager job, want to take your career in that direction, keep in mind relevant experience will help you customize your resumes and cover letters -- or show you weak areas you need to work on.

If you’re a seasoned community manager, what experience has been helpful for you?

Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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