As I begin to talk to more and more community builders around the world, I'm astounded by the breadth and depth of expertise and passion we bring to the table. But there is a negative flip-side to how varied our communities and passions are. Business leaders are confused by it. Some of them just get it, but others simply assume online community is a catch-all phrase for good customer service, social media posting, or an investment that doesn't pay off because it doesn't return revenue within 6 months. It is none of those things. It is no longer safe to work for people and keep our fingers crossed that they will "just get it." We have to clarify our value so others no longer underestimate it.
Let me give you some context for where I am coming from: I'm Carrie. In case we haven't met yet, I'm the editorial director here at CMX. Before this, I built community at Chegg and Scribd and I continue to build community for startups around the world as a consultant. It is my goal - nay, my single-minded mission - to professionalize, standardize, and uplift the discipline of building online/offline community. This isn't a second-rate career path. Community is not "just a feeling." It isn't a "woman's job" (the fact that I am a woman is a mere technicality here). Building community takes expertise, intuition, passion, a love for - yes! - data analysis, a hacker's mentality, an entrepreneur's drive, and the humility to put your ego aside to create for others.
I want to empower community builders to trust their gut, to learn from one another, mentor each other, and even to create professional barriers to entry so that there is a standard for who may call themselves a professional community builder. Then we can teach the business world about what we do best so they're not so damn confused all the time.
I want us to build a definition together of what community is in every type of business and what community builders do. Today, I will attempt that all by myself, and then I want to invite you to walk down this road alongside me.
Everything, including creating definitions, is better when done with our communities. So I want to hear the input of people from all walks of life and stages in their community career, so we can continue to hone this and create something that cannot be misinterpreted. We will start this movement today.
I've heard from my community friends that their bosses don't give them goals to measure or that their bosses routinely skip their weekly meetings. That's bad management, but it's also because we're not doing ourselves the favor of acknowledging precisely what we do. I'm tired of hearing hiring managers ask, "Should we hire you or hire another engineer?" (if you have to ask, hire the engineer) or, perhaps worse, "We're looking for a community manager to get us more followers on Facebook and Pinterest." I'm even more tired of people thinking of community as a gendered role.
No More Community Managers
From today forward, we will no longer use the term "community manager" in any of our posts unless it refers to a job posting on the site. Yes, that will be across the board. This legitimizes the idea of what we're doing to a greater degree that slapping a manager title on something that often sits at the bottom of the totem pole in organizations (but, in most organizations, really, really should not).In the next 10 years, companies will live and die by the communities they build, not by the amount they spend on advertising and PR. We are building those communities that will sustain those companies.
Or, in Gary Vaynerchuck's words: " [What businesses] fail to realize is that community management is a lot less about customer service and a lot more about building human connections with your customers. If you really want to win, you need to pursue lifetime value, and if you want lifetime value, you need to build strong emotional bonds with your customers. No ad, no matter how cute, is going to get you there."
Community professionals are not - should not - be seen as entry-level workers. There has been a recent trend towards slapping the "manager" title on things that are not managerial. So we think it's too late for the term "community manager." It's likely just too far gone for us to re-capture. And what we do is not about strictly managing anyway. It's about building, empowering, and leading.
Words matter. We learn that when we're young and we carry it through life. People associate your work with your title and your worth with your work. People will make assumptions about you based on your title. So, yes, calling us community professionals or community builders matters.
In the future, CMX Hub will be a place that allows us to explore career ladders and directions and gives you a place to come for inspiration from others in your shoes (or who have been long ago). But we need to establish a baseline here.
Please share your comments with us here and in our Facebook group. We can't wait to build the definition of community builders alongside the best in the business.