In December, CMX’s Facebook group hosted a discussion about community management mentors. In addition, David Spinks asked people who they turned to, in order to learn about community strategy.

2015 marks 15 years of community management for me (17 years of moderation) and, when I say 15 years, what I really mean is 15 years of learning. That’s what experience should be. 15 years doesn’t just mean that I started managing communities in 2000. It means that I started learning about community in 2000 and have continued learning ever since.

At a tech support community that I once managed, I had a member who mocked a staff member of mine because they had asked for help with something. The implication was that, because they asked for help, they were not qualified to help others or to be an expert. To ask for help – to learn about something you were supposedly an expert in – was a weakness, to that person. What a sad way to be.

The funny thing was that the staff member was actually one of the truest experts on the topic in question. He has personally helped tens of thousands of people (maybe more). True expertise is embracing the fact that there is plenty you don’t know.

I have learned from many experiences, resources and people. I pride myself on being able to identify new talent in this profession. I listen to them, I pay attention to their ideas and I amplify those ideas. Whatever platform I have built through the books, speaking and writing, I try to share it with smart people. That’s something I learned from Diddy.

There’s More to the Picture

I shared a list of names on that Facebook discussion, and I want to share that list here, with some elaboration. It’s a list of people that spans generations. It has people who have been in this space for 30 years – and those who have only been working community for a few. Before I posted my list of names, Kate Kendall made a tremendous point, which I think underscores the whole discussion.

She eluded to the fact that a lot of the greatest community professionals in the world don’t blog regularly about what they do – or at all. They might not have a big personal brand or a large Twitter following. Nor will they appear on any list of the top community managers based on social media metrics. They aren’t in one place, and they don’t all attend a single event (no matter what an event organizer tells you).

The greatest people in our industry are spread out. They are diverse. What they do, however, is put the work in.

The People I Listen To

Here is a list of people I listen to and respect. Rather than just listing names, I wanted to give you an idea as to why. Even though it doesn’t fully do them justice, I decided to limit myself to a few sentences.

I listen to Rebecca Newton because of her incredibly deep experience, not just in community but in safety, which is really unique. Her service in furthering our work, through her stewardship of e-mint and other efforts, doesn’t receive enough credit.

I listen to Bill Johnston because he’s built community for business at a level higher than anyone I know. Wherever he has gone, from Autodesk to Forum One to Dell and back to Autodesk, he has pushed our profession upward.

I listen to Derek Powazek because he’s so honest about what it takes to be great at this work – and I love it. When he speaks about community, it’s hard for me not to nod my head along with the wisdom he’s sharing.

I listen to Sue John because she understands community from being in the trenches. She launched a forum and took it from 0 posts to over 10 million. Without the backing of a large corporation. It’s a very small number of people who have done that.

I listen to Sarah Hawk because I have had a front row seat for her development, over the last 9-10 years (estimating). During that time, she has become one of the best community managers in the world.

I listen to Jenna Woodul because she was the first chief community officer. Also, she’s been thinking about these things as long as I’ve been alive.

I listen to Cynthia Mosher because she possesses a deep knowledge of what community is at a practical level. Communities don’t just go from 0 contributions to 16 million+, but that’s what Cynthia’s did. Cynthia is exactly the type of person that Kate was describing. You probably haven’t heard her name. But I trust whatever she shares with me.

I listen to David Williams because he leads comment moderation at CNN. News comments are challenging, and if anyone knows that challenge, it’s him. I also look to him for that newsroom perspective – he lives in a different environment from me, and I value that input.

I listen to Venessa Paech because the more that I read what she’s written, the more I appreciate the unique perspective that she brings to the space. It’s a compassionate perspective that we need.

I listen to Allison Leahy because when I connected with her within her first year in this industry, I could sense her passion for the job. I’ve followed her ever since and have enjoyed watching her advance her career while becoming a truly great professional. I’m not surprised by it at all – I expected it.

I listen to David DeWald because he’s seen a lot (more than his LinkedIn profile betrays!), and he’s held the community manager role in pretty much every way that you can, from forums to customer success to evangelism.

I listen to Martin Reed because he sees community in a very organic way that is often lacking when people get really brand heavy. His writing makes clear that it’s about people.

I listen to Sherrie Rohde because she has a wonderful grasp of the depth of the profession, and she’s well-connected to those in the space. She knows just as much, or more, than most of the guests she hosts on #CMGRHangout.

I listen to Carrie Melissa Jones because there is an honesty in her writing that I appreciate. When I met her in person in March, I could feel her dedication to this work.

I listen to Caty Kobe because I enjoy people who approach this work from a place of compassion. Sometimes I feel like the future of this profession is guided by people who frankly don’t care enough (about people, as opposed to… name it). Professionals like Caty help restore the balance.

I listen to Evan Hamilton because he approaches community in a smart way, and he fits great value into quick posts and thoughts. I also like that he’s a champion of community as a department, like me.

I listen to Sarah Judd Welch because of this article. It represented such a great balance to me of what the ROI discussion should be. Yes, we can measure some stuff. No, we can’t measure everything. But that’s fine. And, unlike some people, she did it without sounding like she was trying to make you think that only she held the sacred scientific calculations that guarantee community success. After I read that article, I knew more people (including me) should be paying attention to her.

I’ve learned from a lot of people over the last 17 years. This is a list of people who identify as community professionals, and it’s not even an all-inclusive list at that. Nonetheless, it’s a list of great people whose work I appreciate. They’re worth your time.

Who Do You Listen To?

What about you? Who do you listen to and why? Please let me know in the comments or write your own blog post (if you link to this post, I’ll definitely see yours).