2017 was a year of change in the community space.
Community programs received more strategic attention, there were platform and vendor disruptions, new expectations evolved for community professionals, better analytics emerged, and new strategic opportunities opened up. As expected, it has been quite a ride.
This journey is far from over and it became clear in 2017 that community was moving into new territory and becoming recognized as a strategic enabler of digital transformation and the future of work.
The End of the Beginning
In 2009, when we started The Community Roundtable, building a successful community was somewhat mysterious. Some leaders were intuitively great at community building. Others were not and there were few ways for them to learn how to do so successfully. Now in 2017 we know how to build successful communities and we have the research and case studies to prove it.
On the technical side, the acquisition of both Jive and Lithium signaled a significant milestone and inflection point for all of us who work in the community, engagement, and social networking space. It is no longer a niche or something done by organizations ‘on the side’. The emerging strategic attention that we were seeing last year continued to grow this year. That is fantastic news and reflects the hard work of thousands of early community professionals who spent many of those years working in isolation and championing an approach that often seemed counterintuitive to the way their organizations worked.
These two trends suggest a busy 2018 in the community space.
Communities Emerge as Change Agents
The reason communities are receiving so much strategic attention is because the new ’normal’ is constant adaptation, making static knowledge and carefully crafted plans seem antiquated. Executives understand that the future must be constantly and iteratively co-created and because of that, are setting aggressive goals for digital transformation and culture change. Strategically managed communities build the trust required for constant co-creation and change. Successful communities create agile cultures.
One of the most profound changes in 2017 was this subtle shift in seeing community leadership as a critical discipline of all leadership. Because of this, organizations are changing the way they think about acquiring community management and engagement skills. Instead of hiring one, or even a team, of community professionals to be solely responsible for a community, organizations are thinking about how to ensure that capability is broadly acquired by everyone. That still includes hiring full-time community professionals but those roles are more often internal consulting roles designed to train, support, and scale the skill set. This has disrupted the hiring market and caused confusion for both hiring managers and job seekers who are trying to keep up with quickly changing priorities.
The future of leadership is about enabling communities to succeed and adapt as needed without detailed directives. The communities then, become the primary agent of change – creating the shared situational awareness that allows individuals to respond in agile ways to what is happening at the edges, with a shared understanding of priorities but without centralized bottlenecks to slow them down.
Transition Creates Turbulence
As with all major transitions, the evolution of community management into a discipline of general leadership causes tension, both for traditional leaders who are not comfortable giving up control and engaging and for community managers who are not comfortable acknowledging their leadership power and influence. Add to that, the approaches that worked for communities when they were ‘under the radar’ no longer work when they are seen as strategic business enablers. The transition favors different skills, approaches, and infrastructure. Those individuals and platforms that do not adapt will find the transition tough.
On the technical side, organizations will no longer accept siloed information and experiences. Engagement and communities need to be tightly coupled with other systems so that the employee and customer experience can be effectively supported, streamlined, and measured. This is both creating a lot of flux and shifting attention to some of the more established enterprise software players.
Guidance for Community Professionals
With all the changes going on, what should community leaders do?
1) See changes and challenges as opportunities.
If everyone could build successful communities and high trust ecosystems, we wouldn’t be having the fake news crisis right now. Developing strong communities is hard work. It’s worth it because it builds meaningful value for both individuals and organizations. Community professionals are typically people who thrive on new challenges – see these changes as an opportunity to build partnerships, develop your skills, and seek adventure. Making our organizations more supportive and inclusive – and showing people that they don’t need to lose in order for others to win – is worth it.
2) Buddy up: make sure you have a trusted network of peers
If you are struggling, someone has likely been in your shoes before. Find them, talk to them, and seek their advice. Share what you know because someone else who is struggling could use your perspective. This is the essence of what we do in TheCR Network: prompting member collisions, making it easy for people to share what they know, and ensuring members feel comfortable asking questions. This is particularly critical at a time when so much is changing.
3) Focus your professional development
Given how quickly community has become strategic over the last few years, there are some predictable skills that community professionals could use and many of them fall into the Business and Strategic categories of the Community Skills Framework. Translating the value of your work into language and data that others in your organization understand is critical. Skills like analysis, research, sales, program management, storytelling, coaching, etc. will make you a more valuable community professional. This is one reason we will be facilitating a Community Strategy, ROI, and Business Case Workshop starting in January.
It’s still an exciting time to be a community professional and now the stakes are higher. I’m looking forward to the challenge!