One of the most unfortunate things to occur to our industry in 2023 was the rapid reduction in funding and the resulting wave of layoffs for our explicit community teams and consultants. That sucked and there’s no saying any of that was positive…But if you’d like me to be a tad uncouth, I believe there’s a powerful silver lining in line for 2024.
In This Blog
Today’s ‘unengaged stakeholders’ will want to get their hands dirty in 2024
2023 was an admittedly grim year. Community leaders have been forced by their shrinking teams and shrinking funds to find better ways of capturing the attention of their organizations’ key stakeholders across departments. The pressure has caused us to find new and innovative ways to break down silos so we can do more with less. And in those departments, they also experienced a similar transformation. Their own pressures have made them more amenable to listening AND ALSO acting to support us. As a result, we have captured the attention of department heads who would otherwise ask everything for the community without contributing themselves. Now they see themselves as community resources – not just benefactors.
That’s GREAT for us because it means a lot of inter-departmental and cross-disciplinary eyes are on our industry now.
Those stakeholders now have a newfound understanding of Community
The ad-buying, email marketing, social media, support, customer success, and product teams have spent a long time saying “Community is one of those ‘strategies’ you can use as a tool” which has implied pressure that didn’t come with fair expectations. Now, because of pressure to collaborate more directly with us, they see the challenges and reality better. They are genuinely interested in learning how to make better community calls and find real peer-to-peer value in their own work. They expect more realistic ROI from their community leaders and understand now why our industry is so varied, difficult, and also so insanely valuable. In short, we have their attention now, and they are willing to actively provide support instead of cheering us on! I think we’ll see more active community strategies in other departments, which brings us to our next expected trend…
Stakeholder Engagement will leave the realm of “rhetorical tips and tricks”
We have struggled for a long time to fit community, a very associational entity with open lines based on transparency and freedom, into the very hierarchical (and patriarchal) structure of a 2003-like company that is focused on personal responsibility, security, and power. We know from a myriad of books on community engagement–Hacking Communities, the Art of Community, People Powered, and Community: the Structure of Belonging to name a few–that these are the primary hurdles to stakeholder discussion. We have built engagement around an uphill battle; how to find the right people to talk to to get momentum, how to get those ‘right people’ in the room for any length of time, and how to convince them to do things that benefit community health, using their language.
I know these facets will remain a part of the stakeholder engagement training forever, but I think our job just got easier in 2023. With the new organizational collaboration models created from the “community-led” movement (see, it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors!) I suspect stakeholder management will be more about capturing the contributions of eager participants than finding participants in the first place.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier though. It seems less difficult now sure, but we will have to make 1 meeting conversation into 3 meeting processes. We are going to need to spend A LOT more time thinking about how we have our meetings. What were siloed conversations focused on who’s important in an organization, will now be deliberative meetings focused on activating the voices of everyone who wants to be in the room. We will need to get feedback more frequently and work more diligently to deliver that feedback.
Community “operations” will become a super-department
And it won’t be alone in becoming a cross-departmental endeavor either. We are already seeing the movement from “measurement as a project” in marketing, finance, and data analysis, to “measurement as a department.” I suspect that organizations will have learned they cannot do either of these within any individual department and succeed. So, both measurement and community will become two of the first “super-departmental” entities in organizations.
What we can do going into 2024
here’s where I see us now, and where we are going. It may seem a bit idealistic, yeah, but truthfully I think “predicting the next year” is less about where I see someone going, and more about bringing the possibility into the room.