I’ve recently spoken with quite a few companies looking to either hire their first community person or elevate their existing community efforts. Questions have come up about what makes a good community person and what skills can be taught/learned versus what must be innate.
"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
I’ve always loved this quote and have been mulling over it in the community context for quite some time. Many of the tools and tactics of community can definitely be taught. Someone can be taught how to tweet, how to use optimize content, how to write in a brand voice, how to set up scalable support processes, how to incentivize a community program, how to product manage feature requests, etc. Many of these, I would argue would best be learned in a tactical real-life “learn-by-doing” setting rather than in a class-like program.
But, you can’t teach empathy. Over time, you can definitely help someone to “long for” greater empathy through experience and case studies. But, all you can do is pull at and stretch existing heart strings; You can’t make someone build their own heart strings. You can’t make someone care about users when they fundamentally do not.
So, you’ve got to make sure that your hire has that really special empathetic tenderness naturally built-in to their heart. From there, you can teach them whatever tactical skills and tools they’ll need.