Over the past decade, I’ve watched community management go from something that was primarily self-taught to a discipline with a wide variety of professional development opportunities. New programs and events spring up regularly, where community managers from across industries and life histories can come together and share what they’ve learned with one another. It’s pretty awesome to witness.
But community managers are generalists. Over the average workweek, we talk to people, build strategy, design experiences, crunch numbers, write content, and do about 9 billion other things. Because of this, there are lots of other professional development opportunities that we can benefit from. Here are a few suggestions you should consider giving a whirl:
1. Data Science
Some of you may have already studied statistics in school (though I tend think it should have been all of us), and you are already analyzing your community data like a pro. But for those of you who don’t know your correlation from your causation, or your histogram from your scatterplot, consider taking a course in data science. Being able to analyze the data coming from your community and its members will position you to strategize more intelligently, instead of falling for the easy logical missteps that we’re inclined to make as human beings. When you build your data science chops, you can’t help but become a deeper thinker and a more effective problem solver. As an unofficial recommendation: I recently attended a great workshop on the topic at General Assembly. Check out what they have going on here.
2. Graphic Design
IImages are fantastic additions to your community, but the graphic designers in your organization may not have the bandwidth to turn them around for you. If you have an artistic inclination (or, heck, even if you don’t), consider learning Photoshop, Illustrator, or another software for graphic design so that you can create exactly what you need when you need it. How about a homepage slider you change out with the hot discussion of the week? A stunning infographic to wow your boss on your community success? On-brand call to action images embedded in your community notifications? The sky’s the limit!
3. Public Speaking
Now that big community management events are happening around the world, you now have the opportunity to pursue speaking at an event about your community and its successes. If the prospect of doing so makes you break out in a sweat, you might want to consider working on your public speaking skills. Many community colleges and acting studios have classes on effective public speaking, or you could become involved in your local chapter of Toastmasters. Even if you would rather cut off your left arm than speak in front of an audience of strangers, improving your public speaking skills can also make you a more effective communicator to stakeholders in your community and a better leader in every aspect of your professional life.
4. User Experience Design
IIf you manage a community, you already work in the world of user experience (UX). You’ve already learned that by listening to your users, you can adjust your community to make it easier and more intuitive to use. If you’re considering a redesign of your community site in the near future, I can’t recommend enough that you learn more about UX design. Even if you’d just like to make subtle changes to your site, it can pay off in a big way. I’m a big fan of the book “The User Experience Team of One” by Leah Buley, because the title situation is exactly where many of us community managers find ourselves. You can also find classes on UX online at places like lynda.com or udemy. Even if you’re not a super technical person, the insights on human psychology that you get from studying UX are worth the price of admission.
5. Mediation and Conflict Resolution
Mediation isn’t just for acrimonious divorces or HR crises. Conflict resolution is unfortunately a core part of community management. And if you’re not able to resolve conflicts without letting emotions get in the way, you won’t last long. You don’t have to go through a mediation certification program, either. Your local community college may have some conflict resolution classes that will help you be more effective in those touchy situations. And, if you’re like most community managers, this won’t just come in handy when you’re dealing with the members of your community -- you will also be able to advocate more effectively for your community in discussions with your stakeholders.
6. Web Development
If you’re anything like me, this is probably what a lot of people already think you do for a living (“You build websites?” “Well, kind of…”). And as many of you already know, having even just a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS can make managing your community site a lot easier. A little custom CSS here and there can really upgrade the look and feel of your site. And if you can’t quite achieve what you’re looking for in a WYSIWYG editor, having some HTML chops can really save you time and effort. There are plenty of web tutorials and online classes, like Code Academy. Go explore!
7. Anything Outside Your Comfort Zone
Community management is not a job for people who like predictable, structured, and utterly logical work. It’s herding cats sometimes, or a slow dance with chaos. After all, you’re dealing with humans -- who are by our nature irrational beings! Philosophically, then, I feel like community managers benefit from expanding our boundaries and indulging our curiosity. We are at our best when we are confronting something we’ve never experienced before. So if you have never jumped from a plane, belted out Lady Gaga at karaoke, eaten a sheep’s eyeball, or just done something that scared the crud out of you -- do that. As Brené Brown says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Go to those places. It’s worth it.
These are just a few suggestions for skillsets to grow as you become a more advanced community manager. Explore the Community Skills Framework published by the Community Roundtable for more ideas, and please share your recommendations in the comments!