Vanessa DiMauro founder and CEO of Leader Networks, the world’s premier B2B social business consultancy and a Strategic Advisor to Network Activator.

 

Online community management has risen to become a respected and understood profession. There are now official community management titles, proper job descriptions, and budget allocation. Due to the ascension of the profession, community managers are experiencing unprecedented levels of visibility within their organizations and are now recognized as the voice of the customer, partner or employee.  As the champions of human interaction, community managers are looked at as the people who enable online relationships and the data-miners who are able to shepherd insights to the forefront of the business so that the collected information can be acted on.

Now that organizations are starting to understand community, they are increasingly looking for it to deliver value to the business.  With increased responsibility comes a heightened level of accountability, and this is causing a significant change in how community leaders engage with peers and communicate about the work they do. The change is both exciting and challenging, as it requires new skill sets and an increase in cross-functional collaboration.      

 

 

 

No longer can community managers remain in the “safe-zone” of managing the site in isolation and solely reporting tactical outcomes, such as how many new members there are this quarter, how many questions have been answered, and what new content is slotted for publication. This will not be enough to satiate the growing appetite to understand business value. Increasingly, community managers are being called upon to codify business metrics and measures of success. It is now a common expectation that a community will be able to clearly communicate the ways in which the initiative supports and contributes to the top line, while working with business to achieve their goals through community. While this expectation may seem daunting, it can be done. In fact, it must be done well for community’s long-term survival.  It is important to present community value in a way that captures executives’ attention and taps into what matters most to them: customer satisfaction, new product and service ideas, cost reduction and idea generation for future innovation --leading to top-line growth.

 

But how can this be achieved while maintaining the community’s ongoing priority to serve members’ needs?  Success can be found by aligning online community goals and objectives with the overarching business goals of the organization.  When online community works as a partner with business it is able to understand their needs and requirements, and subsequently can translate them into meaningful features and online programs. And, when community can speak the language of business, it is better positioned to demonstrate business returns.

 

Armed with this new-found charter, as community managers begin preparing end-of-year or quarterly reports, and start planning road-maps for what’s ahead, here are some questions to consider answering to help bridge the gap between community and business:

 

  • What are the business goals that the online community has helped accelerate or made possible in new ways?
  • What are the top 3-5 insights gathered from the online community that were explored, investigated or considered for future products or services for the organization?
  • Which lines of business were helped by online community and in what way? Could the executive leaders of those business lines do more to help the community?
  • What is the process of capturing insights and ideas, and then sharing them reliably and effectively with business so that they can acted upon? And, if there is no process, what can online community do to help establish one in the coming year?
  • What are the success metrics for community for the upcoming year and who among the business leaders can or should participate in their development?

 

As you put final touches on your community read-outs, be sure to think big (because you are doing important work), share your wins (as well as the challenges faced), ask for help when you need it (community burn-out is common), and don’t undersell the value (community building opens many doors  – just ask your favorite salesperson how she uses the community as a strategic differentiator).  

 

For online communities to thrive, they must be maniacally focused on delivering huge value to the members – this never changes. The artistry is found in maintaining a balance of gives and gets for your members and your organization.