Where Do I Go From Here? The Career Path of a Community Manager
Posted on October 18, 2013 by Erin Bury
I started as a community manager at Sprouter in 2008, before it was a common role at startups, agencies, and big companies. Without sounding too ancient in a “when I was your age I walked uphill both ways to school” kind of way, being a community manager then was different. Using social media was still a unique differentiator for a company, something that got you headlines rather than being an expected part of your marketing toolkit.
In my role I was responsible for everything from planning and attending events, to PR and social media, to strategic partnerships and business development. As I spent more time in the role, I felt like my responsibilities and experience kept growing, but the title remained the same. I eventually shifted to “director of content and communications,” which was a mouthful and didn’t really describe my day-to-day work.
But really the title is irrelevant, because everyone knows titles are arbitrary (look ma, I’m the Vice-President of my book club!), and your responsibilities and results are what matters. But when you have a hand in so many different business units, as you often do when you’re a community manager, what’s the logical next career step?
Based on my experience, and that of friends and peers in the industry, here are a few careers that are ideal for Community Managers to take on when they’ve outgrown their role:
Digital agency account lead/strategist
Being a CM often involves lots of community building, content marketing, and social media management, which are all skills that lend themselves well to a digital agency role. Clients are increasingly looking for help with everything from content creation to customer service on social channels, so it’s a great way to apply your CM skills.
You often don’t realize how much you write as a CM, whether it’s posts for the company blog, guest posts for industry publications, press materials, or website copy. Writing for or editing an online publication can help you use those skills, and having a background in social media will help you promote the content.
Companies often hire evangelists to promote their products in the marketplace and build support with specific target audiences – an example is Rackspace’s Robert Scoble , who is charged with building support in the startup community. Since community managers work closely with customers but also work to source new users and clients, they understand how to evangelize a product or service.
Director of Marketing/PR/Digital
This is a natural step for someone working at a larger organization, since a CM would usually report to one of these folks anyway, and this would involve managing a team of CMs.
For most CMs, it’s not just about managing the day-to-day interactions and customer service, it’s about market positioning, user acquisition/retention/referral strategies, and aligning marketing with larger sales goals. Moving into a strategy position is an obvious choice for any CM who likes the strategy more than the marketing aspect.
The most important thing to remember is to get away from the “jack of all trades, master of none” part of being a CM – you’re often doing a little bit here, and dabbling there. Moving beyond being a CM means finding a few areas of focus, whether in operations, marketing, editorial, or something else. I’ve moved on to run our boutique agency, which lets me focus on business development, project management, marketing strategy…and of course answering the phone (hey, we’re a startup!).
Erin is the Managing Director at 88 Creative. Follow her on Twitter @erinbury.