We all have our passions

I think we may be losing the Community Managers.

I don’t know about you, but at a time when we are all facing some truly troubling times (aka the Dumpster Fire that is 2020), we need Community Managers to help guide us through the darkness of online experiences. I don’t just mean the paid leaders and employees of the social platforms we interact on. I mean the people who work in the community space that also participate in the online space too, shoulder to shoulder with us. Our friends and neighbors who just happen to be community professionals and show up to help out in the communities they participate in.

Community Professional types stand at the front lines of the online community world working hard every day to tamp down, tone down, or help to cease the craziness of mob mentality while also escalating and accelerating those amazing things we humans are known for from time to time.

But these last couple of weeks, I’m seeing cracks in the armor. My community management friends have that look … you know the one… the same look we see in a parent whose eye is ever so slightly twitching, whose color is starting to turn slightly red, whose hands and fingers are starting to curl tighter. They’re about to break as they start to remind themselves why they love their children and this is “just a phase” and that “this too shall pass”.

But for those of us who study human and group dynamics for a living, it’s been tough lately. For those of us who have pushed to see social and community tools spread their usage and adoption far and wide, we’d be remiss if we weren’t reassessing that drive to see people using them. After all, the President of the United States retweeted a video of senior citizens screaming profanities at each other until one of them yelled out “white power!” This is 2020 and grandparents are hurling cuss words and racist slogans at each other through video sharing platforms and the POTUS is signal boosting through social media.

You wouldn’t be human (or a good community professional) if you weren’t asking yourself “What have I done??”

Recently, Holly Firestone posted a really great and important blog about work/life balance as a community professional. She had such an overwhelming reaction that she posted a follow-up blog post. That’s a good analogy for where our industry is at… We are so overwhelmed, isolated, and undervaluing self-care as Community Professionals that Holly posted what should have been an obvious article about necessary self-care and was flooded with positive thoughts and thanks and kudos. (As she should have been, don’t get me wrong; it was a great article)

This is a difficult, thankless, emotionally taxing and exhausting job. And those of us who do it love it. But it’s easy to forget that it’s insanely difficult. And the difficulties are insidious. Having people yell at you, call you names, threaten you, treat you like you’re stupid, and worse… this stuff gets deep into your brain over time. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what type of personality you have. I don’t care your personality type or your astrological sign or your childhood background; it’ll get to you eventually.

And that mentions nothing about the fact that most Community Professionals chose their professions because they just want to make the world a better place. They want to help people. They want to improve the way the world works. They see that good comes from people connecting to each other and breaking down the walls that seperate us.

Flash forward to the United States in June 2020.

As community professionals, it’s hard to watch how things are playing out, especially in the online social media/community space. We had two options at the start of this year…

  • Partisan political responses that pitted “us” against “them” at every turn
  • Rally together like they did during WWII where they planted Victory Gardens, collected rubber, and lived off ration stamps

When simply going to the grocery store can potentially result in catching a deadly disease or a fist fight over mask wearing, we have a problem. When we are facing down the barrel of a second lockdown, or at least continued isolation as businesses remained closed or limited access, we are going to see increases in angst and anger from social isolation issues.

This isn’t to say that any of us Community Professionals are throwing our hands up and walking away from our community careers. I know I’m as personally committed to community work as I’ve ever been. But in this day and time, every community we work in will be impacted by these changing partisan and social dynamics. And that age old saying has never been more true: “You can’t help anyone if you don’t help yourself first”.

The only piece of advice I’d offer, having done the community thing for more than two decades is simple: set your boundaries and stick to them. Communities (specific members and the community as an overall entity) will take as much as you’ll give. Determine the level of input you personally must put in and then constantly calibrate. You’d be surprised how much perfection needs to actually exist and where your perfection actually needs to show up.

Beyond that, here’s a few tips that work for me:

  • Find a daily routine and stick to it
  • Fresh air matters, get outside every day for a few minutes and clear your head
  • Don’t spend more than a few minutes in the off hours each night “checking in” … unless there’s an honest crisis, it can wait
  • Train your “team” of super users to support you by showing that what you need to know immediately and what you don’t; they’ll tell you when you need to know about a crisis situation
  • Talk to the community more than you think you need to; doing so gives you a break from the keyboard, reminds them you’re real and worthy of kindness, and helps you to form some pattern recognition that aligns the online personas with the realities offline reactions

PS: Read Holly’s posts here and here. They are both great!

This strip was notable to me for two reasons:

  1. It makes me laugh every time I see it because of the casual nature of the Community Manager ignoring the smoke coming off the monitor. Even though my blog post is all about the difficulty and the self-care aspects of the job, there are absolutely days where I’ve been completely unaware of the monitor melting down due to the community “fire” happening. It’s just normal life. I’ve absolutely had those moments where my parents or my friends have said basically “what is wrong with you …this isn’t normal! I couldn’t do what you do!”
  2. Greg and I have been working hard to more intentionally bring people of color into the Confessions of an Online Community Manager strips. But this is difficult to do in a strip designed around a monotone blue theme.

    When we first started working on the art for this strip, we tried to maintain the “no skin color at all” approach because, in our minds, that was the most equality based approach we could take. But it was immediately clear that properly representing true diversity wasn’t just about reductionism (which inherently directed the character representations towards one race anyway), but about owning our representations. Instead of shying away from properly representing a black man as a black man with darker skin color than the other character, we needed to do exactly that. Instead of hiding our discomfort behind our standard art guidelines, we needed to simply expand our art guidelines.

    And the results are fantastic, if I do say so.