Community
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5-min read
March 15, 2022

Should a Community Manager Be the Sole Owner of All Things 'Community'?

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’? 

How do other teams benefit from your community?

Marketing

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

  • Building exclusive hype over a new marketing initiative.
  • Strategic listening in the community: where are people spending their time, and how can we create resources to address their interests?
  • ‘Demo-ing’ marketing language and asking the community for feedback.

Product 

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

  • Beta-testing a new product launch to make improvements and squash bugs before launching to the larger customer base.
  • Soliciting product feedback directly from customers to help shape product decisions and influence the roadmap.
  • Ideating features with your community is what product dreams are made of.

Support

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. 

  • Reducing a customer support rep’s response time by first promoting the community, where the power of an answer is multiplied.
  • Creating a resource hub for tricky questions that have already been solved in the community.

Sales

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. 

  • Showcasing the community to potential customers/clients (we have these neat conversations with thousands of people like you).
  • Hearing common problems so the team knows what language to avoid or focus on in conversations with customers.

How can you make the community a seamless part of each team?

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.

Listen

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. 

Customize

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: 

  • Building a standard template you can share with each team, which includes space for their top three goals (to narrow down from a Top 20) 
  • Asking all the questions to make sure you’re tracking towards what interests them most. Is it individual sales price or new clients? Be sure to know before you leap. 
  • Understanding your limitations. Yes, I would be thrilled if our community were able to predict when someone may submit their first ticket before they even go to our site. We can’t do that. We can see patterns, track behaviors, and make some knowledgeable assumptions therein.
  • Be sure to update: maybe that metric you thought was so great ended up falling flat. Tell the team! Share what you learned and how you want to address that data moving forward.

Iterate

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.


Rachael Silvano
March 15, 2022

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