My circus, my monkeys
I got some unwelcome work news on Friday. But, however unwelcome/unexpected/bewildering it was, it served to kick me in the ass and get me thinking about what it is I really want to do, which in turn led to thinking about how —and why— I got where I am. The common thread between all those thoughts is that I love connecting with, communicating with, and helping people.
This adventure in being an online Community Manager technically began when I was a young mom going out of my mind in a new city where I knew no one and was struggling with a breastfeeding one-year-old who still wouldn't sleep through the night. I have vivid memories of sitting at our computer at 2AM and deciding to give something called "AOL" a shot. I had a disc with free hours, after all... so why not?
Yeah, that dates me, I'm aware. Not to mention the astronomical phone bill charges that arose after those hours were used up :x. Thank God for broadband.
And suddenly, a brand-spanking-new world opened up to me. In my search for parenting wisdom, help and a shoulder to cry on, I stumbled across iVillage's Parent Soup. My life has never been the same. I jumped into the world of live chat rooms and got immediate responses to my questions and —in many ways more importantly—instant adult conversation. And the message boards! I could post a question and people ANSWERED! I could come back and read through responses at my leisure. Some of you were there with me at the start on AOL, where I first volunteered as a Community Leader and then as a paid (!!) Community Producer for the Toddle/Preschool Community at Parent Soup, and are still a part of my life today. Others came into my life shortly afterwards when I moved over to iVillage on the web and was the Sr. Community Moderator managing the Readers and Writers channel. And don't forget those mamas who were part of the "Month" boards that their babies were born in... the connection they formed was pure magic. When I think of "community" those two places are always first and foremost in my mind.
After being with iVillage in one capacity or another for close to 6 years, I started a quest for *more*. I started scouring for a similar job, so I could continue to stay home and raise my kids and still have a career. In those days, there weren't all the sites, groups and networking resources that there are now. No one listed jobs with titles like "Moderator" "Community Coordinator," "Community Manager." The words "social media" had yet to be coined. The only thing that remains the same is the befuddled expression I still get when I answer that question, "So what do you do for work?"
Then, I was given a chance... ACI Team Coordinator at AOL's Parenting Community. Again, the wonderful people I worked with there became my family. I connected with my best friend via that role and we've been joined at the hip ever since—even though we didn't meet "in real life" until some 7 years later.
Sadly that kind of community... that organic, tightly-knit, we-are-in-this-together community... is practically non-existent today.
There are a few exceptions, but most companies have taken the tack that people don't want to linger. Most brands tend to seem to think that if they throw up a Facebook page, have a Twitter account and a Pinterest account, they have community. In most cases, they don't. They have a series of Q&As, but nothing tying people together, nothing that makes them want to keep coming back. For brands, community pays for itself in member retention and loyalty. And your community shouldn't be talking about only your products. People need to form relationships, feel a part of something bigger.
I couldn't say how I feel any better than this quote from Sarah Judd Welch in her article on thenextweb.com (http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2014/03/23/roi-community-doesnt-actually-matter/):
"Community is the means by which we find other people who are like us: Churches. Schools. Sports leagues, etc. And then, there’s the online versions of these offline communities — forums, listservs, Google groups, Facebook groups, Web comments, blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn. Community is the means by which we feel less alone. This is good."
So what do I want to do? I want to bring good back...