Community care matters, because no man is an island and communities are about relationships, trust, and mutual value. But how do you start to create and foster a culture of care in your community?
The concept of community care has been gaining traction recently (including a LinkedIn event on community care, expertly facilitated by Rosie Sherry). In this blog I’ll explain what this important work looks like in practice, and how to foster community care in a way that is healthy and effective.
Why community care matters
Why does care involve community? Because even self care shouldn’t take place entirely in isolation. No man is an island*.
People need connection, companionship, and compassion. They need to feel heard, solve problems, and get answers. That’s why people form tribes, join communities, or create social media profiles. Good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life (according to research).
What community care looks like
What does community care mean in practice?
The first step in building communities is to not only bring people together, but create an environment where they want to stay together. Communities aren’t just places we go (like a pub or a shopping mall), but places we return to, around a topic of shared interest. They’re places where we give and receive, ask and answer, or talk and feel heard.
Community care happens when we create spaces where people feel they are in a healthy and supportive environment. This will show up differently depending on context (a professional community of practice versus a personal community of circumstance).
We can identify a healthy and supportive environment by how people feel and how they behave. For example, people feel that they are accepted for who they are, they feel able to express themselves (without toxicity or harm), or they have received helpful advice or practical support from others.
Navigating the risks of openness
When we build healthy and supportive communities, where people express support and care for one another, we will see more openness, and an increase in self-expression.
But there are risks that come with this culture of openness. People may share difficult things, including painful or personal information. This could include coming to the community for support in times of personal need or crisis.
Community professionals are helpful people and our roles are about bringing people together and supporting them. We’ll want to do what we can to help our communities.
But that doesn’t mean we’re entirely responsible for them, or for fixing every situation they face. There’s a middle ground to navigate where we offer ENOUGH care and support in the right way, AND know when to signpost or step back.
Being intentional about community care
As we grow our communities, we need to be intentional about how and why we care for others. This means that we take time to think about how the community might show support or care, and what it looks like to provide the appropriate amount of care and support.
Tools like a playbook or manual, and tactics like empowering community members can help to create and reinforce a healthy and supportive culture. We could schedule in time to show care for our communities as part of our routines.
But we must also look after ourselves, so we have the energy and focus to do the work of bringing people together. Self care is a key part of how we consistently show up in our roles, and how we can stay effective for the long term by preventing burnout.
The skills involved in community care
Caring for other people is a skillset in itself. This can involve learning about empathic communication, managing emotional labour, or setting healthy boundaries.
This work can take years to learn in its entirety (I know from experience!), but there are techniques and strategies that any community professional can learn in just a couple of hours. This can include how to listen to your community, how to handle issues safely, and how to use empathy.
Want to learn more?
Would you be interested in learning more about how to care for your community, and care for yourself at the same time?
Good Community exists to help all community professionals to thrive (not just in my specialist areas of emotional support and health). I’m keen to determine the topics that would best help you to bring people together effectively, ethically and safely.
Let me know what you’d like to learn about community care and self care by leaving a comment below, or contacting me.
*No man is an island is a famous line written by 17th century poet called John Donne, and Hemingway pinched ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ from him too. My English Literature degree comes in useful now and again…
The community profession – the work of bringing people together – is ideal for women who have stronger skills in relationship building, empathy and cooperation according to science. Many talented and passionate women have been successful in the community management profession.
But there are many challenges that are holding women back in the community profession and I’ve unfortunately seen some of these first hand. On International Women’s Day, I’ve taken some time to reflect and add to a talk I gave a year ago about women and community building.
What does it take for women to succeed in community?
Right now, we’re not seeing equity for women in terms of representation, pay, opportunity, or recognition. What changes do we need to see for everyone, especially women?
I’ll share three not so secret ingredients below…
1. Inclusion matters.
We need to make it easier for people to enter the community profession and to progress their careers. How? Start with the hiring and project pitching process.
Be consistent and clear in the timescales for hiring.
If you say a vacancy is open for applications until 12pm on 31 March, keep it open until then. Too many vacancies are closing early. In my 7 years experience of hiring people, the best and most interesting vacancies come in toward the end. Why? People are taking time to thoughtfully write their application. Or they have life commitments. By closing vacancies early, you could exclude people with disabilities, carers, or parents. Not cool.
Be open in where you’re advertising your opportunities.
In the UK, the ‘old school tie network’ refers to a privileged private school world (usually men-only) where deals are made and jobs secured behind closed doors. Similar networks sadly exist in community building and they gatekeep everyone else. By sharing your opportunities for jobs and projects in public spaces, you invite a wider pool of people to get in touch. You’ll hear new ideas, reach new people, and tap into new markets for your business.
Be transparent on pay.
