I recently did something that was risky; okay maybe even stupid. I got into a debate with a new biz prospect while making a major presentation to win their community marketing business. I can see the eyes rolling back in people’s heads. Why would I do that? Because I HAD to!

The debate started when I made a simple statement: community is a business strategy and should not be simply viewed as a marketing domain. That made the marketing people in the room uncomfortable. They view anything to do with the brand as their territory and do not want to cede control to other functions or biz units. I argued that while oftentimes marketing gives birth to a branded community, they should not be the sole arbiter of what happens in that community. Many around the table disagreed, but I thought my points were strong so I continued the intellectual sparring:

· Communities are not campaigns; they are a destination for people to connect and interact in a purpose-driven way. When organizational objectives and member needs align, a company or brand can make community magic. The key is starting with business drivers and following the tangents that end in member motivations.

· Once alignment is mapped, the business drivers need to influence engagement approach. Many communities are nothing more than blogs and forums that do little to either engage or impact business objectives. Major missed opportunity. Community designers can integrate a variety of fun, engaging, or elegant tools that both serve member purposes and deliver significant, pertinent business intelligence.

· Few community managers understand the multiple member personas that interact on their site. Instead of adopting a faceted matrix that considers all types of members, they offer a one size fits all engagement approach. This not only causes member attrition, but also limits the ability to maximize business ROI.

· Collaboration across business units increases organizational efficiencies and effectiveness. When properly aligned, communities become that elusive horizontal view across the enterprise. While a community will not eliminate organizational silos, it presents an economical way to stimulate collaboration, knowledge sharing, operational efficiencies and deep customer insights. The trick is to embed intelligence into engagement tools, roll-up the raw data into a dashboard that presents actionable insights to each business unit and make people accountable for action.

· Feedback to the community drives deeper engagement. A wonderful thing happens when the brand reports back to the community. When members hear how they helped with innovation, quality initiatives, customer service improvements, community relations, etc., they are more motivated to do more, tell your story, recruit others to join the community and create links to community content. That’s how it is suppose to work.

On the plane ride home, I tucked into the latest HBR. Imagine my delight, when I discovered a great article, “Getting Brand Communities Right”. that echoed many of my points. Of course, you know what happened when I landed… I attached a pdf of the tome with my “thanks for the opportunity” email. While I am still waiting to hear if we made the final cut, my grapevine reported that the participants found the conversation stimulating and pertinent to internal challenges they face. I’ll keep you posted when I learn our fate.

In the meantime, where do you weigh in on the debate?

Kathy Baughman
Kathy Baughman

Kathy’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.