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From Membership Professional to Community Officer

Imagine the scene. Two nonprofit association membership pros talking in a crowded restaurant at lunchtime, commiserating with each other and sharing their professional anxieties that they fell into the wrong line of work. Not that they dislike what they do…quite the opposite. They enjoy working with members, building relationships to improve the member experience, strategizing new features and the like. But there is something nagging at both of them: they wonder if anyone outside of association management understands and values what they do. They worry that they’ll always be confined to associations because they don’t think there is any clear parallel in the corporate world. They leave the restaurant thankful for each other’s company but no closer to putting their anxieties at ease.

Okay, one of these characters is me and this is a scene from my life roughly six years ago. After graduating from college with a liberal arts education, I fell into the nonprofit association membership profession purely by accident. And after doing membership work for five years, I was concerned that few of the skills and experiences from that work would be appreciated outside of my narrow niche.

Let’s fast forward to today. Do I still think the skills, experiences and insight gained from a membership career is unappreciated outside of associations and not viable in the corporate space? Nope…quite the opposite. In today’s business reality, this unique experience translates incredibly well to the needs of social media, most specifically to the role of online community management.

Drawing on a recommended community manager job description posted by Connie Bensen, here are the parallels to membership management:

• Creatively and proactively assist customers.
• Serve as the initial point of contact for inbound requests from online company properties and the web at large.
• Monitor online conversations and participate in them to build brand visibility and thought leadership.
• Author blog posts, articles, podcasts, videos and screencasts – whatever media you want to use – to creatively communicate product uses.
Association membership development is about attracting prospective members and retaining current ones. That means knowing how to communicate well, building strong relationships with members, helping them get more out of their membership, and assisting them with thorny issues. Membership pros are multifunctional in role and serve as customer service, product management, marketing, and corporate communications.

• Identify and analyze issues, patterns and trends in customer requests and product performance.
• Transfer the information to the appropriate departments so that they can respond accordingly.
• Proactively escalate issues, observations, opportunities, and insights to the executive team.
• Communicate issues, opportunities and insights to the company at large.
Membership professionals serve on the front line, listening to members and determining whether their issues are problems needing resolution or opportunities needing to be addressed. Membership professionals must then be able to influence key stakeholders to effect changes on behalf of the audiences they serve.

• Identify and engage advocates.
Membership professionals must connect with their organization’s volunteers and help them put their enthusiasm to good use. Knowing how to find and then successfully guide passionate supporters is a must, particularly since most associations need these volunteers to help put initiatives into action.

• Stay up to date on new social media tools, best practices and how other organizations and companies are using them, so that the company can continue to be an early adopter of these technologies.
• Participate in professional networking by interacting with peers and influencers and attending events.
Membership professionals must explore the latest technology, leverage networks and resources, and plot a strategic path that will provide the most beneficial products and services to their association’s members. It requires a curious and creative individual who enjoys collaborating with people.

I write this post for a couple of reasons. One, I hope it gives a closer look at who I am and why my current work in social media and online communities is simply a natural extension of the work I’ve done since I first started my career. Two, maybe it offers membership professionals a roadmap to guide them toward other career possibilities and emphasize that their expertise is valuable beyond associations.

If your company is seeking its next great community manager or chief community officer, consider expanding your search to individuals beyond the corporate world and include nonprofit association membership professionals.

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JobAngels And The Potential Of Social Media

When an opportunity to make a positive and revolutionary change in the world lands in your lap, you just have to leap on it and grab hold with both hands. For me, this opportunity takes the form of JobAngels. It all started with just one tweet from Mark Stelzner who asked what would happen if one person would help just one other person find work. In less than 140 characters, it simplified what is the most critical issue facing millions of people.

Not that the answer to this pressing problem is simple. Finding work at any time can be a frustrating experience; add a crappy economy to the mix and it can be an excruciating, soul-devouring exercise. I witness this happening to the handful of people I’m working with currently as a JobAngel. Our identity is often intertwined with our working persona so when we lose our job, we don’t quite know how to cope with the change. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride where you really don’t know how far down you’ll go.

What does this have to do with social media? As it turns out…EVERYTHING. When you lost your job and a part of your identity, the worst thing you can do is become a hermit. This is a time when your social network is a gift. You need to know what there are caring people out there who do give a damn about you, who will lend you support when you need it, who will connect you to others who can help. Of course these aren’t new things, but social media increases the potential for widening and deepening personal relationships in new – and extraordinary – ways.

Back to JobAngels…I’m the Chief Technical Officer, which is really just a fancy way of saying that I’m the person who makes sure all the technology works well. The soon-to-be launched community site that I’m developing will hopefully incorporate the best of what makes social media special. We want for folks to have the ability to build meaningful relationships with others, share resources and information, and ultimately connect them to work that matches their talents and passions. Plus, here’s my personal hope that will be the cherry on top of it all: that we demonstrate the potential that social media has to make this world a better place.

There will be much more to come as I offer some experiential lessons on how this online community continues to take shape. I think there will be many ideas and practices that you’ll be able to incorporate into your organization’s own community strategy. Oh, and if you’re willing to be a JobAngel (or especially if you need help finding work), reach out to me or connect with our team. We’re at Twitter (@jobangels and #jobangels), LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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