5-min read
Dec 7, 2022

Just South of North: When to Pivot Your Community Strategy

Rachael Silvano

Rachael Silvano weighs in on how to tell when it's time to pivot your community strategy and when to stay the course.

The best community strategies are iterative — but how do you know when your North Star isn't quite as… north as you hoped? 

Challenges from leadership, member engagement drops, unprecedented global events... the time will come in your career when something forces you to face the community strategy crossroads. I’m here to share a few stories that may help you figure out whether it's time to embrace the power of the pivot or stay the course for better (and north-er) outcomes. 

Leadership isn’t bought in

My recommendation: Stay the course 🚢

We understand community. Oftentimes, our leadership doesn’t. It can be tempting for a bad C-suite meeting to walk away thinking that changing your numbers, platform, or entire community raison d'être is the answer.

Spoiler: it's probably not.

Those moments of doubt are as tough, but here is where it’s important to lean into your expertise. I found that thinking persuasively can quickly add dividends to your community roll-ups. Put yourself in the shoes of your leaders and try to establish what would change your mind, if anything.

A CEO isn’t happy that you don’t have a million members? Instead of focusing on the numbers, switch to qualitative stories — those that focus on the really active, vibrant parts of your space. For example, often highlight threads where members vocally thank one another (or you!) for solving their problem or shining a light on a tricky subject. 

Member engagement is in a steady, consistent decline 

My recommendation: Pivot ↪️

To be clear, 'cycles' of engagement are common in community; there are well-documented cases of summer and holiday lulls, where engagement feels to slower and members are less responsive. However, if you find yourself being the only one to respond to… yourself, it may be time to think about the following:

  • Have your members' needs changed?
  • How may you best address those?
  • How can your community be responsive to who is there now? 

The reality is, when we build a community and cultivate our first 100 (or even 1,000) members, we (hopefully) have an understanding of what members are looking for. We did user interviews, created community personas, watched the space, and hummed right along. 

But when is the last time you put on the shoes of a new member and walked into your space? In my time managing a healthcare community, we had some epic threads, but we just couldn’t get newer members to engage within them. At the time, our strategy didn’t include a robust onboarding, — instead we chose to make sure the older members were being supported. But by revisiting our newer members (who, it turns out, were seeing threads that spanned four pages and feeling intimidated), we could create a journey that better aligned with their needs and wants. There are some amazing resources about surveying members that help you gain these insights, and my recommendation is to always put aside a bit of time in your week just dedicated to knowing your members; be it through data analysis, interviews, or writing a card. 

Global, unprecedented change

My recommendation: Pivot ↪️

There were very few companies that didn’t pivot at all during the continued Covid-19 pandemic, and the related fallout and changes to our world. At its core, community is about people, and it's our job to make sure we're meeting them where they are.

If your internal community is all about how to make the most of IRL connections, chances are if you haven’t pivoted since Covid, you ought to. Changing our strategy and how we build community spaces must be first informed by the global ecosystem we live in. While we can't be expected to be aware of all the goings-on in our members' worlds, it’s our job to be responsive and respectful to the challenges they may face as much as possible. 

In a previous role during the pandemic, we quickly switched up our content strategy to focus on building resources for leaders who suddenly found themselves managing entirely remote teams for the first time. This shift allowed us to lead a conversation that was important to our members and addressed an urgent need. 

Getting pressure from another department

My recommendation: Stay the course 🚢

We all know that the communities can do incredible things when working cross-functionally with other departments (we're lookin’ at you, Support, Marketing, and Product folks). But this gets tricky when the ask doesn't quite align with our values and vision.

Community folks are often helpers and want to be a support for the functions around us, so staying the course when getting the squeeze from another team is tough. Plus, the last thing you want to do is dampen a colleague’s newly minted appreciation for community. My suggestion is to turn demand statements into conversations. Say, for example, Marketing wants to promote the HECK out of a new product, and thinks the community is the go-to vehicle for that campaign. Instead of a flat no, I’d share a part of the initiative that fits into your current vision and membership needs. This could be a dynamic AMA with someone on the Product team, or maybe a live demo that shows the benefits of the new launch. 

More often than not, these misalignments are down to the fact that non-community colleagues don’t fully grasp the work that we do. It’s up to us to help them understand our mission — and the value that community can offer them in their roles, when we collaborate in the right way.

It can be a challenge to see the forest for the trees in our day-to-day as Community Managers. There is always one too many threads, one too little resource, or — to quote Bo Burhamn — an internet that wants to “interest you in everything, all of the time.” But this shouldn’t be a blockade for important pivots, taking a chance to dust off your original community mission statement and search for new stars. You may discover some important constellations, or even a bright new north, somewhere among the galaxies.

🔭 Time to pivot? Check out our 6-step guide to creating or refining a community strategy (template included!)

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