We could reduce the gender gap by a staggering 40% but the community job boards are STILL full of roles where you have to be a street magician to guess the salary and offer. How do you know if you can get the job if you don’t know if you can pay your bills or take maternity leave? We need this to change, not just for women but for everyone. If you’re a hiring manager, a leader, or run a community job board – sort it out. By being clear with your offer you save time all around.
2. Representation matters.
We need to see the work and voices of women represented consistently in the community profession. This includes at senior levels. How can women have opportunities to progress?
They need to be seen.
When a woman is seen, this means they are recognised and accepted for who they are. We need to see workplaces that see women’s lives, their health, and their wellbeing and not just the work that they do. We also need to ensure that women are recognised for their contributions. If a woman has led on a piece of work, give her the platform, or the credit.
They need to be respected.
We need to see the work of women respected by the leaders in their organisations and their profession. Champion the women who are doing great work. If a woman does great work and an organisation doesn’t reward them appropriately, take note.
There are red flags to look out for.
Sadly, there is evidence that the work of women community builders has been played down or ignored in the community profession. To stop this cycle continuing, there are things we can do. If you’re part of an organisation that isn’t recognising the work of women you can try and find an opportunity to respectfully challenge this. If this pattern continues, it may be a sign of a toxic culture. In that case, I’d recommend finding the earliest opportunity to leave.
3. Integrity matters.
When we’re in the business of fostering trust, we need to keep integrity at the heart of what we do. We need to follow the examples of our leaders, and set examples for others to follow.
Our values matter.
Key to integrity is staying true to our own values. When we build communities we have control over how people are welcomed, how we keep people safe, and how we recognise our communities. When we lead community teams we have control over how we support and challenge our teams. When we represent an organisation we have control over how we respond to change and culture.
We need to navigate conflicts.
Another side of integrity is considering when work may be conflicting with our own values, or what we expect from our workplaces. How do we respond if we see abuse and harassment? How do we handle dishonesty and harmful decision making?
Boundaries are vital.
We need to draw boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable. When those boundaries are crossed or we see things that concern us; we need the confidence to challenge, or the wisdom to step away altogether. We need to lead with our hearts, and with our feet.
What do we do next? The power of ‘we’
I’ve explained the importance of inclusion, representation and integrity for everyone in the community profession, but especially women. So what do we do next?
We’re in this together.
Our own professional communities matter as much if not more than the ones we build in our jobs. We need to invest time in building a network of peer support: a space to be honest, to ask questions, to share what you’ve learned, and to help each other out.
Is there a space for a network of women in the community profession?
How can we create spaces to share experiences, foster trust and encouragement, find ways to lift each other up, create networks to champion each other and nudge great women into opportunities we know they’d thrive in?
Women in community – I’d love to hear from you! If you’d be interested in being part of a network like this or know that one already exists, let me know. Together we are stronger, better, safer.
Remember the fresh exciting feeling of starting a new job? We hear a lot about the value of onboarding in community circles because it’s vital that our members and the professionals that build communities feel welcomed and supported.
However, we don’t hear a lot about the process of leaving or closing – whether that’s a community member phasing out, having to close a project, or leaving a community role.
It can be hard to leave something that is familiar. It’s especially difficult to leave a team that you care about, or an organisation that aligns with your personal values. On the other hand it can be equally tough to make a decision if you’re feeling unhappy, stressed, or lack confidence. But sometimes we can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to leave.
How do I know this? At the end of January, I left my role as online community lead for a large UK charity. For a while I’d been feeling that it was time to move on, but I wasn’t sure how I could realistically assess if it was the right decision to leave. I started to research the topic, and found the reflection process incredibly helpful. In this blog, I’ll share what I discovered.
Five reasons you may be ready to leave your community role
1. There is no room to progress
It can feel comfortable to be in a job where you are confident in getting most things done, but after a while this comfort zone can start to feel frustrating. You may be ready for more responsibility but have no opportunity to do so. You may want to develop new skills but find that there is no time for you to learn or you can’t get resources to attend events or receive training.
If you find that you’ve outgrown the job or that you’ve delivered above and beyond its requirements, it may be time for a new role. The benefits? You’ll gain new skills, stretch your professional experience, and hopefully receive better pay to reflect your skillset.
2. There are too many demands
We live in a fast-paced and busy world, but that doesn’t mean we can handle 100 things at once or work endless hours for long periods of time. If you’re unable to keep up with the regular tasks and know that you have the right skills, it may be a sign that your team needs more capacity.
If you are being asked to meet targets that aren’t possible and too quickly, it could be a sign that the leadership doesn’t understand or respect the benefits of longer-term relationship building.
If you realise that you’re skipping breaks and routinely working a lot of extra hours, the job may already be negatively impacting your work-life balance. If you’re not able to put boundaries back in place or get additional resources or support, it may be time to leave.
