When an Online Community Pro Retires

Rebecca Newton is a legend of the online community profession. After 30 years, she has retired. But what does it mean when we retire from this work?

Her career began AOL in 1994, building communities and managing a massive volunteer program. Among her numerous stops, Rebecca found a focus in child safety, leading such efforts for Sulake (the company behind Habbo Hotels and Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom), Mind Candy (Moshi Monsters), and most recently SuperAwesome, a provider of tools for safer, responsible digital engagement with young people, who was acquired by Epic Games.

A program manager for community in 1997, a community director in 2001, a chief community officer in 2007: Rebecca has held all of the titles. Along the way, she has paved a path for the community profession, pushing us higher in corporate environments and creating valuable resources for us. Most notably, her 24 year stewardship of the e-mint listserv for community pros, an iconic resource that has helped countless community facilitators.

After such a career, what’s it like to step away from full-time work? What goes through the mind of a retiring community pro? That’s what we’ll discuss, plus:

  • How do you prepare for retirement, as a community pro?
  • What will Rebecca miss? What won’t she miss?
  • The least and most effective pieces of legislation passed during Rebecca’s career

Big Quotes

What will Rebecca miss most about being a full-time community pro? (17:32): “I’m going to miss working with people online the most. It’s a different animal than working with people offline, and I did plenty of that before I started in the online world. … Everybody thought they invented remote working. I’ve had remote teams since 1994, so it’s not new. I’m going to really miss that because there’s a special culture in the online world, as you know, that is really hard to describe, or it’s hard for me to describe but is not like the offline world. It’s like being in a special club, in a secret club. That’s how it feels to me.” -Rebecca Newton

What won’t she miss? (23:07): “I won’t miss … people naively thinking they know better than everybody who built the widget. I’ve heard the conversations. ‘Oh, they can’t let go. They don’t know how to let go. They don’t know how to grow. They don’t know how to do this.’ Then I would think, ‘Okay, well, we’ll see who’s not growing in a year, so I’m going to go looking for another job because I know in a year this thing’s not going to exist.'” -Rebecca Newton

The cyclical trend of online community obsession (31:09): “I remember in 2000 when dentists were [asking], ‘Do I need an online community?’ There was a trend of, “Oh, it’s online community,’ because of the success at AOL. I was like, ‘No. You’re a dentist.'” -Rebecca Newton

Overreaction from government officials who aren’t active online (34:21): “I’m not saying anything about how smart [government decision makers] are, about how great their intentions were, or their abilities in the world. [But] if you’re not [active online], if you’re not a heavy user, if you’re not in the kid’s world using it, how can you possibly [make good decisions]? That’s what we see in Great Britain, in the EU. Something happens to one person under 16, they want to have 27 laws about it. Because this thing happened.” -Rebecca Newton

Kids want to collaborate, they want a job (38:40): “That’s the biggest thing I learned about working with kids. The very first thing when they get online or game in an app, whatever it is, [they say] ‘I want a job. Can I have a job? Let’s do this together. Let’s do that together.'” -Rebecca Newton

When legislation goes too far (39:18): “Over-regulation is detrimental. I think all it does is create a whole lot of jobs for people to do a lot of stuff that nobody’s ever going to look at. That’s a really rude thing for me to say, but I believe that.” -Rebecca Newton

About Rebecca Newton

Rebecca Newton has spent 30 years in the commercial internet industry. As head of digital trust and community, Rebecca led online community, online safety, moderation, engagement, and customer services efforts at SuperAwesome (of Epic Games) from 2015 to 2023. Prior to joining SuperAwesome, Rebecca worked at Mind Candy as the chief community & safety officer, serving over 140 million registered (young) users.

From 2001 to 2007, she worked at Sulake (the company behind Habbo Hotels) as the global director of community for the world’s largest teen virtual world site, spanning 24 countries. She began her online community career with America Online in 1994, where she wore many hats, and finally landed as the program manager for AOL’s community leader program.

Among her contributions to the discipline of online community, Rebecca co-founded VirComm, the London-based annual conference for online community professionals in 2011, and the e-mint community management listserv. She serves on boards and committees for numerous organizations, including AgeCheq, the Archewell Foundation, and DitchTheLabel.org.

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