Future of communities?

(Richard Millington) #1

I think @Hawk had a discussion about this a while ago.

It’s something that comes up a lot in our own strategy sessions too. Since Dion is speaking about it at sprint, I think it’s worth discussing here.

Here’s my take: online communities and online community management in their current incarnation are either evolving or dying. The profession isn’t one that will last forever but will be subsumed by its end result (e.g. customer loyalty, HR, sales etc). It’s going to be a key, critical, skill we all need but not a widespread job role.

What we’ll see instead are most online community managers taking their current skills and using it to advance to the next step up - for most of us, that isn’t a director of community.

This matters as it means we need to broaden our skills beyond managing communities and be more realistic about the limits of what a community can achieve and what else is needed for an organisation to achieve its objectives.

Keen to get your take.

(Sarah Hawk) #2

I agree with you. I wonder how much of the transition will be affected by the type of community or business that people currently find themselves in. Perhaps without planning, we’ll just ‘stumble’ into new roles in the same way that many of us stumbled into community management. So far it hasn’t been a clear cut career path for many of us.

I think there is a lot of value to be had in future proofing so I’m glad you’ve raised it.

(Steve Bridger) #3


Executives struggle with the concept of ‘community’. I’m not sure why. Many happily embrace the even more opaque concept of ‘engagement’. Additionally, within many businesses and organisations, certain kinds of talent - particularly in the area of community and collaboration - are poorly identified and rewarded.

That said, I’m optimistic @richard_millington.

My current thinking is that there is a role for a cross-functional participation / engagement / community team function (online and offline) as an autonomous business unit in its own right (with an C-Suite sponsor) that works to infuse participation and community building across the organisation - translating the values of ‘community’ into behaviour change.

Maybe less ‘managing’ communities… and more creating and connecting the communities that are already out there.

(Colleen Young) #4

In the health space, I see my role as a community manager directly linked to patient, caregiver and public engagement with respect to quality improvement. Finally policy makers, governments and health institutions are discovering that solutions to what ails our health care systems have to include the recipients and providers of health care.

Furthermore, as the responsibility of our health increasingly depends on self care and we live longer and lead healthy lives whilst managing chronic conditions the role of peer support strengthens. Online connectivity decreases the incidence of isolation, especially for people with rare conditions.

@stevebridger I completely agree the opportunity of connecting communities will be, and arguable already is, part of the evolution.

(Jon McGowan) #5

Personally I think building and managing online communities is probably the MOST important, socially innovative skill set that has ever evolved out of the Internet… its your skills with managing socially relevant communities that turned the Internet from an obscure hobby of a few gifted tech-types to a widely accessed and accepted parallel digital universe.

Human beings were biologically designed to be social… so digitizing that built in survival mechanism will open up all kinds of opportunities to improve our world. Sure, businesses have only just begun to understand how to realize an ROI from it, but it takes people like you to work out the “kinks” and keep the whole online community experience moving forward.

I’ve spent the last few months taking your courses and working with a group of highly experienced business experts (my clients) who are struggling to figure out how to “share” online what they do in the real world… It is a higher barrier than you could ever imagine… when you are tech-savvy its second nature, but for them the challenge is very real… There are millions of people just like them dying to figure out a way to contribute their expertise to the world!

So for me the future of online communities is simply the maximum point of information dissemination… when best-practices are readily available to all who need them… businesses, governments, hospitals, universities, students… what sets communities apart from mere resources is the creative, unexpected input from real people.

…maybe you’re right when you say in it’s “current” incarnation, it is evolving or dying… but I think that’s because business sponsors still tend to view communities as just another marketing channel … all that’s really dying is a misconception.

I joined this community because in my research you are the best among the world’s leading experts in digitizing genuine social interaction. What’s fascinating is you’re not a bunch of lab-coat scientists or Big Four Consulting gurus, like past “world’s leading experts”… you’re something entirely new.

I’m very confident you guys will figure out what the future for online communities should be. More than anyone else you guys seem to understand the importance of human-dynamics and authenticity in an online experience.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating”… since you’re using an Online Community to figure out what Online Communities should be, I’m pretty confident you’ve got the right tools!

(Bo McGuffee) #6

Great question. I suspect the expected future may depend on what kind of community you’re looking at.

