Jenny has been building communities since the tender age of 9. Here, she weighs in on figuring out how to make 'connecting people' a career, starting her own consulting practice, and the value of compassion.
Jenny: "I built my first community at the age of 9. It was a group for the kids in the neighborhood to do activities together. Can’t believe I’m going to reveal this, but it was called 'The Cool Kids Club', and I still recall how much joy and excitement it brought me when we came together!
Fast forward to high school, and I remember sitting at the kitchen table completing college applications. Most of them asked for my intended major, but I didn’t know what to put. I asked my mom, 'Is there a major for connecting people?' She said, 'I don’t know. Maybe sales?'
Move forward again, and I’m in the early years of my career realizing the benefits of social communities for business. This was in the mid-2000s, and there wasn’t much out there in the way of formal training in this space. I took it upon myself to learn the strategies and best practices by reading and connecting with the few people I knew who were exploring this field. Those efforts paid off and led to me getting hired as the very first Social Media & Community Manager at CareerBuilder.
During my time at CareerBuilder, I was able to build a solid foundation for the company’s social and community efforts. Since we used Salesforce products, it wasn’t long before Salesforce came calling and hired me to do the same thing for their clients that I had accomplished at CareerBuilder.
My career path eventually took me to Lithium Technologies (now Khoros), where I was able to focus my skill set on enterprise brand communities. As the Senior Community Strategist for North America, I worked with close to 100 brands on all aspects of their community strategy.
Today, I have my own consulting practice, Jenny.Community, LLC. I’m thrilled to be helping more and more companies understand the power of community and what it takes to have a successful one!"
J: "My superpower is compassion. I really try to understand the position every community professional and community member are in. I listen, and then I listen some more, to determine how I can best serve and help these individuals with the understanding that they have so much more happening in their lives and the community is only one facet of that."
What's the best career mistake you've ever made? Or what mistake taught you the most valuable lesson?
J: "I’m not sure if I would classify this as a mistake, but it definitely was unexpected... I once worked for a financial institution and was on the committee to execute a web site redesign. This was around the time that blogs were popular, and using social media for business was just beginning to catch on.
Part of my pitch to the executives was to utilize this redesign as an opportunity to incorporate a company blog and to create official social media accounts. My pitch was rejected, and the company moved forward with a traditional redesign project.
At the time, I felt like I failed. Now, I realize how critical that moment was in my career. The research I had done into blogs and social media indicated to me a new frontier of communications and marketing was on the horizon. My gut instinct told me that, if I didn’t pursue work in this new field, I would fall behind in my own professional growth. That’s when I decided to pursue new opportunities, a key decision to my career trajectory."
J: "I wish I had known about and implemented better self-care techniques. There’s a physical toll this job takes on you, in regards to sitting a lot and constantly being in front of a screen (among other things). There’s also a mental toll it takes with the high expectations on community professionals. More recently, I’m glad that I’ve been better about setting my work boundaries and giving myself the mental and physical breaks that I need."
J: "For community professionals, I hope the future of community entails fewer tools needed to succeed at your job, organizational recognition of community (such as, having the VP of Community report to the CEO), and the bandwidth to pursue even the wildest of visions.
For community members, I hope the experience of being part of a community deepens their connections with the host/creator/brand as well as with the other members in ways that we aren’t even seeing yet today."