Where is Community Building Going Exactly? The Future of our Industry

Last week, I received an email from a student who had 3 questions about Community Management as a career. If that doesn’t strike you with awe, let me explain why I care enough to create a full-on blog answering her questions.

The fact that a student asked about the future of the community industry demonstrates a powerful sign about the value and legitimacy of Community Building as a career. It also shows a curiosity that cannot be met with easy answers. This student’s questions display the bright future of Community Management, but they also show that it is time for community experts to give better answers to hard questions.

So I sat down and took some time to renew my answers. No cookie-cutter responses. In this blog, I really reflected on Community’s biggest challenges and elaborated on where I think Community Management is as a practice.

what were her questions?

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you face as a community manager?
  2. How is community management evolving?
  3. What’s the best part of the job?

In This Blog

What’s Our Biggest Community Building challenge?

A few years ago I would have answered this by saying that the organizations and C-suite struggle to understand the value of community. They’re too separated from their communities as cultural spaces. On reflection, I no longer believe that is true. I believe that the industry has accepted community is valuable, and that their presence in the community is a requirement for healthy online spaces.

The challenge now is that businesses have yet to truly accept the cost of building and participating in Community.

Executives frequently fail to understand what they are asking of Community Builders. This causes a few devastating results. First, builders are stretched too thin achieving a myriad of ill-defined tasks, only moderately well. As a result, builders are not receiving the reward and education needed for the level of expertise required. This is leading to a fundamental mismatch in the time expected to achieve measurable results.

1. the role of a community manager remains vague.

What does a Community Management Professional Do?

  1. Plan and execute community strategy
  2. Inform UX and product design
  3. Mediate difficult cross-stakeholder conversations
  4. Create onboarding funnels from marketing to platform, to support
  5. Participate in greater social media efforts
  6. Ensure user and customer success with the product/service
  7. Provide support and product-advocacy
  8. Conduct social listening interviews and surveys
  9. Report on audience research, habits, and feedback
  10. Act as a face for the organization
  11. Bring in partnerships and collaborations
  12. Plan, run and ensure the success of events
  13. Measure all of the above
  14. All to benefit that year’s goals from the executives.

The list of expected activities for a community builder’s performance is dizzying.

In large part, that’s because the industry doesn’t understand the work that community building entails. Each part feels flighty, ethereal, and small. Relational soft skills don’t translate well, so the community role isn’t well-defined. This clearly isn’t true, but when put together, the lion’s share of any community builder’s time simply reaches too far and lacks focus.

This leads to a second critical problem – the skill and compensation needed to achieve this work.

2. there is no established Community Career progression

It’s very clear that there’re varying skill levels in the community; from architecture and software, through business communication and marketing, to soft skills and support. Because the work is kept vague and viewed as small tasks, the educational opportunity, and compensation that comes with building specific levels of work fall into the aether.

Community builders are expected to carry the world on their shoulders, but don’t have the freedom or empowerment to actually do so. The best thing a community builder can learn, is how to say ‘no,’ when we’re asked to perform impossible tasks. We need to request the resources, skills, and compensation that match executive demand.

Samantha “Venia” Logan

Community Operations as a department is starting to solve this problem by making it very clear how a community team is expected to interface with the rest of the organization. Tiffany Oda is making great strides to systematize this endeavor, and Chris Mercer is working to build measurement into a full-on department. This formalization is helping to solve the problem, but it still doesn’t help the community builders who step into their roles by accident, or the community professionals at the start of their careers that can not advocate for the power necessary to manage stakeholder expectations. So, let’s talk about those expectations.

3. Community Is Riddled With mismatched expectations

The biggest challenge to Online Community Management as an industry is that the work it takes to build Community is based on the stakeholders involved. In smaller tight-knit communities infrastructure can get in the way of genuine interaction so stakeholder opinion is trusted to run the show. In larger organizations structure is needed to create shared understanding at scale.

Text: Communication Flows in Dialectical Tension. If it's too informal people craf task-based discusion, hierarchical control and clarified shared perception. If it's too organized people crave relationships, unfettered power distance, and more information.

All together my answer to the first question is that, “our greatest challenge in the community space is in defining our roles well enough to enable strong conversations for community building, so we can focus our efforts, and more easily come to ground on stakeholder goals.”

How is community As a Career evolving?

My answer to the first question is not to say that the future of our industry is bleak.

As I mentioned earlier, there are critical changes happening that show immense promise. We are seeing in our space the segmentation of the Community Builder’s role into specialties. Those specialties are finding operational places to shine at specific times in the community lifecycle. Companies are leveraging those specialties to build Community infrastructure as a team. There are now specialties in architecture, facilitation, communication, and measurement. Our industry is changing by becoming more stable.

Today, I think Community is returning to its foundations and strengthening them. We are starting to take more social-scientific approaches to understand how people interact online. It’s that part that I love most about my role as a Community Architect.

What’s the best part of being a community builder?

After thinking harder about this question, I landed in a somewhat unconventional space. I am going to answer this question by starting with a downside to Community…

One of the major reasons I hate using the term “community manager” is that it’s not our job to manage a community in the same way you would employees. You certainly don’t place the onus of a community’s health on the back of a singular individual. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what community building is. Departmentally speaking, I think the term still holds, but different roles play a part in fostering stronger engagement.

With that in mind, the thing I think I love most about doing this work as a Community Architect is that I know where my strengths lie, I know where the strengths of the people I work with lie, and together we can create something powerful that leaves the people we interact with in a better place.

That’s what marketing, and community, sales, and support are all about. Bringing someone on a journey from a before state—they have a problem, need a thing, or are blocked from doing something—to an after state—they have that thing, they are relieved of their hurdle, and they are thriving because of it.

I think that the thing I love most about my job is that it fulfills my Raison D’etre:

My reason for living, is entering into communities, and making that community better by my presence in it.

Samantha “Venia” Logan

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Venia Logan

I’ve spent the past 9 years learning the diverse skills necessary to create strong stable online communities that put your brand’s services at their center. ​​I started my own YouTube channel in 2010, and RESCQU.NET in 2013. I worked for Constant Contact, and returned to college for a specialization in online community management. Then I attained all 12 certifications from DigitalMarketer and helped dozens of communities. Spend fewer resources advertising to cold contacts or buying paid media and get back to focusing on what you love by growing a community that is financially and socially rewarding for you.