3. The job is hurting you
Sometimes a job can become harmful to your health and safety. If you’re handling a lot of conflict, complaints or supporting vulnerable people, the job can become emotionally heavy. You may find yourself on the receiving end of harassment or find you are constantly fire-fighting. In some cases, this can be sustainable if you are given the right levels of support and resources.
However, take caution if you’re noticing the job is impacting on your mood, your sleep, or your ability to relax. If you’re becoming unwell or experiencing burnout due to the demands of the role, I’d urge you to seek medical support. But if this continues, it may be safer to leave.
4. It’s not for you
Sometimes we discover that a job isn’t for us. Perhaps you’re not happy in your role, or you don’t feel your skills are the right fit. This can happen if you’ve taken a job that sounded like community building but is actually much more about marketing or sales.
On the other hand, you may realise that your experience is best suited to other communications disciplines like marketing, media relations or social media management where the focus is more on audience, campaign, or brand management.
5. You want something new
What if the other reasons don’t apply and you still feel ready to leave? Sometimes you can simply feel like your role is no longer fresh. You may feel it’s time for a change of focus, to move into a different type of job, or to specialise in another area of community management.
You may feel inspired to try out a new vertical, for example a move from software support to developer relations. You might want to try a different type of community building, moving from event based communities to online communities of practice. Or you may have developed a lot of experience and have become a ‘go-to’ person in your niche, inspiring you to go freelance!
What if you’re not sure?
You’re conflicted – unsure if you’re unhappy or ready to leave
Speak to some trusted friends or peers, or reflect with a coach or counsellor. Or get out of your own way! Head to a neutral location, take time to relax and start to think through each reason as if you were observing the role at a distance.
These tactics can help you to remove your immediate personal feelings from the problem and get some additional feedback to help you make an informed decision.
You’re unhappy about some aspects of the role, but not ready to leave
It may be time to negotiate with your manager. The best way to prepare for the discussion is to consider the impact and likely solutions for the key issues. You could also benchmark what other community teams have in place (as evidence for your proposed changes). Going into the discussion with a constructive set of options will give you the best chance of success.
If you find that your ideas aren’t taken on board and there’s no good reason for that, it could be a sign that you’re ready to join an organisation where your ideas will be heard.
You’re ready to leave but…
Concerned about how to leave a toxic or stressful role?
Firstly, it’s okay for you to step away from a role that is impacting on your mental or physical health – in fact I’d urge you to do so. Even if the job may pay well or provide status, you can keep the status you’ve earned and most likely find a similar salary elsewhere.
Secondly, reflect on what was stressful and unhealthy about the role or the organisation. This will help you to identify and avoid ‘red flags’ in the future. Thirdly, whatever you may feel about the role, if you leave well and remain professional throughout, you will depart with no regrets.
Worried about leaving a great team and an inspiring organisation?
Firstly, reflect on what was so great about this role and identify what matters to you at work. Secondly, use what you have experienced and learned to help you to spot the ‘green flags’ in new opportunities.
Thirdly, know that other great teams and organisations are out there. Take time to network and research opportunities, and speak to your contacts to find out more.
You’ve got this.
If you’re considering whether the time is right to leave your role, I hope this helps. You have every right to be safe and respected at work, to have opportunities to grow, and to be able to learn new skills.
If you’re raising a cynical brow at my reassurances, remember where you were a couple of years ago and how much you’ve learned since then. You can do it again.
When it comes to getting things done, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. As community managers, we want to do the best possible job for our communities and our organisations, but it can be difficult to make time for ourselves. It can be even more difficult in a profession that brings people together to push ourselves forward.
I’ve decided to tackle my own self-imposed obstacle course and get out of my own way. Are you feeling the same way?
In this blog post I’ll reveal the challengeswe face, identify some realistic ways forward and share useful resources to help you get things done and make time for self-development and self-care.
Five challenges we face
This is the biggest obstacle for many. Wanting to be the best that you can be seems so positive, but it has a dark side.
When we fall into the trap of needing our work to be perfect, we can stop trying or give up at the first hurdle.
We give up learning. We avoid anything that’s challenging. We take forever to complete a task by constantly tinkering with our work.
Or we procrastinate by trying to master ‘the secret of doing it 100% right’ and never even start. I’ve been there.
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I remember the first time I saw cable TV and opened the channel list. Hundreds of channels beyond the five we usually had in the UK. I remember spending about an hour flicking through before heading back to 90s Top of the Pops.
When you’re facing indecision, it’s difficult to know where to start. Perhaps you’re unsure of the right decision to make or which direction to take. You may have too many ideas and too many choices.
That last one definitely resonates with me – I have a folder full of content ideas!
We don’t like to talk about fear, which is just what it wants us to do.
Many people feel that fear is the reason that we procrastinate, sink into indecision or avoid trying new things. I think there’s a lot of truth to this.
Fear of failure. Fear of criticism. Fear of consequences. Fear of the unknown.
