Salvaging Your Sanity as a Community Manager

by · May 23, 201310 comments

I was once fortunate enough to sit in a training session with Jake McKee, “The Community Guy.” We were talking about building brand communities, and he said something that stuck with me. I believe he was quoting Guy Kawasaki.

“If you last three years as a community manager, you’re good. If you last four years, you’re really good. And if you last five years, you’re crazy.”

I must be crazy, because I counted it up. I’ve been doing community or social media management of some sort, (albeit for a lot of different companies) for over five years.

The ironic twist in this career field is the very traits that make you a good community or social media manager (empathy, an ability to connect genuinely with people online) are the same ones that make the job incredibly hard on you. Some of this may seem like a rehash of my post on the Cathryn Sloane debacle last year. But it’s worth restating: the internet is rife with incivility.

There are five kinds of people who will turn up on your brand’s social profiles and community sites:

  1. Brand fans and customers with something positive to say.
  2. Unhappy customers or constituents with a legitimate gripe.
  3. Unhappy customers or constituents who are misinformed.
  4. Irrational or anarchic “crusaders on a mission” who can’t be swayed with facts or logic.
  5. Trolls or “pot stirrers” who just enjoy inciting drama.

Of those five, the ones who start out with something positive to say are outnumbered 4:1. The reality is, only a certain proportion of groups 2 & 3 will be positive even if you can fix their problem or correct their misinformation.

Some people are only ostensibly there to get satisfaction about a real or perceived issue. They’re really only there because they need a punching bag to vent their global frustration with the rest of their lives, and your company’s flub makes you the perfect outlet for their generalized rage.

There’s a lot of anger out there, kiddos, and a “faceless” company is an easy place to direct it. It’s easy for people to forget there’s a human being behind that logo avatar.

Of course, when the human being behind that avatar has an Amy’s Baking Company style epic meltdown, their human emotions become painfully clear. How about we try not to let ourselves get to that point?

Taking Care of the Person Who Takes Care of the Community

Community managers have a lot in common with parents. You’re the one responsible for seeing to everyone else’s needs. Remember the old saying “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” If your brand’s community manager is stressed, anxious and exhausted, your brand’s community can quickly sour. Community managers tend to be people who put their needs behind the needs of the group. However, that kind of thinking can be counterproductive.

You can’t nurture your community and be a positive leader and resource if your eye is twitching from pent up defensive aggression after getting verbally battered by a crowd of pitchfork-wielding netizens for weeks.

Here are a few tips for taking care of yourself:

Get some rest.

Community managers tend to work long hours. Sometimes, we end up addressing social media crises that erupt in a different time zone. While sometimes you just have to power through, make sure getting enough sleep is the rule, not the exception. You don’t make good decisions when you’re tired, and your emotions can be heightened. If like me, you consistently have “can’t shut off my brain” syndrome, address it with your doctor.

Get some exercise.

Community and social media managers spend a lot of time staring at a screen. You of all people need the healthy, mood-enhancing endorphins that exercise, especially outdoors, can provide. I have a cheap kayak. When the trolls are really getting me down, I strap it to my truck and paddle around the local park. I almost always end up with a better perspective afterwards.

Know what helps and what doesn’t.

YMMV when it comes to dealing with work related stress. For some, a cocktail, a movie night or a few hours shooting aliens in Halo set you to rights. But the same things that, on occasion and in moderation help, can also become unhealthy habits that just increase your stress in the long run.

Have an outside passion.

It’s hard to believe I’d want to spend more time writing after producing content for work all week, but my fiction writing hobby is a great outlet to get my mind off unresolvable situations at work. I can resolve my fictional characters’ conflicts, even when my community has conflicts I don’t have the power to resolve. Having something you intensely enjoy and have more control over than other people can help you when you feel hopelessly frustrated with situations you can’t fix.

TURN IT OFF and LET IT GO.

It’s an always-on business, but you can’t take that phrase literally. Unless you’re willing to sacrifice your personal life, family and real world friendships. Set limits. Maintain “office hours,” “on call hours” and “not available” hours, if you value your sanity.  The community will irrationally demand your attention 24/7/365. They can’t have it. And when you’re under siege, keep reminding yourself that it’s not personal, it’s not about you, and it’s often not even really about your company or brand. 

Have your own personal community.

Sometimes, the haterz are gonna get you down. Sometimes, despite your best Stuart Smalley impression, the job will get to you. That’s when you need to turn to your personal community—family, friends, spouse, church, book club, those other people at the bar you frequent—to cheer you up. Odds are pretty good that if you’re a community manager, you’re a likable person. Sometimes the best antidote to strangers calling you an idiot is having the people who actually know you say what they like about you.

Community and social media management can be “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Just make sure whether you intend to do the job for one year or a dozen, you make it out with your sanity intact.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://indispensablemarketing.com/ Patrick McFadden

    Most people don’t know the “emotional labor” component of being a community manager. It’s similar to what nurses, doctors, waiting staff, life coaches and television actors experience. While I’ve never had a baby I assume they call it labor for a reason. It’s hard.

    • http://www.internet-bard.com KatFrench

      That’s actually exactly what my OB said when I was expecting my son. “There’s a reason they call it labor.” Of course, she was from Trinidad and said it in an awesome accent, and then attempted to convince me to join a salsa dancing contest at the military base’s Cinco De Mayo festival to induce labor (I was two weeks past due).

      But I digress… Yes. There’s a sort of “emotional weight” associated with the job that I don’t think people spend much time considering, especially before they get into the field. They assume it’s all being witty and winsome on social media–and that’s definitely an important part of it. But the other part is FREAKING. HARD.

      Thanks for chiming in.

  • Donna Kumson

    “Social media” steals your privacy and sells your life to advertisers. Never use it, never input anything about yourself into it except false information. “ad metrics” are personal information rape.

    PASS THIS AROUND
    Seriously

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  • Titanium metal

    Hai…nice article…very informative post…i enjoyed
    reading this blog..thanks for sharing with us.

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