Community Management Education (and Certs) a Sound Investment –Yet Experience Trumps All

For seasoned or budding community managers, investing in a solid foundation of learning through an education program and becoming certified is a good investment –yet don’t think classroom time is sufficient, as time and experience in the field is the most important.

A Need for Capable Community Managers on the Rise
If there’s one thing I’ve been learning in my research it’s that corporations need skilled staff to use new media tools. Enter the Community Manager, part customer advocate, part product manager, part host, who tirelessly deals with customers online. In fact, Altimeter’s research indicates that budgets increase significantly for social media boutiques, and digital agencies as corporations become more advanced. Despite the increase in adoption from corporations, they are often ill-staffed, or throw traditional communicators into a new media mix –with poor results. Furthermore, we’re seeing a rise in out-sourced community management services, which raised quite the online conversation.

[As the Social Business Space Emerges, Education and Certifications Will Emerge –Yet Be Sure to Balance Your Team with Education –and Real World Experience]

WOMMA and Friends Launch Community Certificate Program
To meet the needs listed above, a group of very talented and experienced community professionals have teamed up with Womma to launch a certificate program with Community Roundtable and ComBlu, to aid education and standards across the industry. I chatted with Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable to learn that their focus provides:

“Our training helps organizations in three specific ways:
-It sets common expectations for individuals and companies about what individuals should know at different levels.
-It ensures that individuals are introduced to the issues and concepts that they will face over time.
-It consolidates learning so that individuals can more quickly ramp up and become productive contributors.”

I also like how they segment their classes for different roles:  Community specialist, Community manager and the Community strategist. As this program grows it can certainly advance the industry, as well as the professionals involved in partaking in the offering.

Risks of Certs: Best Practices are Few and Far in Between
What’s one big challenge with certs?  It’s hard to define best practices in a nascent space that may be just as much art as it is science.  In fact, Dells’ Bill Johnston who’s leading their Community Strategy told me that “The inevitable downside will be a lack of standards. I’m assuming that every association or firm that is involved with social media / community will develop their own curriculum and standards” He also writes; “Further, certification without hands on training and mentoring is not going to help advance the practice of community management and development.”

Yet, Don’t Over Rely on Education –Real World Experience is Key
Like any trade or art, from sales, PR, performance arts and beyond, real-world experience is the most important teacher of all. Unlike black and white task orientated jobs, Community Management, and the art of dealing with dynamic humans, is as much of an art, as it is a science.   I asked the CEO of Liveworld (who hires hundreds of Community Managers), Peter Friedman who says we should look broader;   “The key is to get someone with the right personality, enthusiasm and skills.  Experience counts too. Even if there were good CM certification programs around, I wouldn’t disqualify someone for not having such a certification. I’d look at the person’s other specifics”  he also put certifcations into priority order: “For example a person with 5 years real CM experience is likely to be much stronger than a person with 1 year of experience and a certification”.

Hiring and Compensating your Community Manager

  1. Look for experience match against the Four Tenants of Community Managers. In 2007, I analyzed 16 job descriptions, and published the Four Tenants of the Community Manager and we found the following four job requirements: Community Advocate, Brand Evangelist, Savvy Communicator, and Shapes Product Roadmap.  Your Community Managers should match these job needs, and have the relevant experience to boot.  For example, Dell’s community strategist Bill Johnston told me he made his two hires (Connie Benson who’s written a post covering this topic, and Cy Jervis) based on “experience & impact” and cited both of their previous work.
  2. Ask them how they’re polishing their skills, beyond the day job. Although Community Managers are often social creatures, they could be working in a vaccum, and may be missing out on greater training or perspective.  Ask them how they stay current on industry trends, as well as help them connect with their peers in groups like the Community Roundtable, and participating in online discussions such as the Twitter #cmgrchat tag.   By bolstering skills and learning through education programs (like the Womma Certification), and see this older list by CM Roundtable.
  3. Reward them based on Business Impact. As orginizations invest in communities, they must serve business purposes from marketing, increasing adoption, self-support, or even using for innovating new products.  Companies should measure based on the business impacts that these communities provide –not just raw engagement or community growth.  I asked Evan Hamilton the Community Manager for UserVoice (which in itself a community) what he thought and he told me;  “I think employers should pay based on what their team members accomplish. I didn’t start in community management with any sort of training, but I deliver results for the companies I work for, and they pay me accordingly. Companies should always encourage employees to get more training…but they shouldn’t pay based on a piece of paper that says you’re good at something.” …well said.

The Bottom Line: The emerging Community Manager education and certifications are a good thing for all professionals –yet be sure to balance them out with peer to peer learnings, and real-world experience.

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