Continuing the discussion from The visual experience of Discourse:
Where do I see the industry going?
Lots has been written about the future of Community Management in recent times – 2015 was the first year that more people left community roles than entered them (based on LinkedIn job titles, so not definitive, but still telling). The general consensus seems to be that CMs will become ‘change agents’ as the role shifts. We span multiple stakeholder groups and act as translators and communicators. We’re relationship brokers, or networking agents.
We used to fight so hard to make community ‘its own thing’ but I find myself drawing insights from marketing more than ever. Our skill set needs to remain broad and we need to start concentrating on deeper engagement and behaviour change.
Traditionally we’ve focused on superficial engagement, but I think that focus needs to be widened to include broader digital engagement, and more importantly, we need to create engagement tactics that scale. We spend our time stimulating as much of this superficial engagement as possible because big numbers look good and KPIs are often linked to those stats – mine were as late as last year. But most of that engagement has little or no value.
We need to look towards deeper engagement and aim to change behaviour. It’s about core motivation and habit creation, which isn’t new, but at some stage we lost sight of that in the numbers. If we’re not changing behaviour, we’re wasting our time.
Can online communities be a substitute for the real thing?
Absolutely. If that happens, then you’ve successfully changed behaviour. You’ve tapped into a motivator and are successfully fulfilling a need. Take Facebook. I have relationships with people there that I don’t and never will have IRL (although I did at some point or I wouldn’t friend them). It’s not possible to maintain 1000 friendships to that degree offline. Ditto LinkedIn. I don’t have time to attend enough events to network with all of those people offline, yet the relationship afforded us by LinkedIn means that I’m comfortable asking people for professional favours.
I don’t think any of this stuff is new, but I think that the way we work will change. We strive to keep as much of the action as possible on our platform. We want people to talk publicly because it bolsters our numbers and makes our engagement levels look good. But what we should be doing is fostering relationships and networks - deeper engagement. Those people don’t need to be having those conversations in public, provided they feel strongly motivated to keep coming back. Is the value to the business in your relationship with those people, or in the posts that they make about their day or their job, or their latest challenge?
Relating this back to the conversation that we initially started – about platforms – is an interesting one.
The more web we consume and the busier our lives become, the more we come to expect a great online experience. I honestly don’t know how much of the balance tips towards technology. I’d like to think that a successful community would thrive regardless of platform, if the right behaviour was being targeted, but so much of persuasive technology is reliant on flexibility – timely notifications, flexible preferences etc – and without those hooks supporting your engagement efforts, you’re probably wasting time.
I’m bumping this thread because I’m interested to hear the opinions of others.
I think it’s important to distinguish between a few key terms here:
1) Discipline. The act of building community.
2) The profession. The job of being an online community manager.
3) Industry**. The web of companies who through commerce turn inputs into outputs.
I think the discipline will rise in importance, the profession will fall in importance, and the industry doesn’t really exist as much as we think it does.
As a discipline, I think a growing number of people will do something that we would regard as community building going forward.
As a profession, I think we’re struggling to prove value and gradually being crowded of this being a paid job function.
As an industry, I just don’t think we’re really big enough to call ourselves an industry. The number of vendors and companies that trade within the ‘community industry’ is really small.
I’d be surprised if most of us are still ‘online community managers in 5 years’ - largely because the ones I knew five years ago have long left the space.
Some still do elements of community, but they’ve progressed elsewhere in their careers. I don’t see why that would change. Only now the turnover of community pros exceeds the newcomers.
So I think we’ve probably come close to peaking at this point (and I say that in the hope that i’m wildly wrong) and now we’re in for a period of malaise and gradual adjustment.
What I hope will happen is, as @hawk says, more of us figure out what business we’re in (behavior change) and align ourselves with it so community is just one part of a broader role.
Good call on the clarification. I guess I was talking about the profession, but that may not have been specifically what you were referring to when you asked the the question @ccdw – feel free to clarify if I got that wrong.
I’m inclined to believe that Community Enablement might be a better job title and a more realistic goal.
It’s a small point but I’ve always been interested in consensus and how important it is, or otherwise, considering our much lauded democracy rarely delivers it. With that in mind, do you feel consensus is a good thing, or something to be treated with scepticism? Or perhaps even avoided - thinking here about traders who get rich going against the flow. Therefore, aren’t some communities real surprises? Despite all odds cropping up online in spite of poor software and no obvious reason to be there and in many cases escaping the consensus that might have forecast their success?
Can you explain more about what you mean here?
If so, then one conclusion could be that some online communities are artificially constructed with all that entails in terms of increased upkeep and maintenance.
[quote=“HAWK, post:2, topic:2111”]We need to look towards deeper engagement and aim to change behaviour. It’s about core motivation and habit creation, which isn’t new, but at some stage we lost sight of that in the numbers. If we’re not changing behaviour, we’re wasting our time.
