The airline industry has an expression to segment roles of employees: above the wings/below the wings. Above the wings involves actual in-flight experience; it embraces pilots, flight attendants, ticket agents, check-in personnel, the maintenance people who clean the inside of the airplane, customer relations staff and operations people who drive the jet bridge and assist with the boarding process.. Below the wings is quite literally the ballet that happens beneath the plane’s underbelly: cleaning the aircraft, loading and unloading the cargo compartment, transporting luggage between the terminal and the plane, driving the tugs that get the plane into and out of the gate, performing security and safety checks and using those cool flashlights to guide the pilot before and after take-off.

Most passengers only think about what’s going on below the wings episodically. When they peek out the window before take off or when a delay happens and one of these sub-wing creatures boards to handle a problem. The passenger is most concerned with what happens above the wings. They want a great experience: no delays, a smooth flight, a seatmate who doesn’t drive them crazy, room for their carry-ons and no lost luggage.

Great communities operate in a similar fashion. They have “above the wings” experiences that align with member needs. Just like the airline passenger, community members have a destination in mind and want a great experience along the way. I could belabor this analogy and point out that the community manager is the pilot, the first class passengers are highly rated members and advocates and those flying coach are members at large. But I want to concentrate “below the wings” or the community’s back room.

The functionality and performance of the community’s admin tools are core to what happens inside the community itself. They provide crucial information about community health and wellness and inform future direction of engagement approach, reputation management, member and advocate recruitment, community experience, and ROI. In other words, what we learn under the wings tells us what to do above the wings.

If we leave it at that, however, we’d miss the larger, more strategic issue: The community is not the final destination for the business; it is the platform for enterprise-wide operational excellence and productivity. The opportunity comes when the insights and perspective gleaned from the community’s “back room” are socialized and institutionalized. In our experience, few companies have yet to figure out how to deliver pertinent community analytics that give the right people the right info to make the right decisions in a timely way. Most social media and community metrics are either still at a fundamental level and displayed as glorified web metrics or not understood or translated to action items and shared in a meaningful way across business units or functions.

It’s worse than a missed flight; it’s a huge overlooked opportunity that will ground organizations instead of giving them an advance point of departure.



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.