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Investing in Yourself: Professional Development for Community Managers

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on November 17, 2015 at 9:26 AM

Our guest blogger Rachel Happe co-founded The Community Roundtable to support business leaders developing their community and social business strategies. Rachel has spent the last 20 years helping organizations implement emerging technologies to advance their business strategies. 

We've all been there. You go to an event. A conference. A workshop. You leave inspired - with takeaways, idea lists, a stack of business cards and contacts. On the ride or flight home, your brain is swimming with the things you're going to do the moment you get back to the office.

And all too often - inspiration leaves the moment you walk back in the door.

It's so easy to put professional development on the back burner. You're busy. You wear a lot of hats as a community manager. You juggle member engagement, content development, tracking and measuring metrics - and that's just on Monday. Your training budget just got eaten by your conference travel and expenses. And despite your best intentions, those connections fade and the opportunity passes.

Don't let it happen.

I'm here to convince you that it's time to take a second look at investing in your professional development, because really, it's an investment in you and your community that pays back real dividends.

Maybe you were lucky enough to be in the room at the Higher Logic Super Forum last month. If so you heard the value of education highlighted again and again. David Spinks stressed that community management is not just something to throw at someone's existing role with no training. In my own talk, I tried to stress how an emerging discipline community management needs an especially thoughtful approach to development.

Our annual research report, The State of Community Management (SOCM), clearly showed that providing ongoing professional development so community managers can work smarter and more effectively is critical for organizations that want to recognize value from their communities. In the SOCM 2015 a significant majority of best-in-class communities provide one or more types of professional development opportunities to their community teams. That doesn't mean just conferences - in fact some of the biggest gaps between average and best-in-class communities include the percentage offering coaching, online courses and memberships in professional development networks.

On the other end of the scale, we found a quarter of communities with full-time community managers paid for no community manager training in the past year. That number was surprisingly consistent for communities across platforms, use cases, community sizes and industry, meaning massive customer communities on expensive, powerful platforms were about as likely to go through the year without training as those in smaller communities with less expensive technology.

If you have the budget to support your continuing efforts, or even if you don’t, there are opportunities out there to continue learning, engage with peers and develop yourself and your community. Here are three best practices for maximizing the time you spend focusing on professional development:

1. Find your tribe.

Sounds trite, but finding and connecting with like-minded community managers can both save you time and jump start your community programs. Love Twitter? Check out one of the many (many, many!) Twitter chats devoted to community management like #assnchat, #esnchat or #cmgrhangout. Spending just one hour a week chatting with other community folks facing similar challenges can give you new ideas, and help you think about your existing programs in new ways.

Community management can be isolating - lots of you probably work as part of a larger marketing or communications team, but you're still the only community person on the team. Getting out of the office and hanging out with other community managers in real life provides both a place to get new ideas and a network of peers to brainstorm with and vent to. Many cities have monthly meet-ups including Boston's Community Manager Meet-up, Octribe in San Francisco and Austin's Community Manager Breakfast

2. Invest in training.

While connecting with your peers provides a great outlet for sharing ideas, there is no faster way to get up to speed in community than through in-person or online education opportunities. The SOCM 2015 revealed the only 25 percent of average communities invest in community-specific training courses, while 43 percent of best-in-class communities spend money on training. Online courses provide prescriptive, tactical advice for community managers at every stage of their community journey, from a brand new community specialist up to executives getting a handle on social media.

Community platforms often offer live or online training options (like at Higher Logic's annual conference, the Super Forum, and you can easily find community training online from Feverbee, The Community Roundtable (that's us!) and even Higher Logic.

3. Professional development networks.

If joining a Twitter chat is dipping your toe in the shallow end of the pool, joining a professional development network is taking a running cannonball into the deep end. I might be mixing my metaphors here, but the single greatest value of joining a community network is having a safety net under you as you executive community high-wire feats. From free networks - like the CMX Hub Facebook group and TheCR Facebook group - to paid memberships in full service networks like TheCR Network (again, full disclosure - I'm from TheCR).

There is no better way to connect with other community managers, have a trusted place to ask questions and provide your input and leverage the expertise of community professionals at all levels of the organization than through a professional development network. We hear time and time again that joining a community network provides a near immediate return on investment, and that having a worldwide network of community peers makes people more productive and boosts morale.

Wait! There's one more. It's in those notebooks and business cards. Send an email. Pick up the phone. Start a group chat that picks up where your conference conversations left off. I guarantee this - if you reach out, you're a lot more likely to continue the connections than you are by putting those notes in a file that you'll "get to later."

And keep up the pressure for more opportunities. Community professional development is an invaluable part of excelling as a community manager. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing your community skills our research has clearly shown that organizations that invest in their community managers simply perform better than those that don't. By looking at all the myriad options, free and paid - that are available to community managers today you can choose the community development options that best fit your professional and community goals.

We'd love to hear from you - what's the most valuable community development tool in your toolbox? What's the one community resource you just can't live without?


Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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