What’s on the Minds of Community Program Owners?
There are a lot of changes going on in community management right now. These changes include technology, level of strategic attention, measurement sophistication, collision with other disciplines, and community roles and career options.
This week, we were fortunate to spend two days with some of the best minds in community management discussing and debating these changes. TheCR Connect included community teams from over 50 organizations including Akamai, SAP, CA, Mastercard, Autodesk, AAAS, Aetna, ESRI, Rally Health, Lockheed Martin, PWC, Steelcase, Cisco, MetLife, EA Sports, Humana, American Express, Ciena, Atlassian, Verizon, McGraw-Hill and many others. The collective community management experience in the room was awe-inspiring.
Together, we discussed topics ranging from the strategic – how communities fit into Digital Workplace Strategies and Community ROI – to tactics like integrating communities into the new hire process and building engagement programs that generate strategic value. Many participants presented, facilitated, or got involved in panel discussions. It was an amazing blend of expertise, perspectives, and experiences resulting in aha moments, unexpected collisions, bonding, and a lot of laughs.
What shines through is that TheCR Network members are optimistic realists – always opportunistically looking for ways to increase the value of their work. In the face of so much change, many people either shut down or feel powerless and hopeless, but not our members. The tone of the conference was constructive and oriented around how we can uses challenges to make progress. Given what was happening in the world this week, it was a vital antidote and heartening sign of things to come.
We found five themes emerge from our time with members this week. They are:
1. Community Platforms: Instability Is An Opportunity
The biggest buzz at TheCR Connect this year was, not surprisingly, all the changes going on in the community vendor space right now. While there was palpable anxiety around what that meant for our communities, workloads, and our peer networks, it was also seen as a great moment to step back and gain perspective. This reflection resulted in several insights, including that the vendor instability forces community teams to re-evaluate what matters to them strategically. While there may be a lot of work ahead, this is also furthering the conversation about whether community teams should be managing the technology at all.
2. Community Managers Can Make Do – But Shouldn’t
For a long time, many community managers worked in relative isolation as ‘lone wolves’ in their organizations. Some still do. It’s one of the reasons we started The Community Roundtable – to give community managers and community program owners access to a peer network. Because of that, community professionals are typically amazingly resourceful and they bring a can-do attitude to the role. This is admirable but can diminish the value of the work and arrest the potential impact the community can have. At a time when a community approach can effectively solve so many of the complex issues organizations are having, it is also short-sighted.
Our organizations need community approaches to change their cultures, engage customers in new ways, and reduce inconsistencies in employee and customer experiences. Communities are also operationally more cost-effective and maximize human potential more than traditional approaches.
As communities become more strategic, they need advocates that speak the language of business. Community program owners need to develop business cases and ROI models to help business stakeholders understand how community approaches deliver enterprise value.
3. Our Organizations Need Us to Be Bold and Courageous
As technology becomes more pervasive and embedded in everything we do, it causes collisions in corporate structures. Functions that once operated more or less independently are now being asked to co-create seamless employee or customer experiences. Communities are ideal mechanisms for developing those shared approaches, but they can also mask some of the underlying issues from executives. Community leaders need to use this as an opportunity to educate their organizations on how communities accelerate cultural alignment and trust. Community managers are excellent at orchestrating this, but it is a complex process that takes a significant investment, in both time and resources.
4. Community Careers at a Crossroads
We facilitated a fascinating panel discussion on community careers with several longstanding community practitioners. What’s clear is that the majority of people currently in senior community roles never really intentionally sought out a career in community management. They ended up in taking it on because it aligned with their skills or they were interested in taking on a new challenge. Regardless, for many, their work in community management is tremendously fulfilling because they are able to help others succeed and watch people blossom.
What’s also clear is that while there are now a few different types of roles within community management – moderation, managers, strategists, directors – there is also a cap. There are very few organizations looking for a VP of Community or SVP of Ecosystems. Other organizations aren’t even ready to commit to having a community team. This reality will eventually force community professionals to either move laterally or move out of their organizations. This scenario is not ideal but there are also interesting opportunities that arise from it – more experience at different organizations and applying community approaches to functional workflows, spreading community management throughout organizations.
5. Drive to Simplicity
During a session focused on community management skills, we uncovered the need for community professionals to be both ambidextrous and socially flexible. We sit at the center of a web of dichotomy, balancing between different poles at every moment, adapting based on context.
One of the most important ways community managers deploy this ability is by using tactics strategically. What looks like a simple dialog on the surface, is really an orchestrated attempt to create serendipitous moments or to trigger people to share specific knowledge. We heard a member present her concept of a ‘Question-of-the-week’ program. On the surface, it looks like someone asking an emergent question. This happens all the time. However, what she did was to reach out to advocates and have them ask the questions. This simple request did a few things: it diminished her presence in the community, so it felt more diverse; it also ensured good and more strategically interesting questions are asked; it created momentum around modeled behavior by having it come from multiple sources; finally, it prompted different areas of the community to share their thoughts as a comment. The program is both relatively easy to execute AND it creates regular, strategically valuable engagement. It’s simply brilliant.
Is Community Management in Flux?
What is clear from our discussions at TheCR Connect is that community management itself is at a tipping point. It’s becoming strategic but also more integrated. It’s colliding with other disciplines in ways that spread its awareness and value, but make individual community roles more complicated to find. It is now seen as a critical discipline for transforming organizations and is making organizations more frantic, seeking to fill these roles, often in unrealistic ways.
This is great for community management as a whole. Not only is community management being seen as critical for ALL managers to understand, community leadership is fast becoming a new model of networked leadership that ALL leaders will have to understand.
As community professionals, we have huge opportunities in helping our organizations figure out this transition and while the current environment is bumpy as that transition happens, we know it signals potential – if we can harness the change.
Note: This is an executive summary of the insights uncovered during TheCR Connect 2017. If you’re a member of TheCR Network you can access our entire debrief of the event, including an extensive yearbook with insights, photos, summaries and more. If you’re not a member and work actively as a community practitioner, consider joining us today.