I don’t remember the first time I heard of ‘dotted line’ reporting, the implication being, “OK I don’t really report to this team, but we’re tied together through these dashes until death do us part”. I do remember my first full time community role feeling like it was a dotted line to…everything. At first (OK, still) it was overwhelming — can community serve all these functions equally?
Having since been on the ground floor of a variety of Community teams, it’s now clearer that a community best serves as the center of collaboration in your organization. To use a well-worn analogy, my role as Community Manager is less of starring in a one-woman band and more of being part of a conductor.
Let’s think, then — should your Community Manager be the sole owner of all things ‘community’?
By a wide margin, Marketing is the closest ‘dotted line’ I’ve had in my community career. I’ve gone so far as to say on record that, while it may seem like it from the outside, Community is not a Marketing function. While I stand by the assertion that Community is not here to serve solely as a Marketing use case, here are a few ways that Marketing is the peanut butter to Community’s jelly.
The cross-functionality of Community and Product isn’t new, but it sure feels like this approach has exploded over the last three years. The landscape has evolved from the big dogs (such as Salesforce) to now most startups too attempting to build a community alongside their product. Here are a few supporting ways that Community serves Product.
If you have a product, people will break it — sometimes in a myriad of mystical ways that make sense to no one. Support is one of my favorite dotted lines to Community, because the community can support Support (pun intended) to benefit everyone involved.
This one is the most finicky of the dotted lines that I’ve worked with. Sales has big fish to fry — juggling contracts, finding new leads, following up with current leads — outside the community. I work the hardest at ensuring this team has a strong understanding of why Sales should engage with the community, while ensuring that the community doesn’t feel ‘sold to’ all the time.
One question I’ve often asked myself: how do I convince each of these teams to give time to the community?
Many of the benefits I’ve shared expect some degree of involvement from them, whether that’s understanding the community or wading through excel sheets. Both are no good: they assume a familiarity with concepts that these departments often have neither time nor inclination to build.
With experience, I’ve changed the ‘dotted lines’ relationship so they’re less reporting, more building relationships with other teams. I’d like to share some tips on how to angle the two-way street of community benefits for a truly Community-Led organization.
The first thing I’ve done in any community role is listen. Asking each department for their opinion on what the community can do for them allows you to build a winning narrative. Plus, it gives you insight into what the department thinks about community (which helps if you want to work towards changing that).
An example that illuminates why CMs need to listen to other departments is often seen in Support communities. A familiar refrain is the fear that if a support rep goes into the community to answer a question, their answer is now scripture and will forever be a mark on their permanent record if they misplace a punctuation mark. By listening, we can work towards putting systems in place to help alleviate these fears and steer the ship in the right direction.
The metrics that a Sales function cares about are radically different from what Product cares about, so why should they see the same community metrics? The solution to this is to make a few light-touch dashboards for each function. Yes, it is a bit of a headache to start with, but it pays dividends when you can show common misuse to Product and average purchase size to Sales.
A few things that have helped with customizing (and not making endless dashboards, awash in a sea of data) have included:
All of these dotted lines are written in sand, shifting and evolving over time, and we should too. Maybe the last Director of Marketing really wanted to push social media into the community, and the new director thinks the community is a separate entity entirely. Great! By not having a single idea of ‘what’ community is to each of these departments, you can stay agile and responsive to what teams may want to check in with the community, when, and what for. That’s the beauty of community: the door is always open.