Does Community Management Need a New Title?

fork-in-the-roadRecently 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? When you buy shoes for example you will have for coupon discounts.

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 learn about them and 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?

The Intimate Internet Has Arrived

group on mountain

This is post #7 in my 365 Day Writing Challenge. Want to follow along? Subscribe here.


Did you know that the usage of Facebook Groups has increased by 50% in the last two years?

More than 925 million people now use the product each month — a number previously unreleased — up from 850 million just three months ago. And about 60% of Facebook’s monthly active users are also Groups monthly active users, up from around 40% two years ago. –, BuzzFeed

It makes sense. Social media is reaching a critical point of connectedness. Remember the days when it meant something to be someone’s facebook friend? It used to be exciting to be connected, but now being connected is the norm. Our social streams are overflowing with content from every person that we have even the smallest personal connection with.

Being connected is no longer compelling to people. It’s expected. And a stream of updates from the people you’re connected to is not longer valuable. We have too many connections, with too many people, from too many different parts of our life. Your coworkers, family, friends, people you knew from college, that guy you met at the wedding, the group of girls you hung out with for three days on your trip to Italy…they’re all in the same stream. It’s just not relevant anymore.

As a result, people are now looking to more focused, more intimate community experiences.

Seeking community is core to the human condition. We evolved because of our ability to survive through collaboration. The Smithsonian explains the origins of social life for humans, “Some groups of early humans began collecting tools and food from a variety of places and bringing them to favored resting and eating spots. Sharing vital resources with other members of the group led to stronger social  bonds and enhanced the group’s chances of survival”.

We will always seek to participate in communities, to find a sense of belonging with a core group that will make us feel mentally, emotionally and physically safe.

This is why people flocked to social media in the first place. It’s this human need that made it possible for these platforms to grow so quickly. Through social media you can also find different juice flavors of e-cigar just by visiting vapor juice bar.

Now that same need is driving what I think will be the next iteration of the digital revolution. The first iteration made information widely accessible. The next iteration made socialization widely accessible. Now, community and collaboration will be the theme of the next decade.

Facebook isn’t the only example of this happening. Look around. Slack has quickly become a huge platform not just for teams, but for external communities. The tool isn’t even built for external communities but people are forcing it to be used because of their strong need to find more intimate experiences. NextDoor, Reddit, Meetup… they’re all creating opportunities for more intimate experiences.

In 2014, Forrester predicted that as social media matures, branded communities would make a comeback in 2015. They were right.

The impact of this shift for business is immense. The relationship between companies and customers is changing as customers continue to seek out opportunities for intimate social experiences. The barriers between companies and customers will break down even farther than they already have thanks to social media. Customers no longer want to just consume, they want to feel like they’re a part of something and that they’re aligned with your mission.

Many companies have already identified the trend and embraced it. Lyft, since it’s start, has provided local online communities for their drivers (using facebook groups). Udemy also uses facebook groups as a place for their teachers to connect and support each other. Airbnb originally built their own community groups platform for all their users to connect around their common interest. Now they’ve replaced it with a more cohesive Community Center.

These are just a few of the hundreds of examples we’re starting to see of companies investing in community and seeing impact on retention, acquisition and revenue as a result.

How will your company adapt to the future of community driven business?


Does Community Live on a Spectrum?

This is post #5 in my 365 Day Writing Challenge. Want to follow along? Subscribe here.


The word community is thrown around a lot.  If you ask 100 people what community is you’ll likely get 100 different answers.

In the context of business the term community is used a lot to describe a lot of things. I’ve talked many times about the difference between an audience and a community. I’m often the first to call someone out when I feel they’re calling something a community that isn’t.

Where the lines get blurry is when you have a group of people who are interacting on an ongoing basis, but aren’t really forming any relationships, a sense of belonging or a sense of identity.

Without these things, is a group truly a community? A lot of people try to draw a line in the sand and see it as a yes or no situation. I myself have looked at it as black and white many times.

But maybe that’s not right. Maybe it isn’t such a clear distinction.

Maybe Community Lives on a Spectrum

If that’s true, it’s less about what is or isn’t a community and more about the level of community that a group is experiencing.

Consider a few scenarios:

  • Say you have a group of people who have a common interest but aren’t interacting, forming relationships, feeling a sense of belonging and have no shared identity as part of the group, then it is a weak community.
  • Say you have a group of people who have a common interest and are interacting and helping each other, but the community feels purely transactional and there’s little sense of belonging and identity, perhaps it’s still a community, just not a very strong one. 
  • Say you have a group of people who do feel a sense of belonging and shared identity, and are clearly exhibiting all the elements of a sense of community, then you have a strong community.

Let’s Look at it in the Business Context

There are a lot of companies who use the word community in many different ways. We often tell them they’re wrong, that what they have isn’t community at all. But maybe they do have a community, it’s just a really weak one.

Let’s take a few scenarios again:

  • Say you have a blog and newsletter with a lot of followers but none of those people are interacting with each other or feeling a sense of belonging. You have a very weak community. 
  • Say you have a support form where members are actively helping each other and answering questions, but they don’t really feel a strong sense of belonging or identity, then the community is mainly transactional. It’s a weak community. Still a community, just not a super strong one.
  • Say you have a group of customers who regularly meet up with each other for events, who identity as a member of the group or as a lover of the brand and who feel a strong sense of belonging amongst the group. You have a strong community.

