When I started off as a Community Manager, I was hired for a very specific purpose: to moderate a Facebook group that had grown to about 10k members without much oversight. This will be a familiar tale for seasoned Community Managers, but this large-ish and relatively unmonitored community had, predictably, gotten a bit out of hand.
Also rather predictably, the company that hired me ended up doing so more reactively than proactively. And honestly, while that would never be my recommended order of operations, I’m not here to pick that particular bone.
What I do want to talk about is how the only thing that let me grow my career was pushing my skillset beyond moderation, and I believe those eager to enter the community management space need to do the same. I’m going to share more on how I went from a moderator role to leading strategic initiatives, becoming a community strategy consultant, and ultimately building C School at Commsor.
Going beyond moderation
During my first year in community, I spent the vast majority of my time reacting to what was playing out in that Facebook group. From fielding frustrated customer service requests to de-escalating arguments between members to figuring out how to bring community feedback to the right people internally, I could easily spend all eight hours of my workday weeding through and responding to community posts.
It may sound odd, but I often think that my biggest regret from that time is that I didn’t choose to simply ignore some of what was happening in the community. I wish I had instead spent time actively strategizing, creating engaging content, and opening up higher-value opportunities for members to share feedback with my team.
Now, I always tell CMs who are starting out: the fires will always be there. Any work you can do to proactively create a healthy culture will be far more effective than treating your job like a game of whack-a-mole.
Over time, I learned that a more proactive approach elevated the level of discussion within my community, which saved me time on moderation in the end. With the support of some great managers and other community builders, I started to ask to take on bigger projects that challenged my moderation-focussed skill set: I ran cohort-based learning experiences, started hosting recurring guest workshops, became more serious about metrics and ROI, and ultimately had the chance to run a major community relaunch alongside a company rebrand.
While I'm still grateful to have built skills in engagement and de-escalation, the things I learned in those more strategic projects have deeply enriched my skill set and allowed me to grow in this industry.
Staying competitive in a growing field
I spend a lot of time talking to hiring managers and candidates, and poring over community job listings. I’ve observed a pattern in the industry where there seem to be two 'tracks' of entry-level roles in community:
- Ones where community is treated as a holistic discipline, and where candidates are expected to understand everything from community strategy to rolling out new technologies for community to content creation and, yes, moderation and engagement
- Ones where community moderation is siloed into an entry-level role with not much cross-over into other skillsets within the community field
I’m a firm believer that for early-career and new CMs, taking on a role in the former category is the sturdiest path to career growth.
While moderation is definitely a valuable skill, it shouldn’t be where any Community Manager’s skillset starts and ends. There’s been so much talk this past year about how community management is professionalizing as a field (and more and more research on our growing compensation averages and more senior job titles), and the heightened expectations for the breadth of skill in entry-level candidates is a manifestation of that.
While it may be daunting, it's ultimately a really good thing for the career path — it means that companies are recognizing the range and value of expertise required to do a community role on an impactful level. And for candidates, it means there's a clearer path toward upskilling and career growth.
Where does this leave early-career and aspiring CMs?
Although I’d make the argument that moderation should rarely be a standalone role, that’s not always the case. There is nothing wrong with starting your community career in a role that is focussed chiefly on moderation — that’s how I got my foot in the door.
But, if you’re in that position, it’s essential to start carving out time in your day to work on projects that expand your community skillset. I’d recommend aiming to allocate 25-50% of your time toward strategic projects — launching a new content program, like a workshop series, or running a user research project would be great places to start.
If you’re looking to jump right into the field into a more holistic role, or you’re in a community role already but have been having a hard time levelling up, our team built C School specifically for you.
While we originally envisioned our 12-week program as an 'introductory' course to community management, after watching the success of our students throughout the first cohort, it feels really hard to really call it that. The projects they worked on — things like producing a content calendar, community platform recommendation, and finally, a comprehensive community strategy — were things I didn’t work on until I was years into my career, because I was so locked into moderation.
If you’re interested in applying for a C School cohort, apply here if you’re looking for your first job in community. If you're already a CM, perhaps in a moderation-focussed capacity, apply here. These are rolling applications, so you can apply now even if you want to participate in the future. You can also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This program was built not only to help community folks break into this field, but make their start in a way that enables long-term growth. If it's up your alley, we can't wait to hear from you.