I’ve caught myself in a fear spiral of worrying about what would happen if I did something new or different. What if it all went wrong? What if I had the wrong take? It’s such a slippery slope.
If I had a pound for every time I’d heard someone mention ‘these uncertain times’ I’d be paying for a copywriter for my blog (kidding!)
The reason why people talk about uncertainty so often is because it is true – we have experienced a lot of unpredictable change.
I’m sure we all know that COVID19 has made the world an uncertain place in our own lives; with a rapid shift to remote working and sudden changes to our plans for 2020. And 2021 …
In society, we’ve experienced several changes to the law regarding what we can do, confusion about government guidance, and a wave of ‘fake news’ about the pandemic.
No wonder we’re feeling uncertain. This extended period of changeability helps some people to thrive but for most of us, it magnifies uncertainty and makes decision making more difficult.
Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed? I don’t think it’s just me.
There has been so much to contend with. Our way of working and living may have changed permanently. We may have experienced ill health or loss. We may be concerned about what the next few months will bring. For many people, that is a lot to carry at one time. That might lead us to retreat our energies for now.
The opposite temptation is to want to do it all and to take back control. We may be keen to catch up on lost time – the books we haven’t read, the projects we couldn’t start, or the trips we couldn’t take. We push ourselves to do more. For some people this is a great way to get started. For others, if we aren’t able to sustain our energy, this takes us back to overwhelm.
Five realistic ways forward
When it comes to getting things done, it can be difficult to know where to start. I’ve found five realistic ways that have helped me to move forward with work projects and life admin. If you’re stuck at the moment, why not try one or two of the ideas below …
It took me a long time to write this post. The idea was in my head weeks ago. I kept returning to my plan – researching the best way to structure content and make my points. If my resistant and uncertain self had its way, I’d still be in draft mode, with nothing done.
When we move into action mode, we come out of a comfortable place and start testing our ideas. After a while, I really enjoy this flow state of getting things done but it takes that first kickstart to get going.
If I get stuck, I take myself back to the original idea and try another angle. The maxim ‘learn as you go’ is really helpful here as it helps to be in a mindset that is open to new ideas.
Those people who say ‘just do it’ used to annoy me profoundly. But they’re right.
2. Good is good enough
Earlier, I talked about the danger of perfectionism because it stops us trying by trapping us in a never-ending desire to get everything 100% right. We have to resist this urge.
If you struggle with knowing when to stop, consider what the end result could look like. When you reach that end result, you can take a break and then review. Chances are, you’re done!
If you struggle with wanting everything to be perfect, knowing what ‘good’ looks like will help. When you complete a piece of work and it’s good, then you’re done. Good is good enough.
3. Respond to change
A reluctant convert to mindfulness, I’ve been surprised that it’s helped me to manage change better than anything else. This is because I learned about impermanence.
Basically, impermanence is the concept that things are always changing. Nothing is permanent; thoughts, emotions, relationships, and ultimately life itself are all destined to change or end. Change is a part of life and our best strategy is to learn how to respond to it.
When we work, it’s important to have a flexible mindset and be open to change taking place. We can can iterate – taking small decisions, or making small changes along the way.
When we face a large project, breaking it into smaller milestones or steps can help it to feel less daunting. When we repeat a task, having a basic outline to follow can keep us on track.
4. Focus on priorities
When you have multiple tasks, ideas or projects, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:
Find your most important things – the top three things you need to get done that day, week, or month.
Consider any deadlines you have or milestones you need to meet.
Prioritise anything where you need to make a decision or move a task forward. This is particularly important if you lead a team.
I’ll repeat another annoying maxim – a good way forward is to start with what needs to be done.
For many of us, we can feel so much pressure to do everything that we can end up falling at the first hurdle.
If we put unrealistic pressure on ourselves, this can lead to burnout. In fact one of the key things I’ve learned is this:
“Whenever we treat energy as infinite, burnout is the result.”
I heard this on one of Bruce Daisley’s excellent podcasts on work culture.
A good way forward is to begin, to be happy with good, to respond to change, prioritise what matters, and to accept when we need to rest.
Rest! Enjoy rest! Prioritise rest! Protect rest!
We’re not robots, and hustle culture is for fools.
That’s all very well, but how do we actually start this process? Here are some helpful resources to help you to put this into practice.
There are three parts to this: resources that help you plan out your work like content planners, finding a way to capture good practice and good ideas, and putting time aside to develop, test and use ideas.
In order to get things done, it’s important to make time for focussed work. Taking steps to manage your diary can help. 2-3 weeks ahead, book in time for screen breaks, planning, and focused work. You may have to move a few things for urgent issues from time to time, but it’s helpful to set the intention to plan, focus, and rest.
3. Finding your own system
Everyone will have different ways that work for them when planning, prioritising and managing time. As I have multiple priorities and people/teams to manage, I’ve found that a Kanban style system works best for me. This is because it helps me to organise multiple pieces of work in terms of progress and priority.