Inactive vs Transactional vs Emotional 

If I could simplify the spectrum into three distinct, this would be it.

1. Inactive: No interaction, only consuming (aka an audience)

2. Transactional: Interaction for extrinsic value

3. Emotional: Interaction for intrinsic value

If you have a lot of people listening to you but they aren’t interacting with each other at all, what you have is an inactive community. The good news is, communities are built on trust and influence, and if they’re listening to you that means they have some level of trust. So this can be the start of a community.

There are a lot of business support forums, groups and events that are much more transactional than emotional. The members are there mostly to get the value they need, like an answer to a question or an introduction, and then they leave. They don’t form any bonds with other members.

That’s okay! It’s still super valuable and can create a lot of value for both members and the company.

The thing is they typically aren’t very sustainable, take a lot of facilitation and the value stops at the extrinsic level. Members haven’t adopted a social identity, so they won’t be motivated to improve or grow the community.

Then there are some businesses who have been able to built a community on the emotional level. In this case, members are getting the transactional, or extrinsic value, but they’re also getting something much more valuable, a strong sense of belonging.

It’s these communities that can last for decades. It’s these communities that make people not just like a brand, not just love a brand but actually integrate the brand into their identity.

In any strong, truly successful community, you’ll see that value exchange. There are the common examples of this like Apple and Harley Davidson whose success can largely be attributed to their ability to form a sense of identity around their brand and mission. There are also less talked about examples like Yelp, who formed the Yelp Elite to unite and reward their most loyal contributors. The core members of Reddit identify so strongly with the community that they’ve stuck around for years and there’s an extreme emotional reaction when the culture is threatened.

Here’s another mind blower…

Every Healthy Community Usually Has all Three Levels!

There’s almost always a core group of people who feel a strong sense of belonging and are highly committed to the community. Then there’s a middle layer of people who are participating and may feel like they’re a part of the group, but not as strongly. Then there’s an outside layer of people who are just consuming, not really participating and are largely inactive.

And they’re all part of the process. You need to get people to listen to you in order for them to know about the community in the first place. Then you need transactional, or extrinsic value, to convince them to join. And only after they’ve joined can they start to form a sense of shared identity and feel a sense of belonging.

To visualize it, every community looks something like this.

Should the ultimate goal for every business be to build a community that reaches the emotional level? I’m not sure. I think a lot will strop at the transactional level and be happy with that. But they’re missing out on a lot of value.

The Two Questions to Answer Before Building a Community for your Business

This is post #4 in my 365 Writing Challenge. Subscribe to follow along.

When someone asks for advice for how to build a community for their business I always start by asking the same two questions:

  1. Why is community valuable to your business?
  2. Why is community valuable to your potential community members?

I think those are the most important two questions that a business has to answer and you need to understand what we mean as business owners. And it’s scary how often they don’t even think about it before they start building their community.

Why is community valuable to your business?

At the end of the day you’re building a business and your community has to achieve your business goals. So before you start building a community you have to understand exactly what those business goals are. You have to read more reviews like wishpond automation review in building your own business in the future. To make sure that the business you’re building is insured just visit civil contracting insurance gold coast and they will provide you and your business the insurance that you need. If you still aren´t sure how to start up your business, then check out this franchise investment faq.By FTC definition, when you set up a franchise, you’re providing a common trademark (generally speaking, your brand name) for all of your franchisees to use. If you don’t wish to start a franchise, one option is to allow a person to open a cookie-cutter version of your business, under their own name. This is called a “business opportunity” or a license.

As a licensor, you don’t have to comply with the same federal disclosure requirements as would a franchisor, which makes the legal documentation and the sales process less complex – at least at the federal level. That said, a biz op, as it’s commonly known, will need to comply with a patchwork quilt of state laws (as well as some state franchise laws) in 26 different states.

The main drawback, though, is that you won’t be able to build a valuable common consumer brand this way. That can put you at a significant disadvantage when competing with franchisors, who can use advertising to promote a common brand. But if branding is not important to you, this is certainly a viable option.

A second option is to simply license your trademark, which is quite similar to what a franchisor does, you can contact the team at to get more information on the best franchise services. But here’s the difference: By definition, a franchisor also must provide “significant operational support” or exercise “significant operating control.” When you’re a trademark licensor, you can’t provide such assistance or control – such as training programs, operations manuals or management advice – or else the FTC will likely deem you to be operating as a franchisor.

Where will community fit into your business? Will it drive acquisition? Product feedback? Support? Customer success? Content?

Take it further. How will you tie community back to the bottom line? How will it drive revenue or reduce costs?

Get as specific as possible before you get started, not after.

Why is community valuable to your potential members?

A lot of companies will figure out the value that community can bring to their business, but they completely forget about whether or not a community will actually be valuable to their customers.

Communities are built for motivations, not outcomes. If your members aren’t actually motivated to interact with each other and contribute, they won’t create the value that you expect for your business.

