Meet Dr. Jennifer Beckett, who teaches one of only two university level online community management courses in Australia.

Jennifer is a community manager turned academic. Her research is focused on the area of moderation, governance, trolling and the complex labors of community management. Jennifer has presented at previous Swarm symposiums, and is a great advocate and commentator for our practice. (She’s also a pop-culture geek and critic who will talk your ear off about the latest Marvel production slate).

At Swarm she’s teaching a workshop in self-care for community managers; something we know is always essential, and too often overlooked.

How would you define self-care in the context of online communities and online community management? 

When I get questions like this, I’m always reminded of something that my mother told me once “you have to put on your own oxygen mask first”. What she’s getting at, and I agree with, is that you can’t help anyone effectively in your community (or your life) if you aren’t taking care of yourself properly.

So, I’d say while there may be distinct issues in your community in terms of wellbeing, community manager wellbeing plays a huge amount in how healthy the community is.

What role do our platforms play in relation to care?

This is a really interesting question. I think the platforms think that their role in care stops and ends with their moderation practices.

What they aren’t so good at is thinking about moderation within a sociological or psychological framework – this goes both to the way they approach it, the decisions they make as a result and the lack of care they show for those who do the job of moderation.

They are also very quick to push moderation practices onto community professionals without giving them effective tools. This just adds to stress.

What have you observed teaching aspiring community professionals?

Teaching people who don’t really know a lot about community management I’ve learned that:

  1. how we consider community is hugely culturally specific and how we think about managing them even more so. For example, a lot of my Chinese students were fierce about community standards and moderation, for them, it was really separate, strict and regulatory. So, it was very black and white, which it’s definitely not for me;
  2. there’s still huge confusion around the difference between community managers and social media managers.
  3. for a lot of my students, no matter where they hailed from, it was hard to wrap their heads around the notion of ‘shared purpose’, often mistaking it for being ‘marketing purpose’. Which I think says a lot about the kinds of ‘community’ interactions they have online, which were almost exclusively just social media management. I think there should be some kind of law against marketers calling their Facebook page, or whatever, a community.

What do you consider the most exciting thing about the community management space today?

The fact that more and more people are coming back to the idea of community as something really integral to our wellbeing, whether those communities are online, offline or a combination of both.

Also, people are really questioning and pushing back on the idea of the platform creators as the lead architects of that space and demanding more accountability and a more humanistic and ethical approach to design.

There’s just so much great stuff that people can and are doing.

What would you most like to change?

The fact that a lot of the tech designers don’t listen to humanities and community scholars and practitioners when they tell them that something is a really terrible, absolutely no good, very bad idea or that their tech is being misused.

I’d like to see a lot more active listening, far less PR spin and, of course, tangible action in response rather than shoving things down the track. People and society have to come first.

For community managers and moderators more specifically, I’d like to see the organisations who hire them to really stop and take the time to understand the pressures and demands of the job, pay people appropriately and ensure that they are given adequate mental health and general wellbeing support – this includes rethinking the idea that CMs should be on call 24/7 without paying for that.

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now that all community professionals should read/watch/listen to? 

Absolutely everyone should be watching Schitt’s Creek. Aside from the fact that it’s probably the most wholesome show ever, it’s also just a beautiful reflection of the transformative power of community, whether that’s at the family or societal level.

Similarly, The Good Place is awesome both as an escape but also in thinking through some really tricky ethical issues. I’ve used their ‘trolley problem’ episode from the first season in class.

I’m also listening to NPR’s fab podcast Hidden Brain. It takes you through some really interesting aspects of human psychology. I get something out of every episode. I’m also a fan of The Signal, a really short current affairs podcast put out by the ABC. There are some great takes and explainers on what’s going on in the news.

I’ve been trying not to buy too many books this year so I’ve actually been going back to my local library – if you’re a community manager you should take the time to check out what your local library is up to – talk about community hubs.

As a result the books I’ve bought have been really curated; for community managers, I’d say Jess Hill’s book See What You Made Me Do, is a difficult but extremely important read, particularly as she talks about the need for better community-led responses to domestic violence.

Finally, sometimes you just need to read a book because it makes you smile and helps you to escape – so I’d say that everyone should seek those books out as a means of self-care.

Why should community peeps come to Swarm?

There are far too many reasons to list here, but here are my top becauses: it’s awesome; you’ll learn so much; you’ll meet some of the best humans ever and walk away feeling better about where you’re at, finally; because I can’t think of any other place where academics and practitioners come together in quite the same way to try and make things better.

Don’t miss Jennifer’s workshop on Day 1 of Swarm – it will equip you to look after yourself and your community.

Get to know more of the awesome speakers at Swarm 2019: