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  • Writer's pictureKerri Williams

Big C, little c: What do you see?

It’s a differentiation that seems subtle to some but it’s so important that we get right when we’re discussing what ‘Big C’ Community and ‘little c’ community really mean and in what context, particularly when we’re talking about the B2B space.

Over the years, I’ve heard multiple executive leaders use these terms incorrectly or interchangeably, and every time it makes me cringe. It gives me flashbacks to my days at BlackBerry on the communications team and how I still have a visceral reaction anytime I see it written without two capital B’s even 10 years later. But unlike the capital letter there, this has much further reaching impacts. Misuse can downplay the importance, or in some cases misled and overstate — neither of which lends any credibility to the authenticity of any community space if it isn’t actually true.
So let me be very clear in this:

“Big C” Community refers to a specific place in which you’ve chosen to cultivate a space for your target users to connect, usually technology platform of some kind, hence the capitalization as a result of creating an actual destination to gather.

“Little c” refers to the broader community which has no specific boundaries. In an enterprise space, this community includes all individuals across your ecosystem whether they are part of your big C platform Community or not. Many times you’ll see ‘community’ mentioned in press releases or at a company conference and I’d estimate 9 of 10 times they are referring to the broader audience of users, administrators, partners, developers, academics and anyone else who supports the success of the overall organization.

BUT does that mean that the little c community is too big or disparate for your Big C Community? Absolutely not — in fact, you should strive to expand the definition of your Big C Community through deeper integration across your customer experience. Think through ways you can work cross functionally to create great customer experiences that leverage connection to your broader audience. Helping the rest of the organization see and understand how Community can help achieve the bigger goals of 1:many and many:many will help break down what I often perceive as a stigma that Community is just forums or just user groups, and once you can begin to do that, you’ll be well on your way to serving as a backbone for that bigger community.

Too often I see organizations get caught up in the Big C Community focus, especially on the technology side wanting to add all the fancy bells and whistles, but the reality is, your community is everywhere and you need to nurture it wherever it grows, while also working to break down the silos that can arise with a Big C Community platform. There are some amazing examples of organizations who managed to expand this definition, and while we can’t all capture the same lightning in a bottle, it can’t hurt to keep trying.

But don’t take my word for it, take a look at just a few Best In Class Examples of Big C <> little c interaction and see for yourself:

Salesforce Trailblazers — One of the most well-known examples of online / offline community building across the globe.

Tableau Community (They were great pre-SFDC so I’m including them separately) A phenomenal space for data lovers of all kinds to gather both online and off.

Marketo’s Marketing Nation (also great pre-Adobe) — Another great example of brand building that goes beyond the product with conferences, user groups, content and more.

Hubspot — CRM software that has created a groundswell over the past few years with a key focus on Community-led growth.

Gainsight’s GameChanger Community championing digital success and cross-organizational community integrations.

All of these communities have both an incredible online presence but they also have an amazing eco- system of conferences (Dreamforce, Inbound, Pulse anyone?), in-person meetups, advocates, webinars, training and more that all connect into one amazing community and customer experience, driving sales, adoption, renewals and loyalty.

*If you’re curious about thoughts on the broader application of the definitions, after writing this post, I came across a great YouTube snippet from fellow Community practitioner, Carrie Melissa Jones where she shares her thoughts on the definitions as well. While I don’t disagree with the spirit of her insights, my feeling is that we do have a need for clear definitions in the B2B space to ensure clarity for those outside the industry*
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