The loneliest job in business

While perhaps not the loneliest job in business, a Community Manager, especially the strategy building/implementing type is certainly at the top of the list of lonely career choices. Day in and day out the customers and community members you work with yell at you for being too company-focused, while your colleagues more often than not tell you that you’ve gone native, thinking too much about the company and not enough about them.

Former Community Manager Jeremiah Owyang calls out a few more challenges to being a Community Manager:

  • Many challenges are internal: Most companies want to hide customer issues, and shuffle them into existing support systems. Additionally, measuring ROI in new media when a company wants to keep the kimono shut, increasingly becomes a challenge.
  • Seemingly never ending job: Customers never stop having problems, and with the global internet, the questions, complains, and inquires never stop.
  • Emotional drain impacts lifestyle: The sheer emotional strain of dealing with a hundreds of yelling customers and the occasional trouble maker will take a strain on anyone.
  • Privacy risks in the world of transparency: In an effort to build trust with customers, they expose their real name exposing their personal –and family– privacy forever on.

These last two really stick out to me. I’ve been trying to dial back my public data access for a number of reasons, not least of which is general concerns around my 3 year old daughter. It’s nearly impossible. When I signed up to do community work in 2000, I had no idea that it would be a permanent state that I’d basically never be able to quit.

But perhaps the most challenge aspect of the job for me was the sheer time involved. When do fans and customers tend to actually do stuff related to their communities of interest? Evenings and weekends… i.e. when they’re not at work. When do they put on events? Holidays, when there’s plenty of time off to enjoy them. When I was at LEGO, I rarely had a holiday weekend at home – most of them were spent on the road, attending and supporting fan events. I’m not complaining, but I’d bet my family certainly would have.

When I was considering leaving LEGO, I had lunch with the always genius Guy Kawasaki. We were talking about my general confusion about leaving a company as great as LEGO and a job as amazingly fun as a LEGO Community Manager. When I asked how long someone can be productive as a CM, and his answer was brilliant and spot on: “If you make it to 3 years, you’re good. If you make it 4 years, you’re amazing. If you make it to 5 years, you’re stupid.” Guy was rightly pointing out that that much stress, 24 hours a day, being caught in between two parties who never truly believe you’re looking out for their interests has a shelf life.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job and I’d do it all over again without thinking twice.

As a way to celebrate this vastly underrated job, Jeremiah has kicked off a novel concept: Community Manager Appreciation Day #CMAD – a day focused on recognizing those in our companies, communities, or daily contacts that have done great work at keeping positive in the face of a very tough job.

So head over to Jeremiah’s site and call out someone you think is doing great community management work. Or use the comments here. Or post on twitter. Or send a postcard. Just thank a Community Manager. It really does help.