There’s no one right way to run a community, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that there’s not a single path to becoming a community manager. In fact, when people ask me about what makes someone great at community management, I tend to describe more personality traits than anything else: adaptability, curiosity, an analytical mind.
And yet, there are plenty of things you can do to prepare yourself for getting a job as a community manager. Most of these fall into one of three categories.
No, I’m not talking about getting your B.A. in Community Skills (though if you are still in school, a degree in Psychology or Human-Computer Interaction would get you off to a great start).
Instead, take advantage of the many courses and certification programs that have sprung up online. I personally am a big fan of the approach that Feverbee takes (and that their training includes Advanced level material). But if you’re starting out, you can’t go wrong with the Community Roundtable’s Community Management Fundamentals training or the Fundamentals of Community Strategy training offered by the team at CMX.
If you want free training, there are plenty of blogs and online communities you can follow and join to learn more. Look for groups in your local area and attend events, and if you can make it to a community management conference or two, that’s even better. Many of them offer a discounted rate if you volunteer. The moral: ABL: Always Be Learning.
Experience (aka the School of Hard Knocks)
Find an online community you are passionate about and volunteer as a moderator/content writer/etc. Learn by doing.
If you want to become a community manager because you just really love online communities, you may already be halfway there with this one and have a community in mind. I tend to find this is the path taken by most community veterans; we ended up falling into the role instead of choosing it actively. This is a great way to get real-world community management experience on your resume. And, though it’s not guaranteed by any means, many communities hire their community managers from their roster of community volunteers, so you may be stacking the deck in your favor more than you even realize.
This one is a little tough to do all on its own, especially if you’re just starting out in the community space, so it’s best coupled with one of the above as a high-octane rocket booster.
Community managers have to be good communicators, so you can always flex your writing muscles and start a blog sharing your wisdom and musings on the world of community. If there’s a topic you’re interested in that there’s not a community about, consider starting one up. It’s particularly easy to create a new subreddit, so if you want to talk about your favorite podcast or literary series, that’s a great way to start. And finally, start building a presence in online communities about community building, like CMX Hub, the CR Network, or communitymanagement.org.
So, there you have it: with this advice you should be ready to work toward your first community management job. As always, approach everything with an open mind and an open heart, ready for the crazy-making, joyful adventure that comes with building communities. You’ll do just fine.
Please share your tips for becoming a community manager in the comments!