4/365 Merlin
Creative Commons License photo credit: carterse

I received an email from a reader who has managed a good sized community for a number of years. It is the largest within it’s focused niche, growing to host meetups not only online, but also in person.

This reader will remain anonymous because although he wrote me to suggest that I write about this topic, he has not given me permission to mention who he is. But, to keep things simple, we’ll call him Robert.

Robert started the community because the topic that it is based around was a new hobby that he was passionate about. He is a web development veteran. It wasn’t really meant to make any money, as these things often start, but it did lead to him cultivating a relationship with many of the players within the business industry that exists around the topic of the community. He began to generate some revenue, though not very much.

The Opportunity for a Job

One of the biggest players in this industry had a manager in their sales and marketing department leave and they approached Robert, even though his background was in web development and information technology. He had a little bit of experience in sales and, certainly, the development of this strong community speaks to some degree of marketing talent, but it has not been his profession.

The offer he received wasn’t huge, but he took it because he was excited by the prospect of turning his hobby into a job and being able to do something he loved on a daily basis.

The downside of this, in his eyes, is that now, he is no longer the independent manager of an online community. He works for a company that services that niche.

Telling the Community

Robert and the company did the right thing. When he accepted the job, he posted an announcement on the community. He explained why he took it and why it excited him.

He also made the decision to no longer review or comment on products that directly compete with or are products of the company that he will now be working for, in order to prevent there from being any questions of bias.

His community did not change hands and he made clear that he was still the owner and that all companies in the niche would still be able to engage in the community as they always have.

Finally, he expressed a concern that his new role might turn people away from the site and he boldly offered to hand off administration of the community to someone else, if it became an issue. But, his desire was to continue to run the community and take it one step at a time.

The replies came in and page after page, people congratulated him and wished him well. This speaks to his work within the community and how he has earned the respect of his members.

But, Still…?

Even though it had been so well received by the community, when he wrote me, he asked me two main questions:

1. “Did I really do the right thing by taking the job?”

2. “Should you use your position in the community as the owner, etc., to further your personal career or stay true to the cause and the community?”

In this case, it is a personal decision. It’s not a right or wrong – the right or wrong comes in how you handle it. Robert handled it really well. He cares about the community and it factored into his decision. When he made his decision, he was completely honest and up front with his members. That is the way to be.

Things change. We don’t always start something because we want to do that thing forever. Instead, we start it because it improves our lives or improves the lives of others. When exciting opportunities come along, we owe it to ourselves to think about them.

In Robert’s case, though he may not feel he has much marketing or sales experience, the experience that he has running his community and the relationships and contacts that he has built have real value, making him a legitimate candidate for the role.

It’s Not Just What You Do, But How You Do It

The important thing is really the handling. If Robert was secretive about it or tried to hide it, then his integrity could have been rightly called into question.

It is one thing to say that you can manage a community and keep it on track, independently, even when you work for a player in the space. But, it is another thing to actually be able to do it. It’s possible, but to accomplish it, you must be highly resolved about the fact that the community will be run independently and that resolve must be communicated to the employer up front. It must be a deal breaker or you may be forced to either sell or hand over the community to someone else or say no to the job.

For it to work, it takes an employer who understands and respects the limitation and won’t attempt to pressure you or take advantage of your place on the forums in an effort to receive attention they shouldn’t be receiving.

For example, it may be all roses now, but what if someone posts a particularly negative review about one of their products? Will the company put pressure on you? That is the type of thing that should be a concern.

You deciding not to review products is a good thing. How you interact with competitors is also a point to bring up and consider, especially in the areas of revenue generation. Is your new employer going to be angry if you sell advertisements to competitors? Also, does the company you are working for expect free advertisements or preferential treatment on your community?

The bottom line is that you need to carefully consider all legitimate concerns, make sure that they are expressed up front and create a framework where you and the employer have a level of understanding that will be respected. Because, otherwise, it will not work.

It may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it also isn’t as hard as it sounds. It can be done, it just takes the effort and if you are offered an exciting opportunity, I encourage you to consider it and consider how it might change your role in the community. If you care about the community enough to think about this issue in such detail, I feel confident that you will make an appropriate decision.