I think that many face-to-face community functions are moving online. For example, spiritual communities. As communities continue to migrate online, the need for managing them will increase. Meanwhile, I don’t think that online communities are able to fill that face-to-face need that many have, and so such communities will probably have to maintain some sense of physical interaction. So, I suspect (at least in that kind of sphere) community management will need to function equally well in both arenas.

As far as more traditional businesses go, I’m not as optimistic. With things are more strongly globalized and the larger business are actively gobbling up the smaller ones, I believe the demand for rapid growth may end up more than healthy community growth can sustain. In this arena, I suspect you may be right about transitioning community managers.

(Andy McIlwain) #7

I agree with @richard_millington’s take on this. As the idea of community is better understood within an organization, the roles and responsibilities held by a “community team” (whatever the size) will be distilled through different parts of the org.

The PC gaming industry has been doing this for a long time. Their communities brings players together, which supports retention and referral growth (sales & marketing); it’s a source of feedback for the developers to guide future updates/expansions (product); and it’s a place for customers to get help from each other or official channels (support).

Marketing, product, and support. Different teams, objectives, and KPIs. All tied to community.

(Steve Bridger) #8

I think ‘Marketing’ is the trickiest nut to crack here. In my experience (and I’m obviously generalising massively) marketing people are far more easily persuaded by (often flakey) assumptions based on social media ‘reach’ (vs online community, which needs a bigger investment of resources and intent).

So many organisations are still structured for ’transactional’ relationships… not for participation and conversations with real people. For example, we spend inordinate amounts of time creating ‘user personas’… and forget ‘user needs’. So we end up actually talking about users, which easily slides into ‘audiences’, which everyone interprets as ‘target audiences’. That’s not what we mean at all.

(Scott Gould) #9

My first time posting here - I’ve been watching for a while though!

I believe the future of community mangers / professionals is in adopting a role akin to a scrum-master within an Agile Scrum environment. They are a facilitator, a curator, a connector of people and resources. I see the role being far more about leadership and support than about management.

In a marketing space, this then becomes championing the customers to the board, and also influencing the customers for the board, but where there is legitimate benefit.

For marketing to really get it, they do need some kind of community metric. Steve Bridger is bang on with this. Hence, I’ve been working for some years on an ‘Engagement Scale’, that can sit alongside Net Promoter Score, FRY, CRR, etc.

Companies that are platforms (Air BnB, uber, Facebook, etc), and the host of organisations that will join them at this level, will thrive because they embrace the power of masses, and have community leaders who act like scum masters, connecting people to assets (whether they be human or other).

Richard’s points about community management being swallowed up is very insightful, and I consider it to be true for the most part - but where companies think differently and become platforms, they will use community to their benefit, and organise themselves around it.

My two cents!
Thank you!

(Sarah Hawk) #10

Great to hear from you @scottgould

Agreed. The longer I spend in the job, the more time I find myself ‘matchmaking’ and helping people to form professional relationships. In large communities it is the only way to make things scalable. I think the trick is keeping those interactions on your platform though.

(Scott Gould) #11

Hi Sarah,

Thank you for the welcome.

I suppose that is where you and I might disagree - I am happy for those interactions to take place where ever. However, my speciality isn’t online community like yours is!

Thanks for the reply :smile:


(Sarah Hawk) #12

Hearing you, and I don’t disagree in theory, but suggesting that people take conversations offline has a tendency to cannibalise the community. :smile:

(Scott Gould) #13

Ah very insightful! I wouldn’t have thought of that - spot the offline community builder in our midst! (me!)

(Steven Cyrkin) #14

I think it could grow the community, Hawk. It spreads the word about the community and lets people talk with others they know in-person whenever they want, wherever they are.

I’m a lot older than most here, but I saw a lot of people join Facebook–even if it took buying their first computer–from hearing about it in person.

(Steve Bridger) #15

Great to see you here, @scottgould :simple_smile:

(Scott Gould) #16

Thanks Steve :slight_smile:

(Richard Millington) #17

I think a large part of this is what we define as the community.

Is it people talking here on the platform?

Is it the people talking to each other through any medium?

Is it only people interacting in mediums that we have some control over?

I’m usually in favour of people talking through any mediums they can. Off-line connections tend to build strong personal relationships that benefit everyone. It’s better, for sure, if most of the discussions are in places where everyone can contribute. I don’t think we would ever be restrictive though.

(Sarah Hawk) #18

I absolutely agree. My point was really that I don’t suggest that people take the conversation offline.