cat meme common misconceptions about community managementI’m writing this post for founders, engineers, and entrepreneurs. I’m not writing this post for community builders. I already know you get this. Many hackers/founders/etc. are community builders themselves as well, often without knowing it.

Community exists somewhere in the stratosphere of product, customer service, marketing, and blowing people’s minds with unforgettable experiences. As such, those who build products often don’t understand how it fits into a larger framework of getting the word out (marketing) and developing something world-changing (product/brand).

I’m addressing some common BS misconceptions because I’m sick of hearing how little everyone understands about building loyal communities.

Community building is NOT public relations: Community building should actually work in the reverse. The main job of an effective community builder is to build relationships. To do so, we host events, drive community-centric product development, and conceive of partnerships that catapult a company from “producer of product” to “leader of movement” or “transmitter of ___ emotions.” So, yes, oftentimes that makes for an awesome effing story in the press. But our goal is never to get that story. Our goal is to give users something special, to tell their stories, and to encourage them to share with others.

Community building is NOT social media conversation: Many founders think that community building is simply talking to users on Facebook and Twitter. Sure, relationships can start that way. Most of us community builders are active on social networks because we use it as a tool to reach anyone and everyone.

But a true branded community exists in the product itself. If you start building communities through Facebook Groups, that’s a great start. But guess what? You’ve just sent your users to Facebook and driven them off your site. Stop doing that. While that may be fine in specific situations (I know Lyft uses Facebook Groups because their app is secondary to offline experience), it’s not fine for most online communities.

If you don’t own your customer experience, someone else will.

In conclusion, yes, community managers are active on these channels, but a conversation is not a community. A conversation is the start of a relationship, which can prompt someone to join a community.

Community building is NOT moderating a forum: Sure, moderating is a daily activity for many community managers. Forums work for many communities, and they have for decades. But the hope is – take Reddit as an example – that you find community members who can carry the torch for you and moderate on your behalf. That’s where super-user status and creating tiers of users comes into play. Relevant for some, not for most.

Community building is NOT a campaign, contest, or club: It’s not a one-off thing. Those are growth engines FOR community, sure. They can be part of a community-building strategy. But doing one book club/study group (whatever makes sense for your product) or one contest does not a community build.

Defining what a community actually is will take another blog post. But suffice it to say this for now:

  • On the users’ behalf, a community is: Belonging to a group larger than yourself.
  • On the builders’ behalf, a community is: An intricate framework of relationships with users (and future users) that will drive your product into new places and make it more powerful than even the founders ever imagined it could be.

Know of other misconceptions? De-bunk them in the comments. Or tweet me (@caremjo) and let’s de-bunk them over a glass of wine because I could use a break from the Internet sometimes.

6 thoughts on “4 Misconceptions about Community Management

  1. Hi Carrie-
    It’s refreshing to hear your take on community building.

    I love this: “a community is: An intricate framework of relationships with users (and future users) that will drive your product into new places and make it more powerful than even the founders ever imagined it could be.”

    A little off topic but I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how some of your best (and most engaged) community members are brand advocates who may not actually be customers. They’ve chosen to rally around your brand because they so wholeheartedly believe in what you’ve built (no matter how small) that they bring their passion to your community and beyond. There is a power there that cannot be explained and certainly difficult to attribute monetary value. Community is an amazing thing.

    Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Hi Mack! That is so true. Take, for instance, those who support and evangelize Khan Academy (maybe not the best example because they’re free, but it drives the point home). Many never use the site for their own learning or teaching.

      It’s important to look at community as a builder of goodwill and a transmitter of emotions as well as a driver of referrals and growth.

      1. Agreed. Hoping we can help change the perspective on that by communicating through the right key performance indicators and metrics to effectively support the point you’re making.

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