We’re facing an exciting time in the community industry. New challenges arise as interest grows in the work we do. We have the opportunity to forge new community paths.
In the instance of expertise and community career paths, we are moving away from very basic job titles of ‘Community Manager’ and ‘Head of Community’ and towards more specialist roles. Increasingly companies are realising that our work actually involves much more than just ‘chatting all day long'.
The future of community needs us to re-evaluate the roles and career paths that exist
Now as a community industry we have no choice but to create specialists roles. We don’t just ‘manage’ communities. We build them. To create anything — a house, a website, an app, a book, you need various skill sets. It becomes unreasonable to expect one single person to do it all.
Sure, you can build a community alone, but as it grows it becomes impractical, inefficient and often leads to burnout.
I’ve written previously about a whole list of potential community roles, some aren’t entirely serious, but I still list them as a way to help us open our minds up the type of work that we could be doing.
One such specialist role I’d love to explore more is a ‘Community Growth Specialist’ — infact, I would argue that this role will become crucial to all (serious) communities.
It will become a role that could make or break a community.
The community growth lines are blurred
We need to be careful to not jump too quickly to assume what a community growth role entails. It’s pretty easy to get lured in with vanity metrics, or ahem, marketing. To show upwards trending graphs that really don’t give a complete picture of the health of the community.
We have to be clear in our minds that scale does not equal growth. Often when things get big we sacrifice or neglect what we cannot quantify with immediate value. We celebrate the new members coming in, yet will often fail to nurture them.
Therefore I do not believe this role is a simple case of replacing the traditional ‘growth hacker’ mindset. Growth in community is not marketing. Nor is it a growth hacker type role — it’s not about going in with a bunch of tactics to increase engagement.
The reality is some of the things we do as community growth builders look like growth and marketing. For example, sending out emails could be perceived as marketing. However, email is really a communication tool. Marketeers communicate. So do community builders. The goals each profession are trying to achieve are different, the tools are sometimes the same.
Another example is using social media for community. We can very much use social to build community, this does not mean it is social media marketing. Again, this comes back to conversations and communication.
Marketing have owned any tool that communicates with people. We must learn to look at many of them as conversation tools, not marketing tools.
It feels like tools define careers, however, I see this as a ‘we just happen to use the same tools’ scenario — our tools do not define our roles. We can use tools creatively and differently, especially when they involve communication.
The lines are blurred. There is no denying that. As we advance in our community industry I hope we can create more clarity.
Growth comes with data, value and density of relationships
Growth in a community perspective is not necessarily about the metrics or numbers. Growth is not scale. It’s not about getting more members in the door, or getting more forum conversations happening. When we grow a community it is about the value and relationships we create.
We create value by doing things like:
- having conversations
- connecting with the right people
- research, listening and understanding our people
- being helpful
- saving time
- uncovering information
- creating products of value
So, what do community growth people do?
Community growth people understand the mission. They have their minds set on big dreams. They want to help change the lives of the people in their community. They have their feet grounded in reality, yet are focused on where the community needs to go to succeed.
They also understand the boundaries, such as:
- community is not marketing
- community growth comes from a strong foundation
- relationships are key
- things like ads will likely not work
- community grows at the speed of trust
- listening and researching (aka Community Discovery) is crucial to understanding how to grow
- instead of growth hacks, they seek opportunities
A community growth role is more about having the ability to understand the community strategy as a whole and identify ways to grow a community. Part of it can be improving conversion rates. Or ensure community processes are tight-knit and growth-oriented. It could also be about addressing the content and the culture of the community.
However, more meaningful parts could be using community research to learn to deliver extra value. With great research come great opportunities. Community growth people learn to spot gaps to fill. They understand the industry inside out. They know what people need. And they jump on opportunities that help members or the community grow.
Community growth builders know that growth in numbers is not all that matters. They know that context matters and vanity metrics can equally harm a community. As much as they might look for opportunities to grow, they may also look for ways to cut back on community debt, or the overwhelm of noise. Just like in the SEO world it is recommended to remove unnecessary pages to help websites gain traffic, the same principle can apply to community — less is often more.
Community growth is not about more. It’s about doing better and creating value. It’s about retaining over churn. About understanding where people are at in their community journey and (co)creating something to help pull people in and bring them together.
Community growth specialists get good at creating community journeys that work. They understand growth tends to come slowly. They understand the pieces that work within a community flywheel. They know that if one piece of community flywheels are removed then it could all come tumbling down.
Importantly, they know when is the right time to act.
Good growth people:
- know when a good idea from a member is worth backing are strategic rather than in the day to day trenches of the community
- know what makes the community tick
- create a bridge between stakeholders and the members
- experiment with ideas and conversations
- know that they need to invest in their members
- capture feedback and progress to show what is working
- love creating and improving upon community flywheels
- understand that many communities are distributed in their nature and develop strategies to pull them in
- can report on quantitative and qualitative community data
- invest in community opportunities
- optimise for many parts of the community journey
- support reducing community debt
Ultimately, community growth specialists understand what makes communities tick and have a strategic view of the future of community. The moment we stop focusing on growth is perhaps the moment our communities start to become irrelevant.
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