The Toll of Ageism and Abuse on Community Professionals

On Community Signal, we’ve spoken to several professionals that have left the industry for other pastures. While their reasons are never exactly the same, there’s certainly a trend amongst professionals in the industry, particularly women, who bore the brunt of online abuse.

As Patrick says in this episode, “if you haven’t received abuse then you’re probably not doing everything you can for your community, that’s just a sad reality. I wish that it wasn’t the case. I wish that you could somehow maintain order without making yourself a target.” In a profession where our responsibilities include moderating conversations, deleting posts, and banning people, yes, it’s to be expected that we will make some people unhappy.

But as Patrick and Kellie Parker discuss, it should also be expected that our colleagues and managers understand the realities, toll, and potential dangers of this work and plan for how to support one another through it. The mental and emotional toll of working in community management is real and something that we should all be aware of, no matter what rung of the ladder we’re on.

Kellie shares exactly how the mental and emotional aspects of working in community played out for her, where there must be organizational support, and the responsibility of speaking up for our own health and wellbeing. She now speaks openly and candidly about the sexism that she faced, but back then, she admits that her initial reaction was to “be professional” and power through. For professionals that don’t have institutional support, another coworker to cover for them, or the flexibility to miss a paycheck or take a personal day, the notion of self-care in the face of abuse may not be as easy as it seems. We hope that Kellie’s experience encourages anyone listening to think about how they can better support those that they work with, from an individual perspective and an organizational perspective.

Patrick and Kellie also discuss:

  • The sexism faced by women in gaming and community management
  • How workplaces can support community managers
  • The “magic community wand” and how to work against it

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Big Quotes

No matter how credible a threat is, it still impacts you (6:34): “A lot of rape threats or death threats [that I received] were not serious. I knew it was somebody that was mad because I deleted their posts or I banned them. … But there is a compounding nature over time when you get told 10 times a day, ‘I’m going to find your house. I’m going to sneak in your bedroom. I’m going to kill you.’ I know that’s not really what’s going to happen but … there is an emotional cost for that, that is often not addressed.” –Kellie Parker

The toll that community management takes on professionals (14:52): “A lot of people who have not done [community management] and do not understand the job shrug their shoulders and say [abuse is] part of the job. Really, we need to be asking for support. Whether it’s access to licensed counselors, whether it’s rotation in the job. … That portion of the job is not often discussed, and it needs to be. People need to understand that they’re putting their mental health and emotional health on the line for this job.” –Kellie Parker

The emotional health of your community team matters (23:08): “If you’re churning out your community person every 18 months, you should really look internally at why that would be. It can be a number of factors. It doesn’t have to be that they are taking abuse. It can be poor compensation, bad workplace environment, whatever, but if people are burning out of that role over and over again, there’s probably a greater than 50% chance that [abuse] is the reason.” –@patrickokeefe

Institutional knowledge builds stronger communities (25:10): “I want the fans to see me as their inside person at the company, and I want people at the company to see me as their inside person with the fans. If you have new people in that role every six months, every year, every two years; you never get that sustained growth. You never have that institutional knowledge.” –Kellie Parker

Stay adept to your team’s work (35:25): “If you’re in a role where you have to support community professionals, whether you are a director of community, VP of community, or if it just happens to fall under you, you really have to educate yourself on the stresses of this job. If you don’t, then you’re going to lose people and the people that are reporting up to you are not going to be as efficient in their jobs or as happy and satisfied in their jobs.” –@patrickokeefe

When “culture fit” is used as cover for something else (42:53): “I can look around your company, and I can see there is nobody over the age of 30. When you tell me I’m not a culture fit, I know exactly what that means. I am 44 years old. I am female. I am not, by traditional beauty standards, beautiful. That’s what you mean. Especially if it’s for a community manager role where they want someone to be in front of the community and lead them. I’m not what you’re looking for, and you’ll tell me it’s culture fit.” –Kellie Parker

Kellie’s career change from social media and community management to real estate (47:14): “Being a real estate agent is about relationships. It’s building relationships with people, helping people, taking care of people. That’s a lot of [what] my job [was] as a community manager and a social media manager.” –Kellie Parker

About Kellie Parker

After discovering chat site Talk City as a user, Kellie Parker ended up taking a job with parent company LiveWorld in 1999. This began a foray into community work that took her to PCWorld, Macworld, and SEGA, where Kellie spent more than six years. This was followed by senior social media jobs at Seasun and healthcare company, Abbott, before leaving the digital space to become a REALTOR.

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