I use an adapted version of this excellent mise en place Trello board, created by the person who co-designed the Trello product. Mise-en-place roughly means “everything in its place.”
4. Blocking distractions
Once you’ve made time to focus on projects and tasks, it’s important to block out distractions. I’d recommend exiting noisy instant communication apps like Slack or Teams and turning off the email notification in Outlook. Our phones are filled with noisy notifications too so I’d recommend turning as many of those off as possible or using an app like Freedom.
To stay motivated and inspired, it’s important to get support from others. Talk about your roadblocks and challenges with a colleague or peer. If you can, find someone who will hold you accountable in a friendly and supportive way. Speaking of which…
I’m getting out of my own way – but I need your support
Having broken the barriers down, I want to commit to blogging and sharing insights more regularly. I would love to hear from the people who read my blog, particularly those working for non-profits and charities, and those in the community management profession.
I’d love to know what you think and what you’d like to hear more about. My intention is to be helpful!
How are you with New Year’s resolutions? Perhaps you’re obsessed with planning and goal setting, or perhaps you shudder at the thought of targets, and colour-coded lists.
Planning isn’t just a January fad, but a helpful way to take your community to the next level.
Are you unsure where to start, or wondering how to create a plan and make it work?
In this blog, I’ve put together some helpful resources and explained how you can apply the ‘Plan Do Review’ model to help advance your community, your team, or your career.
Before you start …
Consider what you’d like to improve, or what you’d like to change.
Have you ever created a community strategy (i.e. studying your organisation’s strategic aims and deciding how your community will meet them)? This excellent article explains how to get started.
Could you put a community roadmap in place to introduce new features or activities? This article from Community Roundtable has great advice on what a roadmap is, how it can help, and how to adjust it to each maturity stage of a community.
Do you want to kick off a project to set targets and goals for your team? If you’re interested in how to help develop and upskill your community team, this comprehensive article will help.
If you want to advance your personal growth and learning, have you put a plan in place? Earlier this week, I got stuck with how to start my own. This insightful and honest review from a community leader I admire really helped me to factor in the importance of reflection, celebration and continuous learning.
Step one – plan
Once you’ve chosen what to work on, you’ll need to create a plan.
Start with benchmarking your current position, then consider what you want to change or improve. Be specific and then be selective – don’t try to change everything at once. Consider what would be most helpful. Decide what success will look like and confirm one or two outcomes.
Questions to ask:
Do you have different ideas about how to complete your project? If so, consider the most practical approach to take.
What resources do you need, and do you need to set a timeframe? Consider what works for your goal and your organisational context: you may choose to iterate and work gradually, or have a set target and timeframe.
How will you track progress? Set some milestones and put in breaks to review. If you don’t have a manager, find a mentor or colleague to discuss your project with.
For community or team projects, involve your team in generating ideas. Create a ‘community wishlist’ and prioritise ideas as a team. If a team member is excited by an idea, invite them to work with you, or delegate that task to them.
For community improvement projects, look at feedback from your community, drawing out comments about what isn’t working well, or suggestions for new features and activities.
For community roadmaps, look at your previous year’s programme of work and decide what you will stop, start and continue this year.
Step two – do
Seek inspiration by identifying good practice or ask for advice from peers in a community of practice. You may find someone who has worked on a similar project or has solved similar problems.
If you have a big project, set milestones or smaller steps along the way to make it less daunting and help you progress.
Put time aside for focussed work. Test and review as you go. If you want to test how an idea works in practice, involve your team or a small group of active community members.
If you get stuck or overwhelmed, consider what the quick wins are, or limit your focus to one or two key areas. If you scale down to make progress, put everything else on your ‘not for now’ list to revisit later.
If your approach or idea isn’t working, revisit the plan and consider a different tactic. It’s the goal that matters most, not the method!
Step three – review
When you review, start by assessing your original goal, benchmark and success measure.
Did you meet your goal and if so, what difference has this made? What positive impact has this had? What needs have been met, or what problem has been solved?
What went well? Take time to celebrate good work and consider what you or your team found most enjoyable. If you’ve identified future project ideas or resources, add them to your ‘future projects’ list.
Don’t shy away from the things that didn’t work. Identify the specific things that didn’t go to plan. Do you know why? Identify what you learned or what could be done differently next time.
When you review, capture your key insights so you can use them to demonstrate achievements and lessons learned.
Toddlers, and trying again
Finally, I thought I’d share a pearl of wisdom that struck me when watching this strangely compelling viral video of a toddler race set to the theme from Rocky III:
Create a plan, find your own way to progress and if you hit a roadblock, keep going!
The first draft of this blog post opened with ‘we need to talk about burnout’ but from what I’ve seen in my research, the charity sector has been doing little else for several years. Look at this powerful confession piece from 2015.