I can see how we can change behaviour to a degree, but I am not sure how much we understand about the mechanics of community any more than we do the mechanics of attraction between people.
Richard Dawkins in the The Selfish Gene, claims that the need to be part of a community, or otherwise, is down to our genetic programming and this in turn developed as part of the external stimuli present during early development. So for example, animals that are susceptible to one off predator attacks tend to keep together, and in doing so reduce the odds of being picked off.
Whilst reading Dawkins I came across a point of view held by various groups claiming humans are inherently anti social. The view here being that we are/were smart enough not to need the collective and could, and did, reproduction apart, live isolated lives. The same groups counter recent (past 5000 years) community activities as being selfish acts, intended only to reward the acts of the individual rather than contributing to the collective.
Unlike the Borg, where it was all about the collective
Incidentally, although a little off topic, there is a school of thought that claims that the move towards agriculture, which in turn led to civic overheads such as police to uphold land ownership, courts to administer justice and armies to defend the resulting state, was the subject of much debate at the time - with detractors claiming that civic community would lead to a complexity of life not known or desired by hunter gatherers. The subject of communities therefore is an old one and no doubt in the above example, a little more complex than that which we have to solve.
Or if not behaviour, perhaps we’ve just changed the meeting point? And I wonder, how far can we take online communities?
So yes, in this respect it is a new behaviour, although could it be argued that LinkedIn is your agent and in that respect no different to an agent that you might employ IRL asking those favours on your behalf?
But are we measuring the right things?
I suspect there are indicators we are missing that one day we might look back on and say with beautiful hindsight: “Look, this is the reason why they were successful” or not.
Although, if the isolationists I mentioned earlier are right, perhaps online communities will have their day and we will all retreat back into a world of surrogate like existence as suggested in one of Bruce Willis’ (imho) better films:
I guess a lot depends on the drivers behind the community. Businesses I am sure don’t give a monkey’s about community, beyond assembling customers, or gathering customers’ sentiment for analysis, or quelling negative sentiment prior to it becoming damaging. Witness Microsoft’s Social CRM product that (amongst other things) monitors sentiment about clients’ products on Twitter, FB etc, giving real time feedback to brand owners - and depending on your pov, almost Orwellian in nature.
I believe technology has to enable, not disable. I see far too many dead dogmas being passed off as absolute truths which in turn lead to poor online platforms. Too many assumptions about use cases based on developers’ own paradigms - which let’s face it, are not always shared by target users.
Very good point and by extension we can see that many of the most widely used platforms, Instagram for example, are incredibly simple. Or is that just the impression they give?
A question for you now. You’ve mentioned Discourse and how much you like it. Putting specific products to one side, what’s lacking in current offerings? Both in terms of how they might serve the community better and how they might make the practice of community building go more smoothly.
Sure. When community first became a ‘thing’, community managers tended to either be forum admins that transitioned into the role, or people from other departments that looked after community as part of their wider role. As more importance was placed on it, people started demanding dedicated heads for the role. At that point, Community Managers wanted to be identified as such, and not part of the marketing team (or whatever). That difference was important to us.
Now I think we’ve recognised the naivety of that stance. It’s crucial to draw on skills from other areas. “Community” isn’t a skill per se.
Jeff openly admits to being ‘opinionated’, which some might see as controlling. The Discourse roadmap follows the path that he perceives community should be following. If you have a different idea, you likely won’t get the features that you need. The policy used to be that if paid customers wanted something, it was done, but I’m not totally sure even that is still the case. That can be frustrating, but I absolutely understand it from a business perspective.
I think my biggest frustration has been the ongoing upgrades and changes though. You can’t heavily customise anything outside of some fairly regimental constraints unless you want to rewrite half of it with each upgrade. The first Discourse implementation that I was part of was heavily customised. The work required to sustain that became an unrealistic burden, and after I left they reverted back to a fairly standard look.
Those are very small niggles though, and certainly not enough to put me off.
Sorry, my question was a little vague, I was interested in what you thought of community products in general, not Discourse in particular.
But wrt your comments, considering many businesses spend heavily on customer surveys, trying to eek out every little reason why customers did buy, or more importantly why they didn’t, Discourse’s path is an interesting one.
Now that I reread it, it’s not vague at all!
I’m not sure that I have an answer to the question, because it depends on needs, and ours are being met. I love that there are so many options available now (although for some that creates a paradox of choice), ranging from very cheap, click to build systems, all the way up to complicated bespoke, integrated solutions. I think that we need to continue to iterate as our behaviour changes, and I think there are opportunities for new players as gaps open, but for now the open source market is healthy.
Do you agree?
Edit: Actually, further to this, I was just reading CMX’s latest report and saw this:
At this point, only a select number of enterprise-ready software
solutions have embedded functionality that connects core business
processes to the community software. We anticipate seeing a closer
alignment in this area in the future.
I suspect that’s likely the case.