Why it’s worth helping your community manager avoid burnout

After reading a blog about burnout the other week I’d been thinking about how to help community managers avoid the same problem, faced by pressures from managing difficult issues online to getting buying from across their organisation. The issue came back to me today after reading FreshNetwork’s Holly Seddon ask how to best deal with burnout in the Community Manager group:

Being immersed in the details of people’s lives, and often their traumas and upsetting experiences can take it’s toll on moderators and CMs. I know on previous communities I’ve been affected by some things I’ve read and have had to take five minutes, have a cup of tea away from the screen or talk it through with a colleague… What do you do to avoid emotional burnout?

I confess I have both a professional and a personal interest in this subject having been a community manager (CM) helping to set up an award-winning professional community at the ICAEW, and as a consultant working in a mentoring capacity with other CMs. Speaking on a professional level was I found useful recently was a discussion I had with Rachel Happe, one of the founders of the Boston-based Community Roundtable (CR), a new community for CMs to learn from each other, including accessing mentoring. Or to use its tagline: “A peer network for community managers and social media practitioners”.

Rachel started off by saying that in the US companies were despite the downturn starting to increasingly invest and hire people for community roles, but (in what was no doubt one of the driving forces behind setting up the CR) often they failed to hire senior enough people. The problem is that CMs in this position are being asked a lot, not just ‘running a community’ but dealing with crisis management issues for instance, which means a lot of pressure when such hires may not be trained strategically or have much experience in how to manage a business. This of course itself raises the question of whether companies considering hiring CMs for such pivotal customer facing roles should look to get help in defining early on what such a  role should include. That’s a consultancy service we offer at Sift Groups, just to get the plug out the way!

Rachel’s informed view was that this not surprisingly put a lot of strain on people hired, faced with high expectations, and lack of experience at a senior level in knowing how and when to push back organisational demands. She said a lot of such CM roles did not come from a management background, did not have the skills and experience to operationalize such the role (see Rachel’s recent post ‘Eight Competencies to Socializing your Organization’ for example), which meant effectively what the know-how to help change the business were back to ‘square one’.

In particular the role of the CM in a profit-driven organisation where the culture maybe particularly corporate in style was highlighted by Rachel; this is set against the pressure from customers who (as Clay Shirky recently pointed out in his example of the UK bank HSBC’s climbdown in the face of a student revolt over bank fees hike — see Suw Charman-Anderson’s paraphrased account of his RSA talk) who can increasingly organise to put pressure on companies without the need for the efficencies of command and control at the disposal of the average corporate. In conclusion Rachel advised was that CMs in such a position need to have a core team around them to help operationalize the community within the business. Otherwise the problem of burnout, coupled with lack of senior level leverage and inexperience in strategy and operationalizing the role, could mean CMs walking away and leaving an online space which fails to deliver the ROI everyone wants to see it deliver.

PS: Maybe using the acroynm ‘CM’ for community managers is a bit jargonesque, what do you think? If you are looking at the demands of this role it ‘s certainly worth reading the 35+ comments to Jeremiah Oywang’s post ‘Job Hazard’s of the community Manager’.