Any good community manager knows that a big part of their job is being empathetic. You need to be able to feel for and understand your community and potential community members. You don’t need to be a psych major to understand people. (A psychology class doesn’t hurt though.) It does takes a lot of being around people, listening, talking, and understanding. Being an introvert and keeping to yourself wont help. I previously wrote about about how working in food service was a huge help in my non-traditional CM education, now I want to talk about how traveling can help just as well.
First off, I want to say traveling can be a huge step up if you live somewhere remote and demographically segregated. If you live in a huge populated city like NYC, the world is all around you. I wasn’t always in NYC, so traveling was the first way I was really able to see the world we live in and the people that populate it. Unlike the U.S. where we’re pressured to graduate high school, go to college, and then start a life long career, there are places where it’s normal to finish grade school and then take some time off to see the world. Traveling can be a life-changing education of it’s own. There’s a world of people out there; different societies, cultures, religions, and communities. When you get a chance to travel, you really get to understand people in a new way, in a new light. When I talk about traveling, I don’t talk about staying in a nice hotel and luxury, I’m talking about backpacking and staying in hostels. Hostels have been a great way IMO to “really” meet people. I also did a lot tours and activities solo.
If you aren’t familiar with hostels, think of a college dorm. Instead of a room with one bunk, try 3-10 bunks, and it being unisex. You could have 10-20 people in a room of just beds, a shared bathroom and a shared kitchen. The best part, despite any cultural differences, most people are like-minded and very outgoing. A language barrier is usually the only thing in the way of good conversation. I’ve come to meet people from all over the world while traveling overseas and staying in hostels. Even staying hostels in the U.S. I’ve come to meet people from around all walks. You can learn so much from these travelers about the world we live in. You can’t afford to be narrow-minded staying in a hostel. If you haven’t been everywhere, there’s most likely someone who has, and they’ll tell you their stories. There’s a lot you can learn about people, and you begin to understand them more than you ever thought before. If you can truly understand a person and where they’re coming from, it really helps in community building and outreach. People come from all walks and backgrounds, and not everyone is the same. What may work for one, may not work for some. That’s something you need to realize as a community manager.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of traveling. But if an opportunity arises, I would suggest you go for it. If you do travel, and can manage by staying in a hostel for a night or two, do it. If you’re afraid of being in a cramped room on a rickety bunk bed with a stranger, you can usually rent a private room for still less than a hotel room. Talk to people, talk to someone different than you. You never know what you can learn. Even if you can’t travel, talk to someone new. Go to networking events, talk to someone new at the bar, join a meetup group. If you want to understand people, you need to interact with them. Most likely your audience will be a good mix of people. If you have an idea of who they are, it will be easier to converse with them.
So go out there and meet someone new!