Burnout seems to be a persistent issue. It’s relevant for community managers who are expected to manage an active online space, and particularly relevant for non-profit community pros who also have a duty of care to support people facing difficult issues.
Burnout is a persistent issue
There are hundreds of articles giving advice to stressed and overwhelmed charity workers, and much of the advice is excellent. My self care blog series brings together some of this advice and my own ideas to help community managers manage their own wellbeing.
Why is burnout such a persistent issue? Are we getting our self-care strategies wrong? Are community managers and charity workers neglecting good practice?
Let’s start by understanding the causes of burnout. I’ve summarised three of the main causes of burnout, what can prevent it from happening, and the warning signs to look out for.
Lack of support
It’s important to find and develop your own support networks. This helps you to guard against having insufficient support, which is a key cause of burnout and particularly an issue for specialist roles like community management.
In a community role you will handle conflict, rule-breaking, complaints and have responsibility for organisational risk and safeguarding. Support networks help community pros seek advice, refine their practice, seek reassurance and feel able to keep going.
When your support networks break down, this can put you at risk of burnout. It’s important to put alternatives in place. Finding a trusted ‘go-to’ person to debrief can make all the difference.
Lack of boundaries
If you’re running a 24/7 online space for an organisation, any issue can arise and you can feel huge pressure in handling everything. If this rings true for you, then you’re at risk of burnout.
Boundaries can help you to determine what your true remit is and identify the tasks that need to be escalated or passed on. If you’re struggling to determine or agree boundaries, or lack the autonomy to do so, you’ll need to get support to put these in place.
Watch out when those escalation pathways break down. If you feel you have no one to pass up to, your work can start to feel overwhelming and isolating. It’s important to put in place one or two points of contact who are willing to support you or your team.
Inability to step away
Are you a sole community manager, or is it difficult for you to step away from your role? In any job, it’s important to be able to step away or switch off and it’s dangerous to expect one person to be the sole point of contact at all times.
Strategies to step away and switch off not only guard against burnout but also retain community managers who may ultimately choose to leave a role or organisation that impacts on their wellbeing.
You’re at increased risk of burnout when it becomes difficult for you to step away from overseeing your community. You need to be able to step away at the weekends or take a few days off in succession on a regular basis.
The role of your workplace
If you’re at risk of burnout are you solely to blame? A few days ago Harvard Business Review published a compelling article which argues that burnout (which impacts on productivity, turnover and absenteeism) could be due to your organisational culture. It says:
“…evidence is mounting that applying personal, band-aid solutions to an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon may be harming, not helping, the battle. With “burnout” now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organisation. Leaders take note: It’s now on you to build a burnout strategy.”
In the article, experts advise organisations that want to tackle burnout to move away from putting the onus on employees to improve their own wellbeing, and focus on addressing the root organisational causes of burnout. The solutions are simple:
ensure people are treated fairly and have autonomy to make decisions
provide the right amount of work and work hours
ensure people are supported and feel heard
give people clear attainable goals and acknowledge good work
provide an environment suitable for work, based on need, not gimmicks
A culture of openness, non-blame and empathy also ensures the sustainability of existing initiatives that are much easier to provide (including wellbeing programmes). This excellent article from Mind explains how having support and agreed boundaries on workload and work time can guard hard-working people from burnout.
If you’re not sure where to start, head to this excellent Wellbeing Guide from Charity Comms, which includes advice on mental health and wellbeing, how to support others, and an article from me explaining how a three step framework can help when handling difficult issues.
This article from the Blurt Foundation shares 15 ways to switch off and is helpful for anyone who is struggling to wind down, or wanting to learn creative ways to make the best use of downtime.
If you’ve been feeling stressed, anxious, low or are experiencing poor sleep, take a look at Good Thinking. This is an initiative aimed to support Londoners but has useful advice for everyone including a self assessment tool, guidance and tips on useful apps.
If things are really hard for you at the moment and you’re struggling to cope, please talk to someone. Why not speak with a trusted friend – they don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to listen.
Look after yourself – your wellbeing is important.
Who cares? Why does empathy matter and how does it make a difference in a business setting?
Empathy isn’t a fluffy discipline but is incredibly important for effective communication and valuable to any professional communicator.
We all know what bad communication looks like – times when a message seems tone deaf, where you’ve not been listened to, they’ve missed the point or worse, patronised you.
When you feel this way, you’ll disengage, trust will be damaged and you may even walk away. In a community setting that’s bad news, particularly for the organisation you work for.
Community is about connection – about fostering mutually beneficial relationships between people with a shared experience, and those relationships benefit the organisation as well.
Empathy drives connection.
When you feel heard and supported, you want to continue that positive relationship. When you feel understood you’re likely to feel like you belong and that encourages you to return. When you feel like you belong, you’re more likely to want to support the community, or the organisation it represents. You may even champion it.
