Inspired by Brian Oblinger's post, I wanted to share my own Community career experience.
Where it started: Volunteer Moderator
How it's going: Chief Community Officer
Different community roles held: Volunteer Moderator -> Community Outreach Manager -> Community Manager -> Head of Community -> Community Consultant/Chief Strategist* -> Head of Community -> Chief Community Officer
*I did take a brief detour into the product world to build some additional skills that have since helped me in my current community role.
So, without further ado...
tl;dr: Three years; managed day-to-day of a guild and two subreddits
It all started with moderation. After helping manage a guild for a computer game, I joined the moderation team for two subreddits that were just getting started. I loved connecting with people who were interested in the same topics (who doesn't love snacks from around the world??), and it helped me get creative and find my voice. All told, I was a moderator in some capacity for three years before diving into a professional community role.
Important skills: creativity, passion for what you're building
Community Outreach Manager
tl;dr: Five months; reported to Community Manager. Responsible for highlighting community members, building relationships with volunteer moderators, planning events, managing social media, light marketing work, and low-level support requests.
My first role was as a Community Outreach Manager reporting to the Community Manager. I was responsible for highlighting community members, building relationships with volunteer moderators, planning events, managing social media, light marketing work, and low-level support requests. I'm a Type A kind of person, and found that my time and project management skills were critical for success in this role. It also helped to be (obnoxiously at times, I'm sure) eager and willing to work my butt off because I was excited about what I was doing. I was in this role for around five months before being promoted to a fully-fledged Community Manager.
Important skills: time management, project management, eagerness to learn
tl;dr: Three years; reported to General Manager. Responsible for policy enforcement, rule creation/updating, online and in person events, content creation, assisting moderators and users, feature planning, advocating for userbase, public speaking, and managing external partnerships and stakeholders.
I was a Community Manager for three years and reported to the General Manager. There were some similarities in responsibilities to my previous role, but with the added responsibilities of policy enforcement, rule creation/updating, online and in person events, content creation, assisting moderators and users, feature planning, advocating for our userbase, public speaking, and managing external partnerships and stakeholders. Due to the nature of our company and the uncharted waters of community-building at that point in time, I had to learn A LOT of new skills in a short period of time. Though these may seem like soft skills, they're certainly something you can learn and actively improve: flexibility, steadfastness, empathy, and diplomacy. In addition to time and project management, it was especially important to learn how to lead and influence without authority.
Important skills: flexibility, steadfastness, diplomacy, time management, project management, leading without authority
Head of Community
tl;dr: One year; reported to General Manager and CEO. Responsible for community strategy, escalated issues and policy enforcement, policy creation, and hiring and managing a team of Community Managers.
After around four years of experience in the community world I was promoted to Head of Community. At this point in my career I'll admit that I had a ridiculous amount of impostor syndrome with which I was contending (as well as a casual distaste for titles in general), and distinctly remember having back and forth conversations with both the General Manager and CEO about what my title should be. They both advocated for various titles that felt too senior, so I told them I just wanted to be "Head of." Dear readers, don't fall prey to your impostor syndrome! When presented with the opportunity, whether by your own advocacy or those of your superiors, lean in and adopt the title you deserve.
I was Head of Community for a year and reported to the General Manager and CEO. At that point I was able to hire and manage a team of Community Managers to handle the day-to-day and special projects, and took on more of a strategic role. I handled community strategy, issues that needed to be escalated and policy enforcement, major announcements, policy creation, and external partnerships. New skills that I had to work on were program management (there were a whole host of initiatives outside of what my focus had been previously), people management, data analytics, learning to delegate (this one was tough), and relationship building at the executive level.
Important skills: program management, people management, data analytics, ability to delegate, relationship building and speaking with executive leadership
Community Consultant/Chief Strategist
tl;dr: Six years; business owner. Responsible for all aspects of managing a business, with a primary focus on helping companies with community strategy development, policy creation, and risk and crisis management.
After burning out in my Head of Community role (yes, it's okay to admit burnout exists!), I switched gears and went into product management for a few years to help build some additional skills that I felt were lacking. I didn't want to fully abandon community, though, so I started a community consultancy and have operated as the Chief Strategist for the past six years. I was extremely confident going into this role, but honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. My focus was on helping companies with community strategy development, policy creation, and risk and crisis management, among other things. This was an extremely valuable experience, as everything that I thought I knew was called into question. I found myself having to justify why community was important, how to speak to multiple skeptical stakeholders, how to help Community Managers advocate for themselves and show business value, and how to know when it was okay to keep pushing and when I needed to back off. I had to learn new ways to be tactful, new forms of empathy, and actual presentation and documentation skills.
Important skills: presentations, advocacy, business strategy, change management, empowering others
Chief Community Officer
tl;dr: 11 months (so far); reports to CEO. Responsible for overall community strategy and all community programs, works with executive leadership team to set business goals/strategy, manages multiple functions (that will eventually evolve into separate teams), thought leadership, 8 million other things
Early in the pandemic I got the itch to get back into community full-time and was extremely fortunate to be introduced to the team behind the Community Club. I was brought on as Head of Community and had similar responsibilities as my previous "Head of" role, but since we were a small team I was back to doing a lot of the hands-on work as well. After five months I was promoted to Chief Community Officer, reporting to the CEO. I've been in this role for about a year (wow, time has flown!) and there aren't many other CCOs out there, so the role is constantly evolving. So far, I've been tackling overall community strategy and community programs, working with executive leadership to set business goals/strategy, managing multiple functions (that will eventually evolve into separate teams), thought leadership, building out the Community team, and being a resource, both internally and externally, for anyone with any questions about community and career. My goal this year was to overcome my preference to lurk in the shadows, and to embrace being more of a forward-facing figure in the industry through public speaking opportunities.
Important skills: program management, people management, long term strategic vision, context switching day in and day out
There hasn't always been a clear path for community professionals, and we all have the ability to help pave the way. Community pros, share your stories! Normalize the roundabout ways that we come to be in this crazy and rewarding industry and what career advancement looks like.