I remember my first day as a community manager. It was the summer of 2009, and I had just graduated from SUNY Geneseo. About four weeks earlier the founders at a new startup called Scribnia had offered me a job for the summer. I packed my bags, moved to Philly and there I was on my first day.

The team was four strong: three developers and me. They’d build the product, I’d build the community. The team didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing or how I’d do it, but they were confident I’d figure it out because, you know, I blogged about building community.

I was pumped. All the freedom in the world to start trying all the things I had been writing about. I’d get to build a real community for a real business.

I eagerly jumped in with two feet… I started sending emails to members, setting up interviews, organizing events, setting up support channels and social media accounts, writing newsletters. I launched a blog, attended conferences, recruited influencers, set up partners, launched groups; on and on I went, deeper and deeper into the community jungle.

It didn’t take long, maybe a month, before I was completely lost.


My days were filled with more work than I could handle. I went on spinning my wheels without having any idea if it was actually adding up to anything worthwhile.

It reminded me of when I was a kid, I used to love playing with Legos but I hated following the instructions. I would just start throwing random blocks together and see what happened. Long story short, it never ended up looking anything close to the picture. That’s how I felt with community except I didn’t even have the picture to guide me. I had no plan, no strategy. I was just haphazardly throwing content and “engagement tactics” together without knowing what the outcome would be.

Maybe if you’re reading this, you’re finding yourself in a similar position now. Or maybe you’re going to start your first community job soon, and you want to avoid this. Either way, I’m glad you’re here. Now you’ll have something I didn’t: A guide.

Back then, “community management” wasn’t looked at as a growing professional discipline. It was something that some marketers did or it was limited to support forums. There were very few guides, case studies, no accessible groups to ask questions, no articles, no conferences, no CMX… you just had to figure it out.

Well, my struggle is your gain. Today, there are more resources available to community professionals than ever before. We gathered together the resources in this article to set you on a path of success for your future in the community industry.

Let’s dig in.

Step 1: Listen, Listen and Listen

This is an exciting and special time. While uncertainty is challenging and you’re probably eager to get started building community, it’s important that you first take the time to listen as much as possible.

Especially if you’re just starting a new job as a community manager with little guidance, you should do your best to set the expectation that for at least the first two weeks (at least), you’re just going to listen and learn.

If you don’t have a job yet, that’s okay. You can start learning now and become a stronger candidate for the many amazing community jobs out there.

Talk to other community professionals. Join the CMX group, subscribe to our newsletter to read our members’ stories, and browse through the conversations in the group. Set up meetings with your team to understand what their opinions and perspectives are of community management. Talk to your managers and colleagues and understand their expectations.

Listen, listen, and then listen some more. Get the lay of the land so that you know where you’re headed, like the picture in a Legos kit.

Step 2: Familiarize Yourself with Community Strategy

Now that you know generally what the community management world looks like and how your team thinks about community, you can start seeking out more specifics.

The good news for you is there are a lot of models you can start learning now that will serve as guides for you as you start doing your work. You may still be eager to jump in, but I promise you’ll be grateful for these frameworks once you start. You will build an organized structured strategy rather than creating disparate programming with no focus.

Here are a few frameworks that CMX offers to get you started:

The CMX Community Strategy Canvas. This is a simple guide that lays out the 9 fundamentals of community strategy in a canvas that you can fill out. This is perfect for the beginner. It will ask you all the hard questions you should think about in order to have a comprehensive community plan. Consider this your high-level roadmap. You can use it now, and refer back to it whenever you feel a little lost.

The SPACE ModelThis is our most popular model that our training students say gives them the biggest “aha!” moment. SPACE helps you define the type of community you’re building and the value that it will bring your business. This is where you align community with your organization’s goals and start defining your metrics. Bring this model to your manager to discuss where you fit.

The Community Engagement Cycle. This model will teach you how communities are formed. We break down the experience that a member goes through as they become more engaged in the community over time. By understanding the community member experience, we can then start to plan out the content and programming that fuels the community experience.

Community Measurement Model. Measuring community health and performance is still the biggest challenge that most community professionals face. The truth is, it’s hard to assign metrics and dollar signs to human relationships. But it’s not impossible, and this simple model will help you wrap your head around how you can start to measure your community strategy.

As you’re reading through these models, don’t get bogged down in details just yet. There is a lot of information and it can feel overwhelming as you first read through it. We recommend you read through them so you can start to wrap your head around the best practices in the space.

When you’re ready to put these frameworks into a full-fledged strategy, you can take the CMX Fundamentals of Community Strategy Online Course, where we teach all of these concepts in depth and tie them together.

Step 3: Talk to Other Community Professionals

DavidOnStageCMX Summit West 2015

There’s no better way to learn than to connect with other people in this industry. You can ask people out for coffee or join one of the many online and offline communities available to you.

Here are some of the options CMX provides to help you meet other community pros:

Here are some other great conferences you can check out:

And here are a few other meetups out there:

(Know of more? Let us know! We’ll add them here.)

Step 4: Subscribe to the Top Online Resources 

And of course there are lots of amazing online resources you can subscribe to in addition to the CMX Insiders weekly newsletter. Here are some of our favorites:

There are more and more resources launching all the time for community managers. Just be sure that the resources you find do not confuse or distinguish between the terms social media, support, or customer engagement with the term community, as that may end up confusing you and your team even more.

Step 6: Watch Talks from Industry Leaders

CMX Summit - Douglas Atkin (01)

You can find all of the CMX Summit talks on the CMX YouTube channel. Our most recent talks can be found in the CMX Summit East 2016 Ebook which contains all the slides and videos from each talk.

Here are some crowd favorites from our last six conferences:

Step 7: Read Some Great Books and Studies

There are some really good books out there on the topic of community but unfortunately not *that* many specifically focused on professional community building.  You have the books that are more focused on community related subjects and general community or social theory. There are a few solid books on community strategy as well.

Here are some of our favorites:

If you want to geek out on some community psychology, check out these theories:

There you have it: everything you need to get started in the community industry. That should keep you busy for a couple months!

If you ever get stuck, remember step one. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do too much at first. There’s a lot of information out there. And the truth is, community is still a relatively new professional discipline that’s constantly evolving. I’ve been working in the space for close to a decade, and I still don’t have all the answers, but we’re learning every day. That’s all you have to do for now, listen and learn.

It’s an exciting industry to be a part of, full of opportunity to grow and to have an impact. You’ll have the chance to develop communities that help great companies succeed and you’ll give people a sense of belonging, a core human need. You’ll empower people to change the world for the better. Of course there will be challenges but hey, nothing worth doing has ever been easy right?

We’re really happy you’ve taken an interest in professional community building. From the moment you started reading this post, you joined the CMX mission in advancing the community industry and helping community professionals thrive. If you ever need anything, we’re here to help. Drop us a note any time: [email protected]


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