What started as a quiet rumble within the community industry has now found the spotlight in the broader business world. The message is clear, and it's simple: we need more Chief Community Officers.
Of course, whenever a statement as straightforward and broad as "every company needs a Chief Community Officer" pops up, there's always a group looking to push back. Why a CCO, they ask? Why not just a Director of Community that reports to the Chief Marketing Officer? Or a Community Lead that slips quietly into another department?
Over the weekend, I read a post by one such naysayer on LinkedIn. It claimed community should just ladder up to a social department — that it was really all just marketing, anyway. Of course, this thinking is all wrong (and we'll get to that), but who could blame naysayers like this one? To be fair, not a lot of people have gone deeper to explain why companies need a CCO...
Community is not social media (or marketing)
"Community is just a part of social."
Every time I hear a line like this, a little piece of my community-loving heart dies. I feel for the Community Managers being shoehorned, and the community potential being squandered because social and marketing are co-opting it for their own benefit.
For starters, community and social media are not the same thing. Read that again. Social media deals with an audience. Social media is an asset for a brand, a piece of marketing collateral. Ultimately, it's an audience growth channel — the goal is to increase the brand's reach. The direction of conversation is primarily one-way.
Community, on the other hand, often lives in a private environment with an intentionally small subset of the brand. The flow of communication is multidirectional — the Community Manager is not the only person driving content and conversation.
It's a CM's job to create a welcoming environment where those conversations feel easy and natural. Their role is to foster meaningful, personal connections between the community members and the business, but also facilitate the members' relationships with each other.
And that's really just the tip of the iceberg. A thriving community and social media presence each require their own managers — with their own particular skillset — to grow and nurture them.
Community-Led is community done right
Historically, community has been treated as a bolt-on, often stuck under marketing or support, existing solely for the needs of those two departments. If that's how community exists at your company, then sure, you don't need a CCO. But you'd definitely benefit from rethinking that structure.
If you want to do community right, you need to separate it from existing departments — give it the support and resources to stand on its own. If you're burying community into your marketing department, then you're leaving an incredible amount of community potential untapped.
The reality is that a community department siloed somewhere else isn't going to be able to connect with — and impact — other departments in the way that it could as a standalone entity.
And the impact it could have on each and every other department in the business is profound. Community drives product feedback and bug reporting for product teams. Community creates content, brand awareness, and thought leadership for marketing teams. It builds relationships, CQLs, and drives leads for sales. Community helps increase customer success and reduce support costs by enabling customers to help each other. Again — tip of the iceberg.
More and more companies now truly understand that community is a thread that runs through your entire business — through support, marketing, social, success, product, and more.
Community is a force of nature that your company is not fully utilizing if you have it roll up to a marketing or social department — or any other, for that matter.
What does a CCO do and why is it important?
That common thread I mentioned? A Chief Community Officer is the weaver of that thread.
They manage it across the organization, helping to understand and measure community as a whole, while also executing on Community-Led thinking and strategy at the organizational level.
A CCO doesn't exist to manage the day-to-day of the community — they should have a team to do that. Instead, they handle the big picture — to manage, understand, and inform how the community interacts with every other department in your company.
It's their job to understand business goals and help shape vision and strategy for the organization alongside other executive leadership. With those overarching business goals in mind, CCOs mastermind all community initiatives. How does each program benefit every other program, where are there gaps to be filled in the market, where does the community need to be — and how do you get there? They think beyond the day-to-day and determine how community can be even more impactful in the broader market.
A CCO is also responsible for getting buy-in for community from the top down — they see the opportunity for community to impact other teams and work with team leads to develop strategy and goals.
Additionally, the CEO, COO, CTO, CMO, and other C-suite roles do not have the insight into the end-user in the way a Chief Community Officer does. Nor should they be expected to. A CCO is the best way to represent the voice of your community members at the executive level. They can use that knowledge to support all teams who rely on customer input/sentiment.
As a trusted partner and thought leader with the business, they manage an entire organization — not just a few team members.
Does your company need a Chief Community Officer to do community successfully? Maybe not right away. But when community becomes core to your company strategy — when your organization is ready to become truly Community-Led — a Chief Community Officer could be the key.