Do you currently manage a community?
My role at FeverBee for the last 3 years has been focussed on teaching great organisations how to manage their communities. However, I was previously the Community Manager for www.MoneySavingExpert.com for almost a decade, growing the community from a standing start to around 1.5 million members.
What career path brought you to where you are now?
I started out in the Newspaper industry, back in the days of old school hacks, clunky desktop publishing software and red wines lunches served with straws. Halycon times! I became interested in how the publications served and reflected the community, in the early days of utilising online forums to encourage discussion.
Always interested in personal finance, I discovered a small website (www.moneysavingexpert.com) sending a free money tips email to a handful of subscribers which had installed a simple version of vBulletin to encourage recipients to come back online and chat. I became a member, started developing a friendship with the, then, webmaster and discovered the whole setup was run by Martin Lewis, a financial journalist. I made some suggestions, took on some part time moderation work and enjoyed it so much they eventually caved in and offered me a job.
There wasn’t much in the way of formal community management advice or training back then so we slowly built, experimented, measured and iterated the community as the business grew. As community began to evolve as a “thing” we incorporated some of the best thinking coming out of blogs and materials into our work and built the UK’s number one financial community (infact one of the UK’s biggest communities).
After 9.5 years I decided it was time for a new challenge and jumped the fence from community manager to training and strategising for communities at FeverBee. It felt a natural progression.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
The industry has come a long way, but there’s still a huge amount of misunderstanding and misconception around the power of community from organisations. We need to continue to educate them and, in some cases, move them away from the traditional view that “that person in HR could probably do this in half a day a week”.
Community is a role, a discipline and a valuable asset for any company smart enough to dig below the headlines and understand the power of engaging with people on a human level.
I also believe we need to understand that data, whilst vital, isn’t the whole picture. There can be a tendency to treat community members as number who are consistent, predictable and malleable. People’s stories, personal experiences and contributions are, for me, where the power lies.
When you’ve been a community manager and received a handwritten letter from a single parent who was in so much debt that suicide seemed the only way out, found a community, found help and could ask and receive information that literally changed (and saved) their life, you realise that there isn’t an ROI or GA metric that is equivalent to that. This happened to me at MSE more than once.
Data is vital, but without context we become machines serving machines, not people.
What’s the best job you ever had that wasn’t in community management and does it inform your CM work in any way?
I spent many happy years working part time for a (now defunct) DIY merchant in my youth. The work was heavy manual, poorly paid and often monotonous. Yet, the team we had made it worthwhile going into work every day and although occasionally a customer could be difficult, helping people get answers and solutions to their problems was rewarding. Sound familiar?