What empathic communication involves
Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s about considering the other person, their words, and their experiences. This means having a laser focus on what they say. This means you meet the person where they’re at.
It’s not about jumping straight to your own experience, making judgements or comparisons, or telling someone what to do in a forceful or patronising way. This leads to a person feeling like they’re not an equal or worse, that they shouldn’t have bothered saying anything.
How to apply empathy
The best way to apply empathy is to learn to read a message as if the person is speaking to you. Tuning into someone else takes time and effort to do.
You’ll find yourself doing the following:
Looking at the words they use
Noticing the formatting of the message (bold, colours)
Looking for the big things they’re saying (or not saying)
Observing the emotions used
Noting any key questions.
Before replying, you’ll ask yourself ‘what’s the big thing it seems this person needs?’ and ‘what don’t they need?’
Constructing an empathic response
Your answer will consider what you’ve observed.
You’ll avoid making judgements. You’ll summarise what the person said. If you want further clarity you might ask questions or say what it sounds like the person is saying. You might give the person options of things they could do, or ask them follow-up questions if you’re not sure.
You’ll re-read the message to be sure you’ve got it right. After all, your aim is to meet the person where they’re at, and encourage the person to keep in touch.
When we support other people as part of our jobs, we can feel that we need to solve everyone’s problems. Unmanaged, that responsibility leads to burnout.
Empathy should have two steps: we listen and show we’ve listened, and we give options of information/support or further help.
Remember – empathy is just about understanding and connection. Keeping this clear boundary in place means you can be confident you’ve done all you can.
Learning as you go
Empathy comes naturally to some people, but to others it feels uncomfortable. If you’re in the business of connecting people, it’s important to know the tools to connect with others, and empathy will definitely help you to do that.
Keep trying, and keep revisiting those key listening skills mentioned earlier. Make empathy a key skill for your team and plan to talk about how to take a supportive and listening approach to your communication. In time, empathy will become part of the way you support your community.
I’ll end with a challenge – remember the times you really felt you were listened to, you really felt like you belonged.Think of the difference it made. That’s why empathy matters.
M&S have used it as an opportunity to invite their brand community to form a feedback panel. I think this is an interesting move and shows the opportunity of acting on feedback and hoping to turn things around.
What can other organisations learn from this? How often do we ask people for their feedback and actively involve them in producing or improving products? How often do organisations reach out when they face criticism?
Actively listening your community is incredibly important for charities for the following reasons:
Charities rely on people power and trust to generate funds to keep operating
Charities rely on people power and trust to get support for their work, to galvanise campaigners, recruit volunteers and attract staff
Charities should be led by and reflecting the voices of the people they are seeking to support
Charities should be willing to listen to their supporters, service users and audiences to ensure they’re heading in the right direction.
Practical examples for charities
Below I’ve included some practical examples of how this can work.
Involving people when you are creating a new product or service via existing service user groups, giving engaged people a voice. Tip: this can be incredibly powerful but needs to be carefully framed and ensure that the ‘asks’ don’t cut into the other activities (what they turned up for).
Creating online feedback discussions via discussion threads, Q&A sessions or setting up a feedback platform. Tip: be careful to ensure that you engage with and facilitate the discussion where possible so people feel heard.
Involving people when making changes via workshops, online surveys, and testing sessions. Tip: again, it is really important to consider how to meaningfully facilitate this work and to frame it correctly.
Why does framing and facilitation matter? Bringing people together and leaving them without guidance can lead to chaos. There is nothing worse than people giving ideas you cannot implement and then feeling that you’re refusing to hear them, or receiving no response after giving feedback and feeling their input isn’t valued.
As for Percy, here’s hoping he will be around for many years to come.
The founder of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has written a passionately worded article about the future of his own invention, and hints at how community building plays a key part.
Opportunities and dysfunctions
Tim explains that the web has become more than just a place to find information, which was the initial purpose of the HTTP part of the internet we know as the web. The web is also a place to connect with others. It’s not only a shopping mall but also a service provider. A place to find humour, kindness and mutual support.
There are three key dysfunctions that are harming the web today, according to Tim: deliberate malicious acts, intentionally manipulative systems, and unintended consequences from things that had good intentions.
I think a fourth dysfunction underpins how those three dysfunctions are able to happen – the lack of effective resources (machine and human) for managing online spaces. In other words: ineffective or insufficient community management, design, development and web administration.
As recent articles have alluded to, Facebook’s failures indicate that their platform could be working as intended. Their response showing a new interest in ‘private spaces’ shows a possible change in direction – but time will tell.
Caretakers of the web
For websites, communities and networks to work well, we need community managers, moderators, designers, developers and web administrators.
We also need well-trained and well-resourced people and tools, ethical practices and organisations held to account by effective laws. This is vital to ensure the web is well managed, and users are protected from harm.
