Community Managers have gone from being a quirky role ("you mean you get paid to tweet!") to a highly in-demand role, a part of everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to non-profits. There's even a Community Manager Day which, naturally, trends on Twitter during it's celebration.
As a community manager myself, I recently started to think back to when I first realized online community was a real career. For me, the moment was when I was a community manager at Mobclix, a mobile ad exchange startup, and we managed to track back how our social media efforts directly led to revenue for the company. This was an "aha" moment for me, making it clear that social media was not merely a fad but something that could really drive business value. This was only reinforced as I started at Klout and saw the influence that individuals and businesses alike could have through their online presences. It also inspired me to my current role at RebelMouse, trying to push online community to the next level.
This made me curious to know what other community managers would say about the moment they realized online community mattered. These are the people passionate (and crazy) enough to devote their lives to building these communities. What inspired them to do it? Their answers came down to two overarching themes:
1) The power to bring people together.
So simple and obvious, yet so incredibly powerful. As a kid, I had my own website (a nerd to the core) and I vividly remember the first time I got an email from someone else who had seen my site. It was so transformational to realize that I could reach someone from across the world and that something I had written actually made a difference to them.
I saw how people came together to form communities. Before that, everyone was sitting at home by themselves, playing by themselves. When they could be at home by themselves, but still be a part of something with other people, the whole game changed. I played THPS3 when PS2 first went online and saw the revolution first hand. Since that day, I haven't stopped building online communities.
Karen Schoellkopf, on WOMMA's Community Management Council, shared a similar story:
In 1995, I discovered the tangled world of alt. newgroups. It was the early days, with (now ancient) monitors displaying black screens and yellow text. Through this tiny terminal, I connected with people all over the world, sharing their ideas, opinions, hopes, fears, and struggles. I made friends, and even met a few IRL back then, all while sharing in a way that I had only known through zine culture. Yeah, back then, I'd order zines with a money order, and the zines would arrive IN THE MAIL from other folks that were sharing similar ideas, and I'd even sometimes become penpals (!!!) with the folks who wrote them. These alt. groups laid the foundation for my understanding of the vibrant power (and speed!) of community online.
Natalie Maršan, Director of Community Management at MRY, shares when she first knew:
In about 2003 when I was focused on establishing an international network of performing artists create new work together. We only used email listservs to stay connected before and after actually meeting up for workshops in each other's countries but it was amazing to all of us at the time that we could be connected constantly simply online.
Jeane Pedde, Editor-in-Chief at The Community Manager, said she knew community building was her passion when she discovered how helpful it could be:
living abroad in Korea in 2007 and relying so heavily on modern technology to get through such a stark life change to meet other people like myself that had a love of travel & a need for such a big cultural immersion, where I knew that working in building communities was something I was meant to do.
Ryan Cox, community consultant, found it in an online and in-person group:
when I took over Indytweetup 5 years ago. To see people be so committed to something that wasn't making anyone any money, shocked me. This wasn't college partying, this was business professionals "supporting local" and connecting with local business.
Tim McDonald, Community Manager at HuffPost Live, had his aha moment when he saw that he could bring people together and grow attendance for an event, just by using social media:
When I realized how our attendees had grown from 300 to 1500 in a year, definitely made an impact on [his view on] the power of an online community.
2) The power to help and improve
For Matthew Knell, Social Media Director at AOL, it was a very specific moment:
When at JetBlue, after we put our CEO on YouTube, we saw brand advocates rush to our defense at a very dark time -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r_PIg7EAUw
Marsha Collier, author and tech radio host, found that community helped make her a better writer:
In 1998, after I wrote the first eBay For Dummies, my readers became my community. With them and through their input, I improved my books... the books became perennial best-sellers and we were all better for the ongoing friendships.
Lea Marino at Cycle for Survival says it was about bringing community back to the brand that really sealed the deal for her:
I was a recent PR grad and something didn't feel right. Pitching gatekeepers? I like to go straight to the consumer instead. Through Twitter -- and now Facebook, Instagram, etc. -- I learned the power of being heard, appreciated, and part of the day-to-day of something you care about. Now it's about bringing your community into your brand. Finding ways to incorporate their voices, creativity, and ideas.
I'd love to hear in the comments when you first knew online community mattered!