“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” – William James, Philosopher and Psychologist
That’s good career advice no matter what field you’re in, but it’s particularly powerful for community managers. Community managers hold an integral job that can get lasting results for businesses, yet they don’t always have the opportunity to communicate their importance. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and let busy executives or overworked managers turn their attention elsewhere.
That can make growing a community management career slow-going, but only if you’re content to take the back seat. Community managers with drive and ambition can easily call attention to themselves and their importance to grow their careers as they grow their companies.
Here are four ways that any community manager can accelerate their career.
4 Ways to Grow Your Community Career
1. Develop a Framework
Online communities are business ventures designed to get results, such as improved sales or customer satisfaction. And the vast majority of communities – 92% of them according to a recent Leader Networks study – do deliver results. With that in mind, the best way to sell your skills as a community manager is to sell the results that you get for businesses.
Develop a metrics framework that clearly demonstrates what you’ve achieved for current and past communities. Just remember that you probably won’t be able to definitively spell out your impact on the company’s bottom line when your community is just getting started. That’s why having a framework is important. It shows increases in engagement and progress toward fulfilling your business-level strategy over time. Your framework might include metrics on:
- Customer engagement
- Community member growth
- Member activity, such as the number of discussion forum posts or blogs published
Present the metrics to your current boss and any companies you’re interested in working for, then tie the numbers to business goals. For instance, as member engagement increased, did sales improve? 77% of CEOs are tired of marketing and brand growth activities that can’t be linked back to solid results, so if you can demonstrate your community’s results, you’ll demonstrate your value to the C-suite. That’s one of the best ways to prove your value and advance your career.
2. Start a Side-Hustle Community
The size and growth rate of online customer communities varies greatly from business to business. Slower-growing communities could be facing challenges such as a lack of resources, extended timelines, or difficulty getting executives involved. Regardless of the reason, if your community isn’t showing off your skills to their best advantage, you should find another way to highlight your abilities.
One way to do that is to build a side-hustle community outside of your company. This community allows you to show off your skills without the constraints you may have in your professional position. It’s also a great way to demonstrate talent if you don’t have professional community management experience.
Start your side-hustle community on the platform of your choice, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, or Instagram. Develop the community’s focus based on your interests or a need you’ve seen in your industry, then seed the community with valuable, SEO-optimized content to start growing your audience. Point future employers (and your current boss, if needed) toward this community so they can clearly see your skills at growing and engaging an audience.
Expert Tip: If you don’t want to start an independent community, you could also volunteer or become active in another established. Here are some personal stories and advice from community managers who have started their career by learning about online community management through active participation.
Community is permeating all corners of your company, so don’t get stuck on your current “community manager” job title. Explore different departments and jobs within your company. Some departments that hire community managers include sales, marketing, and account management, which is evolving into customer success. A few alternative job titles that involve the same tasks as community management include:
- Customer Success Manager
- Member Engagement Specialist
- Advocacy Coordinator
Learn about the different roles in your company and how you can use your community management skills to fit into them. Then, be flexible enough to move around. It’s easier to advance your career by changing job titles and focusing on the results your company wants than it is to stay pigeonholed in one area.
4. Collect Stories
Document member stories and the impact your community is having on groups or individuals. These stories will act as testimonials to your skills and the results you’re achieving. Here are a few types of stories to collect.
At-Risk Customer Stories: Research shows that people are more motivated to avoid a loss than they are to gain something. Make use of this by collecting stories from frustrated customers who were thinking about leaving your company. Show how your online community helped convince them to stay, keeping your business from losing revenue.
New Customer Conversion Stories: While less powerful than loss aversion, growing their customer base is still a major goal for many businesses. Find and document stories from new customers who made a purchase based on the information and content in the prospect section of your community. These stories represent your ability to help your company grow.
Referral Stories: People often trust their peers more than they trust your brand, so use your community to connect customer advocates with prospects, or to start a referral program. Collect success stories from each, asking for testimonials from people who were referred to you by your members of your customer community. You can also collect testimonials from successful customer advocates.
To make your stories even more powerful, quantify them. Did people referred to your business through your community spend more? How much money did your company avoid losing by keeping those at-risk customers? These numbers will work with your metrics framework to clearly demonstrate the business results you achieve as a community manager.
Be Flexible and Use Results to Jumpstart Your Career
Your job title and salary won’t make or break your career. What counts are the results you achieve, so find ways to measure and demonstrate your abilities and how they help businesses. Then, personalize those results based on who you’re talking to and the stories they’ll find most compelling. For instance, you can give your revenue-oriented CEO sales metrics and purchase stories, then turn around to give satisfaction and community activity numbers to your customer success director.
When you find ways to deliver what your boss (or future boss) wants, then your career will take off. You can even use community career research from the Community Roundtable to see what skills employers value and how your position stacks up against others in the industry.
So get started now. You'll need plenty of numbers, stories, and examples to prove your worth to your next company.