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The Role of a Community Advocate

March 14, 2022
Erin Mikail Staples
Senior Community Advocate
The Role of a Community Advocate
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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Orbit is a community-driven company. We work with hundreds of community teams across all different areas of the globe. Through this we've noticed that no two community teams (or communities they work with) are alike.

Community builders often bring with them a diverse set of skills to the table. These skillsets can be as diverse as the communities that they work with. The question then lies — how do the language that we use, the role of the team, and the titles of the individuals best reflect the team that you're building.

When I joined Orbit — I joined not as a community manager, but as a community advocate.

My role isn't necessarily in managing the community — it's in empowering them. I learn with them. I advocate for them. The title of community manager didn't quite feel "right" for the day-to-day work that I was doing. Having a community management team didn't also quite feel "right" for the scope of work that the team was doing either.

In the world of community, there are no hard and fast rules to what titles we should use or how a community team should be structured. These guidelines are still being developed. As we're developing these guidelines, it's important to take pause in what's important to us.

We know a few things for certain: 

  • Management doesn’t always have the best connotation — community members like to be empowered, advocated for, loved, and supported 
  • Community is rapidly growing as an industry, requiring more specialized roles.
  • Community teams require a diverse skill set to succeed. This skill set may differ from organization to organization.
  • No two community builders are alike. Everyone brings a different set of skills to the table — and this is a wonderful thing.

With these things in mind — what sort of job titles do we need?

Designing roles around advocacy

As community teams gain adoption and continue to grow, let’s think with more intention about the titles that we use. 

When I was first hired at Orbit, my job title started as a discussion. Rosie felt that “community manager” wasn’t a good fit (read her post on community job titles here).

If my title wasn't to be a community manager — what was my title to be?

My background was strong in product thinking, communication, and community building. As a new hire, I'd be tapping into these other skills as well as my community-building prowess, as well.

I was stepping into a role responsible for supporting Orbit's user community. I would be helping grow, advocate for, and support community builders and community teams. Additionally, I would be bubbling feedback and insights to our internal team.

This role requires me to act as an advocate — supporting community builders, product users, and the community industry in rooms they might not be in.

The community advocate role at Orbit was born. 

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a new title come to be in the community world. New titles are arriving in the community scene every day. From community operations, community programs roles, to community curators — we're doing away with the idea of a community manager.

It’s great to see these different roles arise — but how do you determine the roles that might be best for your own community team?

Find job titles that work for you, your community, and your team!

While many are quick to dismiss the importance of a job title, I’d argue that it still holds some pretty big value, especially in a nascent industry. According to the Org, if done correctly — they can help classify roles within a company, help employees feel valued, and attract diverse talent. 

Kurt Kemple of Forthright Tech explores why titles are important

If titles exist to help us feel valued, and further tell the story of the work that we do — then I’m not sure the title of “community manager” effectively tells the story of the work that I do at Orbit.

Our community team operates in ways that are don’t align with being a community manager. I’ve worked with community managers who operated more like social media specialists. I’ve seen community managers that practically ran a product team. The actual job title is vague and varies from community to community.

The variance in this role doesn’t always accurately reflect one’s strength.

By structuring our team with specialized titles we provide clarity both to our internal team and external contacts as well. The clarity in job function allows for a greater purpose in what you do. A feeling of purpose allows an individual to feel empowered and valued within their organization.

When thinking about what role you should hire next — think about what needs your community team might have, and how one might be empowered through those needs.

An exploration of possible job titles

If you’re looking for a leader or high-strategy thinker, you might look for a Community Lead, Head of Community, VP of Community, Community Strategist, Community Architect, or Chief Community Officer.

If you’re looking for someone who can help curate and document what’s happening, helping capture and distribute the value within your community — consider hiring a Community Curator, Community Coordinator, Community Archivist, or Community Concierge.

If you’re looking for someone that can speak technically about a product and offers support to your community as a whole — you might look for a Community Support, Community Facilitator, or Community Success role.

If you’re looking for someone who can manage events, operations, and help grow your community — take a look at Community Growth, Community Operations, Community Administrators. 

Lastly — if you’re looking for a role that helps the community cross-functionally amongst your internal team, seek out titles that speak to the individual’s expertise and what their function is — Community Advocates, Product-Community Lead, Community Designers, Technical Community roles, Developer Relations, Developer Advocates, or Community Researcher.

No matter what the community might be needing now — understand that how you choose to support the community through a proper team and roles can truly make an impact on how your community team grows for the long haul.

The downside to job titles in a rapidly-growing industry

While the upsides to picking more specific titles within an organization seem very clear, there are some potential pitfalls that can occur. These pitfalls are even more widespread within a rapidly-growing industry.

Especially on small community teams — it’s important to understand who leads what. Job titles are vague to highlight the fact that you might be wearing many hats as a community builder. 

If a team is tight on resources, having generic titles until the team grows can allow the individual to later speak to the work that they have done. This comes with a caveat — you must actually remember to go back and adjust the job title as the team grows.

In a nascent industry, things are due to evolve, change and grow — we must be willing to evolve, change and grow with them.

There will always be tradeoffs between specialization in a role and a more universally fitting title. Self-reflection is the best course of action forward. When in doubt, make the job title decision more of a discussion. Studies show that people are likely to feel more empowered when choosing their own job title.

Parting thoughts 

Community building doesn’t always require management. Let us choose better job titles that accurately reflect not only the science but art that goes into building healthy + sustainable communities.

No longer should we underestimate the work that community teams do. We must acknowledge (and respect) community builders by giving them the titles that they deserve.

If you’re hiring for community roles right now or considering hiring for them, take these thoughts into consideration. Feel free to shoot me an email if you need a hand or have thoughts on this topic.

Are you thinking about the tiles that you use within your organization? What titles fit your team's (and community’s) needs? How might these change as your community grows?

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