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  • Writer's pictureKerri Williams

A World without Community

Imagine a world where customer Communities don’t exist.

It’s a dystopian wasteland of siloed, static content (unless you count the dancing gifs on a company’s GeoCities page). Multiple URLs and logins. No one around to share your experience with — aside from the 1–800 number in the yellow pages. Or if you really want you could fill out the Feedback/Suggestion Card at their location.

Ok, it’s really just 1990, but you get the idea.

If you read my post about the evolution of the community professional, you’ll know that the industry has evolved a ton over the past 25 years. But where it will go in the next 25 is what I’m curious about — heck, I think we’re going to see some major changes in even just the next 5 years: Community, as it is today, won’t exist.

Note that I’ve capitalized the C there, which, again if you’ve seen my previous thoughts, you’ll know the subtle, but important difference. So, am I saying that Community platforms won’t exist then? Not quite — but I believe we’ll move past the largely siloed, separate domain with barely consistent UI and into a more unified, integrated approach to these spaces.

I’ll be honest, for many years, I’ve felt “Community” is a bit of a dirty word for B2B especially. There’s so many varying definitions across the interwebs, and so many different value propositions depending on the catalyst for the formation. But, from my experience, the reality is the average B2B customer/end user will not tell you they want to be part of a Community. Here’s what they will tell you:
They want to know what other customers are doing.

They want to find answers to their questions without having to reach out to their CSM or Support.
They want to network and connect with other customers like themselves. And yes, I know that’s what community actually is — but often they don’t.

(After writing a first draft of this, it was interesting to hear others do in fact feel similarly about the word- case in point, check out this panel from Common Room on Community without Compromise.)

Sadly, it seems community still has a fluffy reputation. IMO, it mostly stemming from the days when ‘Community Manager’ often meant someone who managed your social media engagement channels. But despite a much longer history years of driving business value but community has still not earned it’s rightful placement in the business value heirachy. I’ve seen many an exec turn their nose up at the term, and push it to the side of their desk while begrudgingly supporting it with part of their budget. Other times, the results are so amazing that the methodology is deeply criticized — or they can be so abysmal that budgets are reallocated, and once that slide begins, it’s tough to climb again.

But what would happen if we took product experience approach and we thought about how to solve for the things that customers are asking for? What happens when we focus on the B2B customers business needs? (H/T Dan Craig for the helpful link!) And measurement, well, how are you measuring product success — perhaps there are correlations to be made!

One way to do solve for these challenges is to enlist your User Experience, Customer Experience and Engineering teams. Bring in others from across your business to help you craft an experience that meets the actual needs through personalization of content, actionable journey mapping and feasible execution. Frameworks like Jobs to be Done can help you to focus more on the goals and accomplishments of your end user to ensure you’re building something that is actually of value.

After we’ve started to open up the meaning of community, and analyze things from a more holistic business lens, we can elevate the experiences, stop having to justify so much and ultimately see organizations embrace the value that is created for users. But it just might not bear the name that we’ve become accustomed to fighting for.
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