The Community Everywhere Buzzword Party!
How we really should think about community everywhere
I hope you had a restful summer. I know I am raring to go, with so many topics swimming in my head. However, to spare you, I will only tackle one that has gained steam recently.
I want to talk about "Community Everywhere". This latest buzzword has gotten traction in the last couple of weeks. Maybe because some louder voices picked it up; however, rather than screaming to myself, I will tell you all: "Community Everywhere" is not new.
For those catching up, the thesis behind the latest buzzword combo is that you should not force people into owned community platforms but instead engage folks where they are already congregating. In other words, do not force people into your paradigm but engage them on the platforms and spaces they've already chosen.
The "Community Everywhere" feels like it’s advocating "forums are dead" in new clothes. Let's tackle this "new" concept.
Everywhere vs. Omnichannel
While it feels new for some, “Community Everywhere” is a concept people with a marketing or customer experience background will instantly recognize as “Omnichannel.” This concept has been touted for years as an approach to user experience that does not rely on one single channel but on the overall quality of interaction between a customer and a brand regardless of medium.
Community Everywhere is a concept your company's marketing or customer experience professionals will know well. It's likely to be a greater bridge builder for you than you expect.
So, what does it mean in the greater context of community work? There are a couple of tenets of the omnichannel approach:
1. It's Customer Centric
The focus is not on organizational needs but it's about focusing on the customer needs. Your community (whatever you build) is part of an ecosytem aiming for a seamless customer experience. Think SSO, think lessening friction and easing the flow throughout your digital ecosystem, no matter the touch point.
2. Break those silos
Community people are natural silo breakers, and omni-channel is a belief in breaking those down. Cross-functional teams across departments work together to ensure every touch point makes sense. To be successful in omnichannel - community folks need to be part of these go-to-market teams.
3. Centralized CRM
One way that ensures an extraordinary experience is the deeper integration of a CRM to centralize data. Companies that do this well are companies where you may start a conversation on social media and be moved to phone or email support, and you don't need to re-explain your story. The company already has this information, and their team can continue the conversation seamlessly.
An omnichannel approach to community building is welcome, and the more community builders that see this, the better. This is especially true for those who outright turn their nose up at Social Media or other channels as not "real community." Indeed, a fine line exists between community and marketing brands or influencers having a one-way conversation. However, there are undeniably communities on social media, messaging apps, and other platforms.
Forums are Dead .... this again?
It was an old joke, even in 2013, to say forums are dead. Forums, a software where people talk and exchange ideas, are not dead. The word "forum" is like the word "groovy". The usage of which dates oneself. Many forum companies sought to distance themselves from the term “forum.” They adopted “community platform”, arguing that they were more than forums. They had Q&A, polls, groups, job boards, blogs and other features. And so, in the 2010s, adopting "community platform" terminology for these forum companies became more common. It's now what most of these companies use.
So, are the big enterprise-owned communities dead? We are premature to say "Community Everywhere" is the death of the large enterprise community platforms, especially in B2B.
For sure, generational changes will impact how people interact with community platforms. But it’s not a death, as much as it is a failure of audience positioning and marketing by some companies with a lack of skill.
The more significant threat is AI and the rise of Chat-GPT; however, how this impacts these companies is worthy of another newsletter in the future. However, most are adapting, and those that won't will find things harder.
As someone who worked in the forum space for a long time, the fundamentals still matter. How these platforms are integrated and conceived is what matters - and always has. What is their greater purpose within all the other channels our customers can interact with? Should a brand run its own? Would it be better to support an independent third party run community? There are lots of questions to consider. However, there is also room for a unique branded space which offers exclusive content access and experiences. Conceived with care, brand-owned communities have a reason for existence.
For this reason, I am not prepared to say that owned company communities are dead. The concept of lazy community building is. There needs to be more thought into the integration of owned spaces, why they exist - and how they integrate into the omni-channel. Right now there is massive failure to do this by too many brands.
What should be dead?
What needs a rethink is community and social media. These should not be separated into silos. Greater cooperation needs to happen from the social and community professionals on the team. What do these experiences look like in an omnichannel experience? The hub and spoke model of the owned community having insider access and content is still viable - but requires cooperation, thought and planning. Territorial community building is not the future.
For this reason, the idea of a community department or chief community officer should be retired. While nice to dream about, these concepts are not helpful long-term. We should be encouraging community to be everywhere within the organization. The interactions between our brands with customers and themselves should be something every department should be concerned about. In this case, I can't cheer enough for Community Everywhere.
Happy Community Building!