There's a tough side to community management. Sometimes, you've got to take it on the chin more often than you'd like to, and strike a delicate balance between who you are and the company you represent.
The rosy side of community is that you meet people, build great relationships, find mutual benefit, create things that have greater value. It can be intensely rewarding when it's on the upside.
The not-so-rosy side is that you're sometimes the bug to the proverbial community windshield.
You're often the first line of defense when there's an angry or frustrated customer. You have to maintain an air of positivity and graciousness when people are rude to you, publicly or otherwise. And that's even for discussions unrelated to your job since it reflects on your brand, whether you intend it to or not.
You can't serve up too much sarcasm, point out when people are being inconsiderate or offensive, or call people out for being a generalized jerk. You're the unflappable ambassador, the calm in every storm.
You're also often under the microscope, where your words and actions can be scrutinized, and the potential for misunderstanding or saying the wrong thing is always somewhere in the back of your mind. Debate can be a delicate thing.
In short, you have to have the appearance of always being at ease, moderate of temperament, and invincible, even when you're not feeling many of those things.
Personal and Professional Always Mix...
As a brand representative, you don't always have the luxury of asserting your opinion (and paradoxically, even as much as I wish we'd all do more of it, at least on a personal level). It's a delicate dance between presenting yourself professionally online when it's part of your job to be there, and maintaining some level of autonomy of thought and ability to stand your own ground.
In a role like this, very simply, personal and professional always mix, and you have to conduct yourself accordingly. The expectations are different.
I'm fortunate that for the most part, I have an supportive and enthusiastic professional community that's respectful and kind, even on the rare occasion something goes wrong. For those that are constantly under fire as a face for a company in everyone's crosshairs, I frankly don't know how they do it, and I'm not sure I'd have the constitution to take their place.
So part of what I'm continually learning is how to rise above the fray, and preserve my independence while doing so with grace. Learn which battles to fight (and how), and which to let pass. Explore being personal without being over-exposed. Understand and find my own outlets for feelings and thoughts that are constructive, and propel me forward instead of sinking me into the mud with those who are slinging it. (You didn't think I just wrote these blog posts for you, did you?)
It's a Choice.
I think passion and personal connection with our networks are two of the things that can make a community professional great, but they can also be our kryptonite. That's part of the price we pay for having a job like this.
I'm not a martyr, and I'm not blind to all of the upsides and privileges that come with my career. I'm sure someone will get all crabby at me and think I'm turning my nose up at what's largely a pretty awesome gig, and I'm not. But if you don't think there's any tradeoffs, I'd like to talk to you a bit more.
And for those of you that might think community and social media is your dream job, remember that public facing presence of any kind comes with challenges too. Every profession does. But you'll absolutely have some choices to make in this realm that are different than those you might have faced before. And the real question, as always, is how we choose to respond to these challenges.
I'm still learning. You?