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Community Management: An Emerging Discipline, a New Certification

Lithium Alumni (Retired)


Joe CothrelJoe Cothrel is Chief Community Officer at Lithium Technologies.  He is Lithium’s top expert on community and social best practices and has helped more than 300 companies execute successful social efforts.


He is active on Twitter @cothrel and is a regular contributor in the Lithosphere where he is JoeC



A few months ago I was speaking with an analyst who specializes in social technologies.   She was writing a paper on community management, and we talked through her outline and what she was trying to accomplish with her paper.

At one point in the conversation, she said “I’m trying to describe this discipline …” and then she paused for a moment and you could tell she was smiling, “I guess it’s a discipline …”


This made me smile too, because hundreds of people – maybe thousands of people – have this job title, and yet people struggle to describe it, and even struggle to understand whether “it” is actually a definable thing.

Is community management a discipline?  What the heck is a discipline, anyway?   

A discipline is a branch of knowledge and a system of rules, approaches and methods.  Disciplines emerge over time, as the number of people engaging in a particular practice grows, and as these practitioners share their methods and come to agree on which rules, approaches and methods are effective.   Professional societies, conferences and journals emerge as vehicles for sharing knowledge and codifying practice.

As my friend the analyst suggested, community management is not really a discipline today – or, at least, not a mature discipline.  And yet, as I’ve pointed out, the practice is large and growing, and there’s a greater opportunity today than ever before to begin to understand what the rules, approaches, and methods of this discipline will be.

At Lithium, we’re in the unique position of interacting with hundreds of community managers every single day.  We work closely with them in the launch process, as they define their management programs.   After launch, for a large number of our customers, we’re meeting with their community managers weekly or bi-weekly, providing guidance and feedback on their plans (and often learning as much as we’re teaching).   In our community, the Lithosphere, community managers talk about their daily challenges, technical and managerial, tactical and strategic.   Our annual conference, LiNC, has become one of the world’s largest gatherings for people managing communities for large enterprises.  

Sometimes our new hires, mindful of our reputation as experts in enterprise community management, are intimidated at the idea of providing advice to companies like HP, Google, Cisco, etc. – who, admittedly, have some of the world’s best experts in the areas we claim as our own.  I remind them that no matter how much our customer knows, we always know something they don’t.  We know what everyone else knows.

This year, for our LiNC conference in May, we’re doing something we’ve never done before.  We’re taking what we’ve learned over 10 years of work with hundreds of communities and distilling it into a certification process for community managers.   The process includes self-study before the conference, utilizing our library of on-demand videos and other materials; a day-long live training session at the conference site in San Francisco, where we’ll cover the most complex topics; and a componentized exam, to be taken during or after our conference, in which we’ll test you on the everything an enterprise community manager today needs to know about this emerging discipline.  

For experienced community managers, this is a chance to test your own knowledge against that of your peers, as distilled by our experts.   For new community managers, it’s a chance to catch up on the key lessons that others have learned over the past decade, and arm yourself for the challenge ahead.   For any attendee, it’s a chance to participate in an important milestone event in the development of our shared discipline.

Over the next five weeks leading up to the conference, I’ll be sharing in weekly posts more information on the content of this program.    It’s been fun working on it with our team of internal experts, and I can’t wait to see the results from some of our trial runs now in progress.   If you’re a social or community program manager, I encourage you to consider this for the community managers on your team.  If you’re a community manager, speak to your boss about attending.   I think you’ll find this program very rewarding – and it’s a great excuse to make it to LiNC and network with your peers at other companies.  

For more information on the conference and the certification process, visit our conference home page.  Just ignore the funny guy in the video.

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‎05-17-2012 10:27 PM
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