ASK: Career progression in Community Management

(This is part of Ask the Community Guy, an ongoing series of questions posed by readers for Jake, the Community Guy)

If you’re interested in more information about hiring or becoming a community manager, check out this collection of entries where I cover the topic in further detail.


YS asks: What career progression is there for Community Managers?

(And to provide context, YS is referring to strategy development type vs. day-to-day type community management type)

Fantastic question!

One of the reasons I truly love community development as a career path is that you get to work with most parts of a business in some form or fashion. Community engagement will lead to discussions, debates, and projects with everyone from PR to marketing to manufacturing to customer service.

As such, the career path options tend to open up pretty wide. Effective community management means that you are learning from each department you deal with. The better you do your job as a community manager, the better you position yourself to say to colleagues, “hey, I really like what you guys are up to… what would you think about me joining your group?” Even at a new company, you will have experience working with these other groups in a way that most people haven’t had. Making “career switches” doesn’t mean starting over.

Of course, you may want to stay involved in the community efforts of your own company. You may be able to build a team of community development professionals, moving yourself off the front lines. Perhaps your Ambassador program grows to a large enough footprint that you’re able to focus on it full-time. Perhaps community events become a significant part of your business and you take over those efforts. Perhaps community gets rolled under the PR team and you work with that team to create newer cooler activities.

The most important point to keep in mind, however, is this: if you are a frontlines community employee, the day will absolute come where you are just tired of being on the frontlines. Community development professionals tend to encourage a 24/7/365 availabilty for access and their own participation. While this may work well, over time it wears you down. Guy Kawasaki once told me “if you make it to 3 years [as a community manager] you’re good, 4 years you’re great, and 5 years you’re stupid”. There is absolutely a point of diminishing returns and after a few years, staying on the frontlines actually starts to negatively impact both the company and the community. So it’s healthy to think about where you’re moving after the current position.

That said, have a good time in your community role. Pay attention to where your industry is going, and what else your company is doing. Who knows, after working with product design or marketing or customer service, you may find interest in what those colleagues are up to.


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