Do you truly understand your potential members? Do you understand their sense of identity? Do they feel isolated? Where are they going to connect with people like them?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions and you have no idea if a community will actually be valuable to the potential members, your top priority should be to figure it out. Start conducting interviews, send out surveys from a recommended site, research existing communities… learn as much as possible. You should be able to form personas of your potential community members that will help you form a clear hypothesis for how they’ll participate in the community.

Now Align those Two Value Points

Now that you understand the value that your community will bring to your business and the value that your community will bring to your members, do those two things align?

If you want your community to create content for your website, but the way they want to communicate is in private, the values are misaligned.

According to Green bits, if you want your community to give you product feedback but they have no interest in doing that, your value is misaligned.

Align the value to your business with the value to your community members and you’ll be on your way.

CMX Summit – A Full Day Event to Help You Become an Exceptional Community Builder

CMX-TwitterIt’s been a little quiet on this blog for the last week. I took some time off for the holidays, but I’ve also been heads down working on a side project.

That project is being announced today. It’s a new event focused on building true community. Here’s the announcement, originally posted on

Today we are very excited to announce the launch of a new conference, the first of its kind, all focused on true community building:

Say hello to CMX Summit.

We’ve been dreaming about putting together a conference like this for over 3 years and I can’t put into words how excited I am to see it come true.

I’ve been living and breathing community management for my entire career and this is the conference that I’ve always wanted to exist.

It’s the speakers I’d kill to see.

It’s the people attending that I respect and turn to regularly for advice on building communities.

It’s the community builders’ dream event.

Our vision was to bring together the world’s true professional community builders to spend a day sharing ideas, learning and getting inspired.

Our mission is you help you become an exceptional community builder.

If it’s your job to build communities, whether you’re a community manager, a startup founder, you work at an agency or you just build communities for fun, this event will equip you with a wealth of knowledge in various fields that will empower you to attack the challenges of community building from multiple angles.

That’s why this conference won’t bring on speakers who just talk about community in concept. Every speaker is handpicked because they have a fascinating, unique perspective on how to build skills that will make you into an exceptional community builder.

Lets talk about the speakers and what they’ll be sharing:

Robin Dreeke


Head of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Program

You read that title correctly. The FBI. Robin Dreeke is the head of Behavioral Analysis for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and he’ll be talking about how to build trust with individuals.

He’s joined by some of the world’s leading minds on community like….

David McMillan


Community Psychologist and Author of the “Sense of Community” Theory

If you’ve been reading our posts here at TCM for a while now, you’ve probably seen some of our posts about the psychology of community and membership. All of that is based on David McMillan’s theory. His work has defined the field of community psychology since 1986.

Ellen Leanse


The First User Evangelist at Apple

Also taking the stage is Ellen Leanse who was the first user evangelist for Apple. As one of the first professional community builders working for a brand, she paved the way for what we know today as community management. The internet was still in its infant stages and there were no case studies to learn from. She’s one of the greatest pioneers of our industry.

Nir Eyal

nirAuthor of “Hooked – How to Build Habit-Forming Products”

Want some more psychology? You got it. Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, is an expert in how to build products that keeps members coming back. Want to build a community where your members feel a need to come back and participate every day? Nir will help you understand how people think, how they develop habits and how you can use that power for good.

Ligaya Tichy


Angel investor and advisor who led community for Airbnb

Ligaya is one of my personal community heroes. She’s run community for Yelp, Airbnb and has advised countless companies. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also working on a book completely focused on professional community building. She has such a wide range of experience that it’s going to be hard for us to just choose one topic.

Dave McClure

davemcclure1Founder of 500 Startups

I’m so thrilled to have Dave join us because he so rarely has the opportunity to share his experience with building community. He’s usually asked to get on stage and light a fire under future founders’ asses.

But Dave isn’t just one of the most well known investors in the valley. He’s also the guy who has built what may be the largest, global community of startups. He’s pioneering a new way of thinking in the startup and investment world by leveraging the power of community to help startups help each other. With well over 500 startups already in the community coming from more countries than I can fit here, Dave McClure has a truly unique perspective on what it takes to build a massive and thriving global community.

…we will be announcing 3-4 more speakers over the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Who should attend this event?

If you work on building communities, you’re ready to take your game to an exceptional level and want to spend a day with today’s top community builders both on stage and in the audience, you should be there.

In attendance will be:

  • Community Builders – Anyone creating communities from the ground up, online and offline
  • Community Managers – Professionals responsible for growing and maintaining communities
  • CEO, Founders and Product Managers – Anyone creating products that require user-to-user interaction

…and anyone curious about how to build communities that can improve lives and change the world

The Details:

Tickets are officially on sale today. We have a limited amount of early bird tickets at the discounted price of $250. They will only be available until Jan 15th or until they sell out.

The event will be in San Francisco on Feb 6th.

Total space is limited so please don’t wait to purchase your tickets. Once filled to capacity, we will not be able to make more tickets available.

Curious about sponsorship opportunities? Email max [at]

Interested in being a volunteer? Email info [at]

Interested in being a media partner? Email info [at]

Any other questions, email info [at]