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Mind the GapHere’s one way to think about what community means for many businesses.

Community is what fills the gap between sales and service. Too many companies still only talk to customers when they are selling or when something goes wrong. Sales and service. But between those two things is this huge gap, which we can refer to as everything else.

If you aren’t in this gap, you are vulnerable. It’s risky because there can always be another company that is willing to come in and treat your customers better than you do. That’s why community – real community work, online community building and management, not just general social media marketing and use – is so important to business right now and will only continue to grow in importance moving forward.


Recently, I received an email from a community manager that was dealing with a lot of abuse, harassment and insults, including threats of death and violence. As unfortunate as it is, that stuff happens to many professionals in this space. That doesn’t mean it’s OK or that it should happen. But we have to acknowledge that it does if we are to deal with it.

From this point forward, I will refer to the community manager who emailed me as CM.

The worst part of the story was how the community manager’s boss reacted. The boss forbid CM from taking any action against the members. If they did any of those things to a fellow user, CM is allowed to take action. But if it is directed at CM, nothing can be done. Members can’t be warned, and CM cannot ban them. CM can’t even remove the post they made. The boss has decided to do this under the guise of wanting people to feel comfortable criticizing their site.

This policy is atrocious.

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KickstarterKickstarter is looking for a VP of community and it looks like a wonderful opportunity. Real community work in a challenging, but rewarding atmosphere.

What really caught my eye was this: “The VP of community is responsible for three key areas of our operations: Community Support, Community Engagement, and Integrity.”

An Integrity team that reports to the VP of community. I’ve never seen that before, but I love it, and it works. Especially for Kickstarter.

This is how they describe the Integrity team:

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Most community management issues can be tackled in different ways, but we all tend to agree that simple, easy registration is a good thing. How simple? Well, that varies. I’ve seen registration fields that consist of just an email address or, in cases where a username was needed, two fields. You then receive an email which you click on to set a password.

As software is updated, registration forms seem to get simpler and simpler.

Have you ever considered making it harder to register on your community? I know – the horror – but hear me out. There are potentially good reasons for doing so. Registration is a feature, and like many features, it can be helpful as you face challenges.

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jenna-woodulChief community officer is the highest job title in the land – where the land is the online community industry. Earlier this year, I wrote about the career path for community management professionals, highlighting the CCO title and the first person that I had ever seen with it: Bill Johnston.

Bill informed me that he had borrowed the title from Jenna Woodul, the executive vice president and CCO at LiveWorld. I consider myself a veteran of this space, but Jenna has held the CCO title since before I even started at point A, all the way back in April of 1996. Wow. With experience going back into the 1980s, she is easily among the earliest professionals to call this a career.

I always love talking with the true veterans of our profession, so of course I wanted to interview Jenna. We talked about the chief community officer title, its future and how far this profession has come. I appreciate her taking the time to speak with me.

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The Next 5 Years of the Online Community Profession

Posted by Patrick on September 15th, 2014 in Thinking

Credit: CrystalCC BY 2.0

In June, I visited Brandon Eley and his family in LaGrange, Georgia. Brandon is one of my oldest and closest friends. We have a great time when we get together, but we also talk a lot about business, life and the future. Where we are, and where we want to go. I enjoy these talks tremendously.

During that trip, I published my “I’m Hungry for Change” post from his house. That is a good clue as to one of the topics we discussed: my future and the future of my profession. We talked about how I felt a responsibility to others in this space to accept a role that befit my experience. I laid out what I saw as the future of the online community profession, as far as how the role should fit into companies. Not where it is now, but where it should go.

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Closing Comments Alters Your Purpose

Posted by Patrick on August 21st, 2014 in Thinking

Credit: mjmontyCC BY 2.0

Evan Hamilton wrote the other day about a Washington Post article by Alexandra Petri, where Petri suggests that the idea of a good comment section is too hard, therefore not worth the effort. Petri’s article is interesting and makes some good points, but that’s not really what I want to discuss.

In his post, Evan made two points that he felt the Post missed. First, pointing to io9, that comments can be a reason that you return to a site. That comment sections can be so interesting and engaging that they are a primary reason that many people choose to visit a site. They enjoy the passion, the knowledge and the conversation that happens in the comments.

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Long-running online communities have a challenge when it comes to highlighting newer members. Old members – many of which may not even be active any longer – tend to be the members with the most total posts, most reputation or some other accumulated number.

One of the reasons people participate in communities is for recognition, and one of the ways that happens is through these metrics. If the path to recognition seems impossible, that makes some people less likely to participate.

Community software (or, perhaps, add-ons for our chosen software) can help us here, by displaying metrics that are more timely, in addition to the overall ones.

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CareersIf you are a veteran of this profession – or you are new and hope to one day become one – I’d like to reflect a bit on the career path of the community management professional. Specifically, I would like to encourage you to seek advancement and not sell yourself short.

When we sell ourselves short as professionals, we don’t do justice to the importance of our industry. It impacts the space and those who work in it, in a negative way. It holds us back.

I know that, sometimes, you just have to take what you can get. You have a family to support. I respect that and it’s not what I am talking about. Also, if you are happy where you are and don’t want to take what might be a higher pressure role, I totally get that, as well. Family and happiness should be your priorities.

But then there are those of us who might not be aware of what is out there. Or we just might be a little too comfortable. Or possibly we are a bit too accommodating and too willing to compromise that we do so at our own detriment. You have to know your worth.

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Community and Customer Success Make a Good Mix

Posted by Patrick on May 29th, 2014 in Thinking

More and more, I’m seeing customer success fall under the responsibilities of the community department at various companies, both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). That makes perfect sense.

Where marketing grows your customer base, community aides you in keeping those customers by helping them to maximize the use of your product. Yes, those lines are muddied sometimes, yes, marketing helps you keep customers and, yes, there are exceptions that need not be mentioned.

You might be saying “but Patrick, that’s how it has been already. Community is essentially customer success for many companies and has been for a long time.” You wouldn’t be wrong, necessarily, but I think what we are seeing now is more of a formalization of it. Job titles including something extra and job descriptions making it clearer. David DeWald does this at Thunderhead.com. Meg Christolini did this at CoTweet. And the list goes on.

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