Part of the magic of community is that we as professionals get to champion others on a regular basis. To help them share their stories. To empower them to reach greater heights.
But all too often in that process, we exclude ourselves from the narrative. We don’t always share the wins that make our hearts soar or the challenges that compel us to stretch our skills and learn how to become stronger leaders.
Sam’s words are a strong reminder that the loudest voices are not always the most important, and if we want to evolve as an industry, we need to empower our peers across the experience spectrum to talk about the real work they’re doing.
“You’ve lived it.” A simple, yet brilliant statement from Evan Hamilton, Director of Community at Reddit, which underscores the need to share the real tactics and the real problem-solving that community professionals are employing every day — for the betterment of all of us.
“… We forget that we have to do it [empowerment] ourselves as an integral part of keeping our communities thriving,” said Erica Kuhl, CEO and strategic community consultant at EKC, on LinkedIn. “Finding a way to do this in a way that feels natural and authentic is hard but key.”
So where to begin? I wanted to share a few tips that have helped me find and hone my voice in this space, and use it to benefit the group at large.
Become a cheerleader for others.
Sometimes it’s our own impostor syndrome that prevents us from stepping into the spotlight — and you’d be surprised by how easy it is to begin quieting those negative thoughts by simply sharing the accomplishments of others. Whether it’s a kudos for a colleague in a public Slack channel or a shout-out on Twitter to recognize a productive chat with a peer, these professional PDAs can help you normalize celebrating wins.
Be specific about what resonated with you or what you might do differently as a result of what that person has shared. This way, you’ve learned something, you can elevate a best practice to your network, and you’ve made that person feel seen and valued — we call that a win-win-win.
Following the #CommunityTwitter or #cmgr conversations on Twitter also can be a great way to meet new people and discover what others in the space are working on.
Work on your pitch.
What is your community superpower? Whether it’s content programs or operations or galvanizing ambassadors, you need to be able to succinctly articulate what you’re bringing to the table as you get ready to start writing or taking to virtual or physical stages.
I keep a running doc of go-to pitches, work samples, and copy blocks explaining my expertise that I can use when opportunities arise. Note: They should always be tailored to the publication or the organization, as well as the audience, but the skeleton will often remain the same.
- I have 10 years of experience in community (mostly higher ed and tech), and would love to speak on building and scaling ambassador programs (value, questions to ask, recruitment, comms, goaling, engagement, and more). Sample talk from February: https://bit.ly/ejmlivestream
General speaking pitch
- Understanding the value of ambassador programs for your org and your members
- Questions to ask and tooling to consider before launch
- Crafting comms and recruiting your biggest fans
Advanced speaking pitch
- Going beyond growth metrics in goaling
- New ways to think about recruitment, onboarding, and engagement
- Scaling with documentation and automation
Once you’ve established your angle, you can start to seek out outlets for your wisdom and to connect with your peers:
- Start a thread on Community Club
- Pitch the HubSpot community blog
- Join the chapter and user group CMX Connect Group
- Connect with Paul Jones to join his community managers braintrust
- Answer questions in the CMX or Community Club Slack spaces
- Follow people like Carrie Melissa Jones, Shana Sumers, Christina Garnett, and Elizabeth Kinsey to learn how they talk about the work they’re doing and highlight others in the process
This is how I really cut my teeth in the early days. I would contribute a quote to the Bitly blog about how to build customer loyalty, or write about my process for launching a Slack community for Trello on the CMX blog. Folks would read these pieces, and soon I’d be hearing from those who were looking to change platforms or learning how to wrangle a group of their own fans.
Like I mentioned previously, it’s important to have a strong point of view when pitching these — start with your basic pitch from above, then use real examples and get to the point quickly. Here’s a sample pitch I used that resulted in a “yes” from the editor:
“I’ve written for blogs like Trello and CMX and have been quoted on the HubSpot blog, but it’s always been a dream to be a published author there! I’d love to put together a best practices guide for building and scaling an ambassador program, based on my work on behalf of Atlassian’s Community Champions. We’ve grown the program from 60 to 120 humans, with the coordination of myriad teams, so I’d love to unpack securing stakeholder buy-in, selecting candidates, keeping it personal, maintaining accountability, tools to use, iterating on perks/benefits and how to think about the impact on the business. I, of course, have examples I can point to in each step. Let me know what you think — I’m definitely flexible based on your content needs.”
Writing is a lower stakes way to share what you’ve accomplished before putting yourself on a physical or virtual stage. And if you’re not ready to fly solo quite yet, webinars and panel discussions can be a great option for getting comfortable presenting on a handful of topics and fielding impromptu questions.
Note: Whenever you do publish a piece or land a speaking gig, share those posts and recordings on LinkedIn to keep your portfolio up to date.
“But what if I’m… still building?”
Short answer: There’s value in talking about that, too.
My pal, Kelly Schott, Lead Community Manager, The Community Roundtable, said it best: “Sharing examples of the ‘ideal’ or the shiny finished product can be wonderful, but I've found that sharing the ‘works in progress,’ the challenges, and the evolution of a project over time tend to be even more valuable. Many of us may never reach the ‘ideal’ or have the resources to get close, but we can see ourselves and our work in the works in progress. We can relate to challenges and apply pieces of that work to our own.
Sharing works in progress is not easy by any means; it takes vulnerability to open up something to possible criticism, especially when that something is unfinished or unrefined. But we know that vulnerability creates trust and this trust can help more of us learn from even more perspectives, which is absolutely integral to advancing both our own work and the community space overall.”
And don’t give into the skeptic who says that promoting your work is entirely self-serving.
“I think the important thing is to maintain your integrity, admit mistakes, and understand that you always have things to learn, including from people that are even just starting their community careers,” said Holly Firestone, Vice President of Community at Venafi, on LinkedIn.
“With those things in mind, putting yourself out there as an expert isn’t egotistical. It’s so important for us to do it if we want to keep pushing the boundaries of this industry, and if we want to keep growing how the value of an experienced community professional is perceived.”
What have you done to better promote your work and the work of others? Share in the comments below!