community career path

The days of the solo community manager are slowing fading away.

For  years, companies who invested in community would hire one person and hand off the entire community program to them. Today, more companies are realizing the advantages of being community-powered. And they’re also realizing that community building is much more complex than anticipated.

The result? Community teams are growing. According to our recent survey of more than 500 community builders , 67% of companies have at least two full-time community team members. That’s up from 57% in 2020.

Fortunately, as community has grown into its own discipline and department in companies, there has been more and more consistency around what the career path looks like for a community professional.

As community teams expand, there’s more opportunity to specialize beyond just “community manager.” As the industry matures, there are also more senior-level roles. 63% of our respondents had at least four years of experience in the community industry, up from 53% in our 2019 study.

The growth in the community industry has been incredible — it’s what CMX set out to do from the beginning. But this also raises questions for community professionals, like:

    • What does the traditional community career path look like?
    • What do all of these different community roles do, anyway?
    • What’s the next step for me after a community manager role?
    • How should my company structure its community team?

To answer these questions, we’ve taken a look at data from the Community Industry Report and the CMX Job Board, backed by hundreds of conversations I’ve had with companies and community professionals that I interact with on a daily basis through CMX.  This introduction will cover what we’ve learned about the community career path so far.

Of course, every community role and company is unique. These definitely aren’t hard and fast rules, but they can serve as solid points of reference to orient you.

Defining the Community Career Path

community career path

For many years, community professionals were hitting a pretty thick ceiling. After a certain level of seniority, there was nowhere else to grow without switching over to marketing or product. But today, more companies are creating senior-level community roles, like VPs of Community and even Chief Community Officers.

As community teams grow and evolve, it’s important to make sure your title actually matches your responsibilities. We’ll take a look at some of the standard responsibilities at different levels of the community career ladder, then dive into some of the unique ways community managers can specialize.

For more detail on each level, be sure to check out the Community DACI guide by Brian Oblinger as well. Popular write-ins for Other include Consultant, Head of Community, and Program Manager.

Here’s what a common community career path looks like:

1. Associate Community Manager

This is an entry-level role for a community professional. They usually have minimal experience, so don’t expect them to know how to put together a community strategy. They should be great communicators, energetic, and someone that could be a positive contributor to the community. Hire for this role if you just need someone to execute on the strategy that you set forth.

Years of experience: 0-3

Other titles: Community Coordinator, Community Intern

Responsibilities include: 

    • Posting questions and starting conversations in the community
    • Responding to member emails
    • Creating content for newsletters and social media
    • Helping events run smoothly

2. Community Manager

This is the person primarily responsible for managing the day-to-day activity in a community. According to our research, this is the most popular community title.

They likely have a good idea of what a community strategy looks like, and should be able to juggle multiple responsibilities. They’ll be able to report on metrics but may need some guidance to develop the initial strategy for tracking the right community success metrics.

Keep in mind there can be a pretty wide spectrum of people who define themselves as a “Community Manager”. There can be a significant difference between someone who has one year of experience and someone with four years of experience, even if they use the same title.

Years of experience: 1-6

Responsibilities include:

    • Building and managing online communities while driving conversations and engagement
    • Working on community strategy, in partnership with company or community executives
    • Managing and creating email campaigns and editorial content
    • Managing members relationships and responding to inbound emails
    • Organizing and hosting community events
    • Reporting on community metrics

4. Director of Community

The Director of Community should be able to put together the community strategy from the ground up. They’ll likely play a core role in the company, contributing to the direction of the business as a whole and baking community into company culture and strategy.

This is a person who’s capable of building a community team and managing community managers. They’ll be forward-thinking about scaling the community strategy. As they build the community team, they may do less of the hands-on community management and more executing on big initiatives and empowering their team.

Years of experience: 5-8

Responsibilities include:

    • Everything the Community Manager does
    • Developing  community strategy from the ground up
    • Hiring and managing a community team
    • Contributing insight that drives the direction of the business
    • Integrating the community into the culture of the business
    • Representing the voice of the community in product decisions

5. VP of Community 

The VP of Community is a true leader in the company. They have a deep understanding of community and business strategy. They’ve likely built and managed full community teams and are capable of scaling a community strategy as the business grows.

