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Last updated:  
June 7, 2020

5 Evolution Steps of Community thinking. And they are all valid!

Wilfried Rijsemus

You probably recognize it. NPS, SEO, CRM. Pretty much everybody in the business knows what they mean and when you talk about them you have a common understanding. Very handy if you want to move forward. Not so in community land. The lingo in community land is almost certain to lead to confusion. Sometimes they lead to hilarious situations but usually, they lead to either loss of business or loss of executive interest with disappointment as the bottom line. In a next post, I will dwell on some of the detail confusions but first let's start with the main issue: Purpose. What is the community for? It is always to achieve a business result. Every step you see below is a VALID choice.

Step 1: We are a Happy Camper

Not really a step but still could be a choice. Not having a community has benefits, depending on which business you are in. If you are a monopolist and can dictate the market, then you have no need to have a community. You are a happy camper. You ask money for everything and it is pouring in. There is no need for change. Having a community is not a zero-sum game. Do it wrong and you end up with more damage than if you don't do it.

Step 2: Let's give our customers/partners a place to learn, share and meet

Your processes and communication internally do not change. You still have formal communication with the outside world (I call them "keyhole communications") with people manning the stations but at least your customers/partners and even new audiences are given a place to learn, share and meet. If I am being cynical, this is driven and funded by the need to reduce the support load and higher CSAT. Possibly some community activity trickles down to the organization.

Step 3: Let's get our employees in the same mode

Now that the customers are having a modern conversation, why not have our employees do the same. This is where you see the typical Enterprise Social Networks for the Workplace. So, now you have both Internal as well as External a modern conversation. If you are happy with this endstate, you can afford to use separate systems like Facebook Workplace, JIVE-N or Sharepoint for internal and Lithium, Salesforce, Telligent or JIVE-X for external conversations. For most companies, this is already quite a tall order. The bigger the company the more fragmented the strategy will be, the less likely can you break through this. The drawback is that there is still an iron curtain.

Step 4: Let's tear down the wall

We have arrived in the gutsy arena. Now we are going to get rid of "Internal/External" and replace it with "Appropriate Audiences". This requires to let go of the old and reinvent yourself. This requires building trust with authenticity and responsiveness as prerequisites. You will become transparent and vulnerable. You will morph with your audiences and in doing so have the opportunity to fix what needs to be fixed and deliver what is really important and prevent the production of stuff that nobody needs. This will put you in a leadership position but goes way beyond "mere community management". You don't RUN a community, you BECOME one. The gains and risks are equally big. It will be good if you have one community platform who can do both like Lithium, Telligent or Salesforce, among others.

Step 5: Let's design and deliver success

If you operate in Level 4 for a while, you will end up with designing and delivering success. It is very simple actually. You create something. You sell it. Implement and finally operate it. In all those phases there are people who need to be successful as a collective. It is really academic where they work. You start mapping personas and allow individuals to map their needs. The community becomes the marketplace where demand and supply meet. The collective of individual success is your business success. You can "simply" measure on the business outcome you set out like employee engagement, branding or CSAT. It may come as a surprise to you that no community platform can support this process at the moment. At the same time, no community platform can prove a business success as the algorithm that makes up the success formulas draws from the full application landscape. A community platform can only prove Operational Success

So, next time you talk to your CEO about having a community, you may want to check if you speak the same language and have the same understanding. Any choice is good. It depends on ambition driven by the business and ultimately the need to stay in business and lead. Also stepping back to a lower level can be a valid business choice........for the shareholder that is. Not for employees or customers.

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