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A Community Doesn't Necessarily Make You Community-Led

There's a difference between being a company with a community and a Community-Led company.

So many companies throw ‘Community-Led’ around just because they have a community. Their communities are often thriving, and lately, they’re receiving more and more resources to build with.

But then you talk to the Head of Sales, the Head of Marketing, or even the CEO, and ask them what impact community has on their job. Often, they have no clue. 

That’s the difference between having a community and being a Community-Led company. 

As a movement, Community-Led is still in its infancy. It’s where Product-Led was 10 years ago, so comparing the two is a useful way of benchmarking. For example, the Product-Led ethos is mature enough for most folks to understand that just having a self-serve product is not enough to make a company Product-Led.

A Product-Led company puts Product-Led thinking at the core of its strategy. Every department within the organization has a role to play: the sales system is set up to offer self-service options, Success and Support teams help users to help themselves, and Marketing teams adopt a proof-is-in-the-product approach. 

If a Product-Led way of thinking is not embedded within every department in an organization, that organization is not Product-Led. One does not simply hire a Product Manager to unlock the full benefits of Product-Led Growth.

The same is true for community. You could have the best-resourced, best-managed, and most engaging community in the world, but without pervasive Community-Led thinking across your organization, community is just going to be another siloed pillar. And you’ll barely scratch the surface of the organization-wide benefits of Community-Led Growth. 

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that all that is easier said than done. Even at a company like Commsor, it takes a lot of work to integrate community into all the parts of the business. And — full disclosure — it’s something we’re still refining and reworking as the company grows. But even in this period of learning and growing, we have seen some incredible wins where we’ve done Community-Led right. 

To that end, we’re making some changes at Commsor. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but I wanted to share a few things we’re implementing now and in the coming weeks to make sure we’re on the road to becoming a truly Community-Led company. 

Rethinking our org chart structure

For a long time, community has been like a sub-bullet point within organizations — if companies even had their own Community teams, they’d often be reporting to Marketing or Success or some other department. In recent years, a lot of people have been arguing that Community should move out and be its own thing, next to Marketing, Sales, Product, etc., which is absolutely true.

This was the approach we initially opted for at Commsor — but I believe this doesn’t go far enough. It still meant Community was just another siloed department. So now we’re trying something new: reorganizing our org chart to make community a horizontal arm of the business, one that touches every other department. This new way of thinking has required the creation of a new leadership role. (I won’t say more on that here since we haven’t made this public yet, but we’ll be sharing details on that soon!)

We’re also experimenting with Community Development Reps (CDRs) in our Sales team with the goal of fully embedding community thinking within another department — we’ll document this process, so again, watch this space for details.

We’re bringing community to each department, rather than expecting other teams to come to community. 

Getting our entire team to join their respective Community of Practice

Joining our own Community of Practice (CoP) for community pros, The Community Club, has always been part of our new employee onboarding. It’s a great first foray into the world of community for folks in Marketing, Sales, Product, and other roles that may not have worked this closely with community before.

But to get to grips with just how much community can offer them in their own work, we’re now encouraging our teams to join their respective Community of Practice. A Community-Led team is one that understands the value of community, and there’s no better way to grasp that than by joining a community of your peers and experiencing the magic firsthand. 

For example, our Content team gets a lot of value from Superpath, our Sales folk are heavily involved in Women in Revenue and SDR Nation, the People team enjoys Agile PeopleOps and CIPD, and the Partnerships team is part of Partnership Leaders, to name a few.

We’ve also been working on creating a repository of Communities of Practice too, to make it easy for our new hires and the broader community to find exactly what they’re looking for. Get in touch if you know of one we’ve missed, or if you’d like to add yours.

Getting other departments to run their own community initiatives

Community programs can and should live outside the Community team. Our Creator Guild, run by our Content team, is a great example of this. The Guild is a collective of 30+ community pros who work with our Content team and each other to share their experiences, strategies, learnings, and more to elevate community as a whole. In turn, these folks have become thought leaders in the space in their own right. Some of them have even gone on to launch their own blogs or newsletters. 

Before you ask, we pay our Guildies for their hard work, because their top-notch content has been hugely beneficial for us too. Right now, our Guild’s work accounts for 30% of the traffic on our top 10 best-read articles.

We're working on building the Creator Guild out even further and exploring how we can launch similar projects in other departments.

Allowing our community to help shape our product

For most community pros, this one probably goes without saying. But you’d be surprised how many folks have customer communities and forget how invaluable they are as a mechanism for real-time feedback on their product or service.

Of course, it’s not always easy to invite criticism. We’ve recently presented some shiny new features to our customer community and — as is often the case — it was a mixed bag of reactions. 

Seeing their excitement at immediately grasping how the new tools will impact their day-to-day and make them better community professionals was amazing. A number of our assumptions were validated within seconds of the testers getting the login and seeing them instantly understand how to use it and be productive, signposting important opportunities for features in the future, too.

But not everything got a gold star. They challenged us on several features and functions that didn’t meet their expectations, which was humbling, but if anything, more valuable than their positive feedback. It’s given us a clear sense of direction on where we need to spend our time ahead of our next big launch (our Marketing team is going to kill me if I reveal any more, but watch this space…)

If you’re not sold on the idea of allowing your community to help shape your product, there are some powerful examples from other industries — we’ve written about how Gainsight and Alteryx have done exactly that, to great effect. 

To quote Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight: Software companies should now consider themselves community companies.

“Whatever you build, somebody else is going to build it. The only long-term differentiator is your community.”


Ed’s note: Are you running any Community-Led projects, programs, or initiatives within your organization? We’d love to hear from you (and feature your hard work on our blog and newsletter!). Get in touch here.

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Mac Reddin
Nov 2, 2022

CEO at Commsor

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