The VP of Community shouldn’t be responsible for the day-to-day community management, and will be focused more on community systems, scaling community, managing the team, and driving the direction of the business. They can set metrics and reporting systems for themselves as well as for the entire community team.

Years of experience: 8-12

Responsibilities include:

    • Many of the Director of Community responsibilities
    • Team and strategy management
    • Scaling a community strategy to new cities and countries
    • Building a community team and/or leveraging volunteer programs to scale the community
    • Being a leader with strong influence over the direction of the business

6. Chief Community Officer

What does the Chief Community Officer role look like? A more recent addition to the community hierarchy, it’s growing quickly as companies realize the impact community can have on their overall company’s growth.

The Chief Community Officer is the very top of the community career path. In line with the rest of the C Suite, this person is responsible for the success of the business as a whole and has the power to make decisions around its direction.

This role often manages a multi-level community team with many team members. There’s a good chance that community is a core part of their business, perhaps the business is community-powered.

Years of Experience: 12+

Responsibilities include:

    • Oversee all community operations across multiple community departments
    • Hire and structure community teams as the company grows
    • Make decisions that are mission critical to community-powered products or businesses
    • Hold a board seat

Other Ways to Specialize

As the industry matures, we’re seeing a lot of specializations form within the role, the same way specializations have formed in every other professional industry before it.

Take marketing, for example. Sure, there are marketing generalists. But as the world of marketing grew, people started to drill down more into marketing operations, social media marketing, content marketing, field marketing, product marketing, and more

We’re seeing the same thing happen in community. Here are some of the functional roles companies are currently hiring community professionals for:

Community Engagement 

These roles are responsible for directly encouraging and moderating engagement within a community. It’s ideal for people who care deeply about the quality of community engagement and want to spend more of their time engaging with others. This role could be responsible for digital or in-person meetups, or online spaces like forums.

Titles include:

    • Events Manager
    • Community Engagement Manager
    • Community Moderator

Community Operations

These roles focus on setting up data operations, systems and processes. This is a new but growing field in community management. In fact, several CMX’ers just launched Community Operations Chats just for ops pros!

These roles are best for people that enjoy managing logistics or processes, and are organized or detail-oriented.

They’re generally responsible for managing systems to track and report on community analytics and setting up community tools and platforms. They may also be responsible for making sure projects stay on time and on budget.

Titles include:

    • Community Program Manager
    • Community Operations Specialist
    • Project Manager

Industry-Specific Community Career Paths

Another layer to community specialization is the industry your community is built in. There are some unique community career paths for specific company types and products. Two of these key paths are:

Developer Relations and Advocacy (DevRel)

Companies with a platform that’s used by developers are almost guaranteed to have a community program. You’ll more likely see an “advocate” role in these teams, who’s responsible for hosting and participating in events and advocating for the community POV. There’s a great breakdown of the DevRel career path created by Mary Thengvall at Camunda, and even a DevRel jobs board.

Social Platforms

If your product is a social platform like TikTok, Clubhouse, Reddit, or Facebook, the community team takes on a unique feel and may have its own set of pathways to specialize in. Moderation is generally a dedicated team, and so is Trust and Safety.

Marketing, Product, Support and More

Finally, there’s one more layer, and it’s the most interesting thing about community teams.

The best community teams function as a hub-and-spoke model. While there’s a centralized community team, that team has a dotted line to other departments within the company.

How do these cross-functional roles work? A community professional may embed directly in another team, or two teams may share common goals. These roles open new avenues for specialization.

The most common cross-functional areas include:

  • Marketing: Building community programs directly tied to marketing objectives. These may include ambassador programs, community marketing events, influencer programs, user-generated content, or social media.
  • Product: Bringing the voice of the community into product development and connecting the product team directly to members of the community.
  • Support: Building and scaling community support programs for your product, like Q&A forums.

The community career path is still evolving. But one thing’s for sure: Today, there’s so many routes available to community managers who want to specialize, lead team, and expand their community’s impact. Use this guide as a starting point as you craft your own unique community story.

Read this next: How to Write an Exceptional Community Job Description

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