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Why Do Community Professionals Burnout?

Posted by Patrick on March 28th, 2016 in Community Careers

Why do so many online community professionals choose to leave the profession behind? Is there something about the role that makes burnout more common? An acquaintance of mine was pondering this recently. He wasn’t talking about people who are leaving for greener pastures – he was talking about those who have had enough. Here’s what I told him.

First, let’s cast aside the common causes of burnout that apply to pretty much every profession. For example, feeling like your work doesn’t matter, that you are overworked, that you aren’t adequately rewarded. Those are very common issues that can develop, no matter what your career. Instead, let’s focus on what applies to community professionals, disproportionately.

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When a new member enters your community, what should they do first? What will encourage them to contribute and help them feel more comfortable in doing so?

Online community onboarding efforts vary. Frankly, a lot of new members are effectively thrown right into the community. Some communities might go a bit deeper. Perhaps they make a bigger deal out of welcoming people, pointing them to an area where they can introduce themselves. Maybe they make new members click through a guide to the community. Or they prompt them to fill out their profile.

But if the primary goal is to have them contribute to the community, your best move could be to help them make their first post in a no pressure way. Community software vendors could have a big impact here by offering sandbox-like functionality as an option by default.

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I am wary of people who talk about building online communities, social apps, and related services, in an “addictive” or “habit-forming” way, as if these are respectable goals. Speaking for my own personal responsibility, I am not comfortable with it.

If you do a Google search and read about addiction, terms related to it and the stages of it, you might be reminded of what some people have written about how you should build your communities and get people to stay. I find that a little frightening.

You can’t use these words and then feign innocence or say it was just a catchphrase to reel people in. Those who have seen the damage of addiction know otherwise.

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Call deflection is very often used to prove the ROI of community efforts, especially those tied to support. The idea is that, when someone receives an answer to their question in the community, instead of calling you on the phone, you save money because it costs you less to provide that answer. This could also be true for other channels where it might cost you more to offer customer service (email or live chat, for example).

Recently, on the Community Signal podcast, I spoke with Jay Baer, author of a great new customer service book, Hug Your Haters. The book has some really interesting data about how answering complaints in forums boosts advocacy. But another part of the book that caught my eye was when he referred to call deflection as a myth.

“The idea of call deflection used by many large companies to justify the cost of robust social media customer service programs is a myth,” he wrote. “… Customers use of public channels has sky-rocketed, of course, but the growth in the total number of interactions has essentially eliminated the presumed financial advantage of answering customers in less expensive digital places.”

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