This is the first Guest Blog for Open Social by Marjorie Anderson of Community by Association.
Your organization has decided to start building a community! What an exciting time! This is a unique opportunity to build a vibrant, dynamic and energizing member-base around your work. A strategy with clear goals is in place and there’s clarity and alignment around growth and value. But one crucial question remains… where will the community program sit? In many organizations, community responsibilities sit with marketing or product. And the honest answer to this question is – it depends. However, there is a case to be made for a community having its own home on your org chart.
Whether you’re just starting out with a community, or your community has been around for a while, having your community program be homed on its own creates greater opportunity for growth and evolution. Here’s how.
Community is not a side job
It’s all too easy to put a community under another program and expect others with full-time jobs to manage the work. The problem with this thinking is that community programs require the same amount of time and focus as any other program in an organization. You can’t expect to effectively meet goals and grow your community if someone is not dedicated to this work full-time. Community professionals are responsible for programming, strategy, cross-collaboration, moderation, user experience, and so much more. While it might make sense to start your community with existing staff at first, understanding that community management is not just about forum moderation is key to making the right decisions about where it sits within the organization.
How you prioritize community speaks volumes
Prioritization in any organization is how the most important initiatives get done. Sometimes, how that prioritization shows up is by dedicating resources, budget, or additional staff to carry the work forward. When we put a community somewhere because we’re not sure where else it belongs or because “that department is staffed well enough to take it on,” it creates an illusion that the work isn’t that important. Yes, even when there’s a strategy in place if you say “we’re just going to put it with content” without thinking about the bigger picture you are effectively deprioritizing what you said was important enough to invest in. Allowing a community to have its own home speaks volumes to the rest of the organization about how you view the program. It prevents resources from being pulled from their normal jobs and allows focus for this important work to be carried forward in the same manner as any other program within the organization. In turn, the rest of the business treats it as an equally important program in moving organizational goals forward.
Have you ever planted a flower or vegetable in a crowded garden bed? What happens? Generally, depending on the plant, the new seedling can’t grow because there’s nowhere for its roots to spread. The existing plants are already taking up all of the nutrients from the soil and the new seeds don’t get a fair chance to flourish. Now apply that same concept to a community. You can’t expect a community program to grow if you don’t give it the time and space to do so. Creating accountability for program development and strategy and space to accomplish the goals associated with its growth is the definitive way you will see return on investing in the community. When not given a fair chance, organizations tend to think that community doesn’t work when that wasn’t the case at all. It just didn’t have the space to grow.
Even if your community program sits under another department, it’s crucial to understand that it needs to be treated as a separate program versus incorporating it in other work. If you’re making the commitment to having a community program, it’s important not to minimize the impact it can have on your members or business goals by not being strategic about where it’s homed and who is doing the work. Positioning is everything – both for your organization and for those that you serve.