Recently I was having a drink with my friend Greg Isenberg and we discussed one of the big challenges the community industry faces.
“Community as a term, has a lot of baggage”, I explained. “People perceive community to be this fluffy, emotional thing. They don’t associate it with business strategy or real business value.”
He agreed, and proposed the solution of changing the title of community management. “Make it something more business-y, like community marketing”. Greg built and sold a consumer company, and is someone whose opinion I really respect when it comes to things like branding and messaging.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t given this exact subject a good amount of thought before. Our business, and the entire community industry, could live or die depending on how it’s perceived by the rest of the business world.
It’s an interesting thing to think about. What is the brand of a professional industry? And can you define the brand for an entire industry?
It seems like an impossible initiative…which is tough because it’s the challenge we’ve taken on at CMX.
So yes, this is a question I’ve given a lot of thought to…
Should we try to change the title community manager to something else? Like community marketing? Network architecture?
Recently Bill Johnston described customer retention as being the big opportunity for community. Should we just rename our industry to “retention marketing”? Customer retention? Bill has also used a term called “Network Thinking” as a replacement for what many call community strategy.
My friend Sharon Savariego, CEO of Mobilize, also recommended that term “network” when we met for dinner last week. She felt strongly that community should be abandoned. I still see Mobilize as a community platform, but browse their site and you won’t find the word community in many places. They’ve made a conscious effort not to use the word community because of the response it gets from investors and partners.
Hm…that’s no good. So what are we to do? The options seem to be:
Option 1: Change the term community to something more business-y.
Option 2: Reframe how the business world perceives the term community.
I believe we should go with option two and have been working toward that goal for some time now.
At CMX, we don’t use the title “community management” though, because the “community manager” role is just one of the many roles a community professional can achieve, and it has an especially misunderstood definition. Too many companies use the title community management to describe social media managers. Community Manager also has the connotation of a low level employee (though many are not) and so that’s a bad way to describe the entire industry.
So we choose our words specifically. Instead of community management, we refer to the community industry, community professionals and community strategy.
I think we need to create a new definition of community. Community in a business context. Community that has real, provable business value. There’s too much power in the term community to give up on it. It’s really the only word that can describe the shifting business landscape toward decentralization.
And I already see the definition of community in a business context changing…
Companies aren’t just investing in communities, they’re recognizing themselves as communities.
In an recent interview with Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and former Editor in Chief of Wired, he proposed a super interesting question that “all business will have to ask themselves”. He asked, “Are you primarily a community or are you primarily a company? The reason you have to ask yourself this is because sooner or later the two will come in conflict.”
There’s a shift happening and products all exist not in isolation, but on platforms. 78% of companies run part or all of its operations on open source software.
And distributed businesses, who leverage the power of collaboration, are scaling faster than companies who try to create everything themselves. There are now 17 companies valued at $1 billion+ in the collaborative space alone.
“I think that it’s very hard to find industries in which community-driven companies won’t ultimately win”, Chris concluded in his interview.
So, I think that the way businesses perceive community is already changing. I believe the goal should be to associate community with innovation, scalability and value AS WELL AS being mission driven, feel-good and all that warm fuzzy stuff.
As more companies are becoming community-driven and successfully launching community strategies, and as more smart people move into director and VP level community positions, businesses understanding of the term “community” will continue to shift in this direction.
And in 10 years, my guess is we won’t be talking about what community means for a business, because it they will be inseparable. Community will be woven into the fabric of business.
What do you think? Does community need a new title? Or should we work to reframe the understanding of community in the business context?