From the Collective: On Community Part 3 – Putting Community to Work at your Org (and Maximizing its Impact)

Welcome to Part 3 and the final installment in a three-part series focused on community. In the first part, I covered where frameworks can hit their limits. In my last post I talked about how building a culture will help build and sustain your community. Part 3 explores how we can get the support we need by expanding our community teams internally and securing a seat at the table. 

Building community takes work; it requires strategy, continuous content & marketing, buy-in from management, budget allocations and resources, programs and staffing, and above all else, consistency. But if you look at the average community team across growing companies, there seems to be a trend: the teams start small, and often stay small. How can a team of 1-3 people manage, plan for, and run a community operating like a full company?

Spoiler alert: a tiny team can’t, at least not well. But the team can lean on existing internal teams, orgs, and leaders to support the community as a whole and build what I like to call the ‘extended community team’.

I often say that community is the container that holds all customer engagement and activity, but not all customer engagement and activity comes from the community team itself. Your extended team is made up of all other leaders whose programs, products, and/or services engage with, rely on, and activate community members.

For example, in a SaaS company, the Documentation team is its own team and department. They’re responsible for creating product documentation, short how-tos and scripts, and managing the changelog for releases, fixes, and updates. While most community teams operate independent of Documentation, many utilize the Docs team’s materials to share in the community. 

It’s easy to see how the Docs team could seamlessly support community and how community can support the Docs team. But without the intentional collaboration and a plan, community has to track and ask for those documents as needed, creating extra work for the already tiny team, and putting added stress on Docs to respond to community. This isn’t what we want to do.

As a community leader, imagine receiving weekly documentation updates and changelogs directly from the Documentation team that can be shared in community chats and newsletters? Content sent your way on a regular cadence creates value for your members, ensures customers and prospects are updated on all new features and fixes, and comes at little to no lift to you – or the Docs team

Now imagine expanding that alignment across the company to collaborate with additional teams such as: 

Invited Team Member Offer Ask
Product Lead
  • Share product feedback from community members
  • Highlight top-voted asks for features
  • Receive beta invites for select community members to try new features and share feedback
Education Lead
  • Share community testimonials around certification program
  • Highlight members with multiple certifications looking to educate others
  • Promote trainings and support enrollment
  • Learn about new education programs to pilot and share
Documentation Lead
  • Share doc requests coming through community
  • Align on doc updates and releases
  • Pilot a user-run docs update program
Marketing Lead
  • Share top members for interviews and stories
  • Create a member to marketing flywheel and outline their journey
  • Highlight expert community members open to speaking opportunities
  • Learn about ways community can better support marketing and how to integrate the community experience into the brand
Sales Lead
  • Share community ‘Getting Started’ guide for new customers
  • Support handoff of new users post-sale
  • How can community better support deals?
  • Surface common roadblocks members face
Engineering & Support Leads
  • Reduce support tickets with community-led Q&As
  • Support customer happiness
  • Expand product usage via knowledge sharing
  • Review outstanding, unanswered technical Q&As on a weekly basis

The list can go on, and the more you align internally, the more that tiny community team becomes not so tiny anymore. So how do we build this well-oiled expanded community machine? Here are a few steps to get you on your way. 

Show Your Value

Consider this your first task as a community leader: if you want people to follow you, you need to showcase value. Use this as an opportunity to share how you can support their strategic goals, and what you’re able to do. Don’t add in an ask just yet, especially if you’re new. This is an opportunity to simply provide value and get yourself on a team’s radar.

Going back to our Documentation team example, start by setting up a meeting with the head of the team. Use the opportunity to introduce yourself, share a bit about where the community is and what you’re looking to do, ask about their team and goals, and then showcase some way the community can support one of those goals. 

At a prior company, the Docs team wanted to ensure releases were getting out to all customers, but not all customers signed up for release notifications (classic dilemma). I offered to share the releases in my monthly community newsletter, as a release notification in the community (an entirely different notification system), and in an ongoing releases page bookmarked in the community platform. They loved the visibility, I was able to do it all with minimal lift, and we were able to automate the entire process together after a few months.

Report back

As you start collaborating with internal teams, it’s important to track what’s actually being done and report back. This ensures on-going alignment and showcases more of the strategic value and results that community provides .

For the Documentation team, I routinely shared metrics on how many releases were shared monthly, site traffic to the releases page vs general site traffic (the releases page was one of the most popular pages in the community!), and a roundup of comments/corrections sent in from customers for the team to update.

Keep the updates brief and aligned to what the team’s specific goals are. By doing so, the value you’re creating for these internal teams is clear. It also signals to other teams that, ‘Hey, that tiny community team is really doing something!’

Sync with a few internal leaders regularly and report back on how the community is helping. Once you have the relationship built and proven with individual leaders, it’s time to bring it to the next level.

Align Internally

Get a recurring monthly meeting going with all relevant org leaders and share what’s coming up in the community across the company, how it affects their teams/initiatives, what asks you have for them, and what value you and community are adding. This is a group meeting with all of the individual leaders you’ve built relationships with. The group format serves many purposes: 

  1. Helps manage your time now that you’re collaborating with so many teams and leaders 
  2. Shows everyone how community is the thread connecting all of these teams
  3. Anchors many team initiatives to community actions and value 
  4. Positions yourself as the expert in all things community
  5. Deepens community alignment to the business and its goals

Once a meeting is set, it’s time to double down on programs, metrics, and reporting to ensure everyone is up to date. At this point, not only will the leaders know who to go to for anything and everything involving the customer, but individual team members across the company will respond similarly. Don’t be surprised when people are pinging you asking if the community can support an ask of theirs (and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if it doesn’t align with your goals).

As the community carves itself a bigger seat at the company table, you’ve got options for where you go next. Perhaps you want community more involved in company strategy, or just be top of mind when larger decisions are being made. Once you have buy-in from all internal stakeholders across the company, you can strategically position community however you want.

If this sounds like a lot, remember, building community takes work. But by putting in the work from the start – pushing beyond the limits of a framework, intentionally crafting a culture with and for your members, and growing your team in a way that benefits everyone involved – you will create a successful community able to sustain itself.

With all of that said and shared, I love talking about community whenever I can. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you think I can help, and when it gets too tough, just remember that this does not happen overnight, but it certainly can happen.