5-min read
May 17, 2022

The Secret to a Successful Career in Community Management? Never Stop Learning

Noele Flowers

Noele Flowers shares how investing in professional development has helped her build confidence in her community management expertise.

Whether you're an industry expert or just 'community curious', I’m willing to bet you know more about professional online community management than 90% of the population.

That’s way ahead of where I was when I started my career in community management — totally unaware that there was a community out there already writing, thinking, and sharing about this field. I learned pretty well through trial and error in my first community role, but ultimately, I learned best directly from other community pros sharing their wisdom: either in informal settings like networking and communities, or formal ones, like workshops, books, and blogs. But, the reason those learning experiences were so valuable to me, in comparison to mere trial and error, might be surprising.

The advantage of professional development

What I really gain from professional development in community management is as much about validating my existing knowledge and learning tested ways to communicate in my current expertise as it is about gaining “net new” knowledge.

I hear the same thing from some Community Managers going through C School's Community Management Essentials Cohort-Based Course — it may not be their first exposure to engagement and moderation, stakeholder management, or community strategy, but engaging with these concepts in a structured environment with other professionals helps them practice speaking knowledgeably about the experiences and expertise they may already have.

Here, I want to break down some of the less-talked-about benefits of professional development, which all ladder up to building confidence in your expertise.

1. Leaning on examples and case studies

One of the biggest challenges I faced during my first year as a Community Manager was gaining organizational buy-in to bring my ideas to fruition.

I had a lot of ideas for community programs I felt confident would help my organization meet its goals, but I always left pitches feeling like I hadn’t successfully transferred my enthusiasm to decision-makers.

At a certain point, though, I stumbled across a “magic” cure for this: giving examples of other companies who had already implemented programs I wanted to replicate. With the help of case studies from other organizations — which I often learned about through professional development) — collaborators could better visualize what I was trying to achieve.

What’s interesting about this is that the core idea of the project often didn’t change. I already had the creativity and knowledge to actually build the program but what I really lacked at the time was the kind of exposure to the community industry that would allow me to lean on others’ work and credibility.

When building C School, showing lots of existing examples of community projects, not to mention those of the other students in the room, became a crucial component of learning. For students, walking away with examples of other communities in their industry is often just as important as their actual strategy.

2. Practicing communicating existing ideas

A second lesson I learned was that to build confidence as a CM, I had to practice communicating like one.

Part of this was leaning on the words other community professionals already used to describe their work. In conversations with stakeholders, it was often more effective for me to say “in the community industry, our community is considered a community of practice” than “our community is a place where people come together to learn a skill.”

Again, this wasn’t an issue with shifting the core idea — just the way it was communicated. This might seem silly, but using agreed-upon industry terms tells your listener that you’re an expert — that you’re keyed into the industry, connected with other professionals, and on top of best practices.

Another element of building confidence in this way was sharing my ideas on community management proactively before I had to come up with them for a particular project. To me, this often meant sharing on my blog.

One of the biggest benefits of that was that it gave me time to think about, articulate, and edit my ideas before speaking them out loud, for example, in a meeting.

After publishing something on my blog, I often felt much more confident communicating the same idea verbally.

A student from C School's Community Management Essentials Cohort-Based Course expressed something similar. When giving his community strategy pitch, he shared that he was actually expected to share a similar pitch with his company’s executive team just the week following. Taking time to practice communicating his ideas before “the big event” gave him a big advantage (and, in case you’re wondering, the pitch went well!).

3. Portfolio-building

Professional development often comes with creating owned, templatized work you can lean on when you discuss your approach with current or future employers.

A big part of my own growth in the community world has been creating work samples, for projects real or imagined, based on the programs I’ve learned of through blogs, workshops, and informal conversations with other pros.

After learning of a feature ideation program a friend had launched at work, I spent time gaming out a similar program for my company at the time. Even though my company never actually launched that program, I’ve still gotten to use that work with consulting clients, and have spoken about my approach in past job interviews. In this way, I have real experiences I can speak to in the community world that extend beyond actual roles I’ve held.

In building C School, I’ve folded in similar opportunities for students: all students work on producing a community content calendar, a platform implementation/migration pitch, and finally, a capstone strategy presentation that they pitch to peers.

For students, this is often less about doing something they could never have done without a course and more about entering a structured environment for producing re-usable assets for their own portfolio that will support them throughout their career.

So, while professional development can be about learning “net new” information (and many folks who are new to community management go through C School for this reason), in my career, it’s been equally valuable to build confidence through structured practice, experience, and exemplar cases to lean on. You can’t have one without the other, but gaining the confidence to communicate your work in credible formats can be as valuable as the knowledge you have to begin with.

Want to learn more?

Our professional development programs at C School were built with these benefits in mind.

In addition to teaching brand new concepts in fresh, engaging ways, professional development at C School can help you build the network and confidence you need to grow your career in community management.

Engage in in-depth training resulting in career-certification in one of our cohort-based-courses, or learn projects, concepts, and specializations in a self-paced learning experience—we've got courses on everything from community operations to negotiating a higher salary.

Plus, we build custom learning experiences for teams who want to learn together. Explore our learning paths today here.

Still have questions? We'd love to hear from you at cschool@community.club.

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