The Career Ceiling in Online Community Management

There are probably more senior community jobs than ever before. But many experienced community pros struggle to advance while remaining in the profession, because many organizations fail to prioritize community. This leaves it under department heads who don’t want to scale it and only view it as a low paying role for junior-level people.

Alexandra Dao of Vimeo recently shifted out of a community role, in part due to a desire to advance that she wasn’t seeing in community. As one of the people responsible for We Support, a weekly newsletter for those working on community and support, she also reads many community job postings. For Alex, these experiences have revealed the ceiling of the community management profession, which we discuss on this episode. Plus:

  • How Alex continues to work with community, now in research and customer insights
  • Translating and transitioning your community skills from one department to another
  • The simple ways to begin to experiment with usability testing for your community

Big Quotes

“I think a community focus, in every role in every department, is really important. [At Vimeo,] we’ve had a number of people transition from the community team into other departments. We always see that as a win, because it’s kind of like getting your people all over the company where they can bring that community focus.” -@alexdao

“[Companies hire community people in] junior roles, which is great, I think we all started somewhere, and it’s important to learn and grow in your career. But it also means that those people may not have much sway within the company, which means community is an afterthought. Community is fighting to be heard, maybe not taken seriously. Why are you setting up this department to not be on equal footing with products? With design? With marketing? Because I think that also leads to what we’re seeing with the lack of career growth within community, because it maybe is not always taken as seriously as other departments and functions that are just better understood or have a longer history.” -@alexdao

“Can you imagine this person who might be straight out of college, who has a CEO telling them to do [something like creating fake accounts], and that’s their first time doing community management? They may be reading online that this isn’t the right practice, but they’re in a position where there’s such a power imbalance between those two roles, and I think a lot of people would be strong-armed into doing something that they know was not the right thing to do.” -@alexdao

“I can’t believe it when I see [community] roles [in New York City] that are like $40,000. How do you expect someone to live in New York? And you’re a startup, so you probably want them to work a lot of late hours. It’s just like the math doesn’t add up. It’s not sustainable. [Community is] so undervalued sometimes, and it’s frustrating.” -@alexdao

“In the community space, we have classes, seminars and certifications. The important thing is never to think that those things are going to get you a job. Look at them as something that helps you enrich yourself and adds to what you know as a professional. Because the reality is, if you name any community resource that has [paid educational products], they mean nothing to hiring managers. No one knows what they are, they haven’t heard of them. Those names, those brands mean nothing. The brands in our space that might be important to community professionals mean nothing to everyone else, so it’s not like going to Harvard.” -@patrickokeefe

“The nice thing about usability testing is you really don’t need to talk to a whole lot of people … because if you’re only talking to ten people, or eight people, and three of them say, ‘Oh, I thought this button would be over here, I wasn’t looking for it there,’ guess what? When you release it to millions of people, or hundreds of thousands of people, or thousands, a certain percentage of them are going to think that, as well. Catching those little things before you launch a product is really, really helpful.” -@alexdao

About Alexandra Dao

Alex Dao is a user researcher at Vimeo and previously worked in community management for 8 years, with a focus on community engagement, product feedback and usability. She co-founded We Support NYC, a resource for New York-based community and support managers. Her proudest achievement to date was coining the term “dronie.”

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