From summer camps to DevRel, Lauren Clevenger has been there and done it all. Here, the seasoned community pro (now Senior Manager, Community & DevRel at BigCommerce) talks falling into community, handling the "inevitable dumpster fire moments" and why it's OK not to have all the answers.
Lauren: "Like so many people, I kinda fell into the world of community management.
After graduating college, I started out my career in customer service and sales roles. No matter where I worked, I always found myself taking on extra projects and gravitating toward social media, community, and events. I raised my hand to volunteer to run our company’s Facebook page. I found myself on stage emceeing in-person events. Once, I even planned and directed a week-long summer camp program for high school students.
In 2010, while keeping my day job in sales, I landed a contract job running PR, social, and on-site event coordination for a local film and video game festival. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for me and I learned so much in a short time. Most importantly, I met a ton of contacts and was introduced to a local software and game development start-up in need of a Community Manager. The rest is history!
In my first Community Manager role, I was really drawn in by the relationship-building side of the job. I couldn’t believe I got paid to talk to people in our online forum and just focus on helping our customers be successful. We had a really vibrant community and it was so rewarding to have a front row seat to a positive, encouraging environment where so many people were so generous with their time, ideas, and advice.
I also got all the perks of working at an early stage startup -- I wore ALL OF THE HATS. I wrote all of our blogs, authored every social media post, ran product betas, organized and nurtured a group of advocates. I helped organize a booth and marketing presence for San Diego Comic Con. I was lucky to work under a very supportive leader and get exposure to so many different marketing and community disciplines."
L: "This is such a tough one! I’m going to say it is my judgement.
On a tactical side, I think having a strong sense of judgement is really important when it comes to the day-to-day of a brand community. After 10 years in this space, I’ve gained a lot of experience (sometimes VERY trial-by-fire) and learned how to utilize my best judgement when responding to community members.
At its core, this skill is all about having a really deep understanding of your members and having your pulse on the right tone, nuance, and communication skills to meet the moment. I don’t get it perfect 100% of the time, but I can typically keep a cool head and I feel really confident handling those inevitable dumpster fire moments.
On a more strategic note, having great community judgement extends to how I plan our team’s roadmap and vision for our programs. There’s so much inspiration in the community space and so many brands doing cool things -- it can be very easy for leaders to overwhelm themselves with a 'boil the ocean' and do-everything-all-at-once approach.
Building a successful community is all about making those judgement calls. I’m often asking myself, 'What is the right thing to do with the maximum impact with the bandwidth and resources we have? What is a quick win that we can deliver to give our members instant value? How can we launch something in phases without diminishing the experience for our members?'"
L: "So, I alluded to this a bit earlier when I talked about my path to Community building.
I actually quit my steady-paycheck sales job with the hope that I’d get hired on full time by the flashy, exciting film festival company. When I put in my notice, all I had were some VERY flimsy promises that I would be hired soon.
'Soon' turned into 5 months of contributing to their projects and waiting for the phone to ring. Long story short: It didn’t pan out.
I learned a big lesson about not leaving a job without something solid lined up... especially not if you are early in your career or can’t financially afford it.
However, there is a silver lining to this story. Taking that leap of faith is what led me further down the path to discovering a career that I truly love. If I would have stayed in that sales job, I might not have ever met the contacts that led to my very first Community Manager position."
L: "That it is okay to always be learning. I’m a recovering perfectionist and early in my community career, I really wanted to project the vibe that I had all the answers.
The truth is no one has the one perfect answer or one perfect way to execute something. Even the most tenured, inspiring Community rock star is still learning.
I think it is really important to always stay curious, ask questions, lean on your network, and get out there and do your research. This industry is changing so fast and there are so many amazing people and brands out there to be inspired by. Be open to changing your opinion and experiment with new ideas. That’s what keeps it fresh and exciting!"
L: "My hope is that the conversation around the importance of community continues to build and grow and one day community is seen as a foundation piece of CX (Customer Experience) strategy, as opposed to a bolted-on program within Support or Marketing."