June 14, 2012

Where Have I Been (Part One)

I've been here almost a year, and doing my current job about six months now. I'm going to talk a bit about how I ended up going from a promotions team to a community developer kind of role.

When I was first asked to join the Community Management team at Stack Exchange, the team was down two people, barely able to stay on top of all the demands on their time, and still reeling from various circumstances. It was, I realize now, a difficult time for that team. They'd experienced a huge amount of change and upheaval, and in retrospect I should have been more sympathetic to that. Then again, I had my own issues/shakeups to deal with.

When I started with SE, I was originally hired for their guerrilla marketing / internal-to-external promotions team, code-named CHAOS. I still really love promotions work; I like finding potential audiences, "infiltrating" that community, and creating ties between pockets and groups of people online. My last big project for CHAOS was developing the Home Improvement vertical, bringing it more traffic and more attention. I realized pretty quickly that the best way to get that community to grow was to put in a lot of focus time. I'll talk about what this constituted in another entry, but suffice it to say: it was something I really enjoyed doing.

In mid-November, my team lead and my CEO sat me down in the conference room and asked me to step in with the CM team. Both pointed out that my then-current project (focused on reviving chatrooms) was entirely internal focused, and thus made me the best fit for the Community Team. I was actually between projects at the time; DIY/Home Improvement had a nice, core group of users who were dedicated and able to take care of themselves, the site's stats were beautiful and trending in that oh so lovely up-and-to-the-right kind of way, and my plate was suddenly rather empty.

Beyond that, I'm a realist. I blame/credit my business school background. While tech startups tend to snark a bit at all the MBAs, I will say this much: business school gave me a healthy respect for structure. I learned in undergrad that when your CEO asks you to do something, it's not really a request. I could have said no, I know this. But I'm not wired that way. My CEO and my team lead asked me to step in and help out a different arm of the company. It was a challenge, something new to try, and the request came from the top.

So I said yes.

Here's the thing: when I signed on, I was told my substitution would only last a month, through the end of December. In retrospect, I have to laugh at that notion.

Laughter. The best medicine.

Community Management is....it's basically a community developer role in a Web 2.0 kind of world. I hate to just make it sounds like a series of buzzwords gone awry, but that's honestly what it is. It's also a broad-based job. This post, linked everywhere by everyone, is the "canonical" post about what a community manager is. The problem is that this job description is actually 8 different people functioning as an umbrella, as a team. Each tenet is really a twofold job.

I think it's interesting, though, almost because of that. Community management can't be done in isolation, no more so than any role in a company. The response post, I think, pins the mindset of a good community manager, but I don't think it's quite the way one should look at the job. Now, the first post implies that a CM should do all those jobs. That isn't true, either. Good Community Management happens in a team of people who understand what their role should be, exactly like any other well-functioning team.

It took me six weeks just figure out, as my CEO would say, what all the knobs in the cockpit do. Frankly, I'm still not 100% about a lot of things. But that's okay; I'm not shy about asking for help, and I'm not quiet about when I'm struggling...usually. I know what my weaknesses are, and I work to my strengths while trying to mitigate the rest.

For now, I'm still in the "generalist" role, which I like but I find tends to overextend me. That said, the best thing about working for a smaller company is the freedom I get to build my role more in line with what I want/need it to be. But we'll talk more about that tomorrow.

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