Managing Online Communities and Career Path Pt. 2 with Nic Tolstoshev

Welcome to episode 63 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss online community management and career paths with community manager Nic Tolstoshev. Once again, here’s the Nic Tolstoshev fan art Flickr feed we mentioned.

Original Recording Date: 10-26-2019

Topics – Community Management and Career with Nick Tolstoshev

02:35 Community Manager Career Path and Time Commitment

  • Do community managers get actively recruited for roles at other places?
    • That is exactly how Nic ended up at Automox.
  • The career path is all over the place. Some people burn out after a few years in the role, while others get into community management as a stepping stone (i.e. considering it entry level before making a lateral move).
  • For those in it for the long haul, your skills will eventually be required / wanted elsewhere.
  • There is not a great path to climb the corporate ladder from the community manager position, but this is starting to change with some companies making a whole department for it.
    • A company’s having an online community is a differentiator which could potentially decrease the need for head count.
    • Nic talks to some things that come out of communities that you never expected.
      • Examples – SpiceRex, a special community award
  • 08:38 – What about the time commitment for this role?
    • Don’t make it an hourly position. There is more that goes into it.
    • Nic likes to keep an eye out after hours since online communities aren’t just in use during vendor business hours.
    • As a solo community manager, you can leverage power users of the community as moderators to help.
      • Nic likes to select an informal backup within the company that is passionate about community so he can take vacations, sick days, etc.
      • There is a certain social contract that applies to online community participation.
    • Getting additional funding / resources requires showing proof of added value to the bottom line.
      • Look at things like number of engaged users, page views, traffic, if questions are getting answered (reply %), etc. as key performance indicators.
      • Product feedback can be requested and given within the online community through feature requests, focus groups, beta tests, etc.
      • Nic shares a story from Intuit in the QuickBooks for Mac forum when he helped the product team uncover a bug and had to act as the DeFacto PR person in this situation.
        • Community managers have to help keep the public informed in a corporate disaster.

22:47 – Advice for the Would Be Community Manager and Closing Thoughts

  • Technical skills won’t stay as sharp. Nic mentions missing out on getting his hands dirty in the virtualization movement.
    • He worked on the community team at a company outside the technology space but found himself doing a great deal of technical work (back end maintenance on the community platform).
    • Nic recommends getting very hands on with the products a vendor sells and shares examples of what he has done since joining Automox. This helps members of the community and also allows for very direct feedback to internal product teams.
    • The troubleshooting mindset never goes away whether you stay in a technical role or otherwise.
  • Make sure you try community management as a hobby first (i.e. a forum moderator) before pursuing a role in that field. This is relatable experience that can get you hired and shows intrinsic motivation.
    • It can be easier to take a lateral move in your existing company rather than pursuing a community management role elsewhere.
    • Think back to Episode 35 where we discussed Jimmy Tassin’s role managing a Minecraft community and how he leveraged it as relatable experience.
  • "Community management is the purest form of leadership because you have no leverage."
    • Motivating people and inspiring them without using money as leverage are highly transferrable skills to any area.
  • Further Reading:
    • Check out Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow that reminds Nic of community management. This is a free download on Cory’s website.
    • Clay Shirky has written a number of things on community that listeners may find interesting.
  • Reach out to Nic on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the Automox community.

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