The Web Foundation which is working to bring this about with their Contract for the Web which asks people to:
Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and
relevant content for everyone.
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity
so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
The role of community
Community Managers have a key role to play in caretaking our own online communities and looking after our little corner of the web.
We have the ability to establish our own cultures – offering connection and encouragement, and enabling people to feel that they belong.
We’re able to manage expectations – removing damaging content, encouraging positive behaviour and closing the door on people who harm the wider community.
We’re also able to empower and enable – sharing useful information with newcomers, helping to co-create resources that benefit the community, and signposting people to specialist help and support.
Community Managers who are dedicated to making the web a better place for everyone are worth their weight in gold.
Thanks to the commitment and hard work of many digital roles including community managers, the future’s looking good on the web. Here’s to another 30 years!
This is part two of a blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part one]
Looking after yourself is a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people. Here are five more self-care strategies that help motivate and empower you, and keep you safe from burnout.
6. Look at ways to scale support for your community
Consider whether there are options to increase support for you and your community.
Get an agreement not only about your own responsibility for ‘out of hours’ but identify who could offer support so you can take leave. You may want to delegate to others in your team to cover agreed tasks, or to agree an ‘urgent queries only’ cover with another colleague working in a service user support role. Set clear expectations and ensure they’re clear on what’s expected, by sharing your processes, FAQs or letting them shadow you.
Look at other ways where you could agree support. For example you could ask colleagues with subject knowledge to help answer hot topic queries, or even answer questions on your community. You could agree an escalation process or a knowledge sharing agreement with your Helpline on more complex or emotive queries.
If you have a staff team, make sure you can all cover your basic BAU tasks like email enquiries and moderation. If your community is growing and you have an active member base, consider inviting members to support the tasks of welcoming others, being helpful, and flagging problems. You may also want to consider giving experienced members the opportunity to help with moderation. This can radically increase the effectiveness of handling spam and urgent issues, particularly out of office hours.
7. Take breaks
This is obvious advice but I think people in digital support roles need to hear that they have permission to step away from their community and their day job. Your community is probably open 24/7 but you shouldn’t be.
This can be as simple as setting screen breaks, or checking in with other colleagues during the day to switch perspective. There are notable benefits of stepping away from your screen, particularly in the evenings.
If you can (and it works for you) agree at least one day out of office on a regular basis particularly for planning or development tasks when you may need to get your head down and focus. Set expectations with your team or with colleagues.
Most importantly, ensure you use annual leave – you’re entitled to it! Spend that time doing the things that matter to you.
8. Learn reflective practice
Reflective practice is so important for community managers as so much of your job is about handling issues, resolving conflicts and balancing the expectations of your organisation and also your community members.
You may be faced with emotionally charged conflicts, waves of resistance or abusive responses to moderation. An avalanche of issues can lead you to question your decision making and affect your confidence.
Reflect on how you respond to issues – not only what you say but how you say it. Catch yourself doing it right, as well as assessing responses that could have gone better. Consider your own emotional response.
Look on feedback as an opportunity to improve, or a way to recognise what is already working well.
I’d recommend spending time coming up with a list of ‘review’ questions that you can use to support yourself or others on your team. See the reflective practice model below for an idea of what to include.
When a challenging issue comes along (particularly an upsetting one), you can reassure yourself and your team by working through those questions and checking in on what you did well and could do differently.
9. Build your support network
Community management can be tough, and it can be an isolating role.
Build a network of support for multiple reasons – for buy-in, peer support, debriefing, advice and constructive challenge.
Start with people in your team, or people who also have user-facing roles in your organisation to offload, share perspectives and build a mutually helpful approach. This will prove especially helpful when you need to take a united approach to handling a major reputational issue.
Find people in similar organisations and build connections and trust. Ask questions, seek support, share war wounds (yes, this!) and explore ideas.
There are a number of comms-focused communities of practice in the UK charity sector, including Digital Charities on Slack, Third Sector PR and Comms Network on Facebook. For those running peer support communities there’s Modbods on Facebook.
Outside of the charity sector, the CMX Hub and CR Table groups on Facebook are worth a look to connect with others working in community management.
Try to find someone who has similar – ideally greater – knowledge and experience. No one knows everything. Find a mentor if you can, and make use of their experience to grow. Finding someone who will respectfully challenge you will help you to improve.
10. Redress the balance
Finally, one of the best ways to look after yourself is to take a balanced approach.
In this job you may handle difficult issues, support people in distress and take responsibility for resolving conflict. This comes with an emotional ‘cost’.
Redress the balance of handling heavy things by spending time doing things that make you feel energised.
What is meaningful and uplifting for you?
I support people who are distressed, bereaved and feel isolated. In my spare time I gravitate towards food movies, comedy and exploring London’s history. I offload with good friends in oak timbered pubs and walk the family dog.
To finish, I’ll share a video that inspired me to think about my own HappyList: