In order for a customer community to be successful, it is important to understand how your community can provide value not only to the customer but to the business that you represent.
I firmly believe that community is the core of the customer experience. In a community, customers at all lifecycle stages can interact with your brand. As prospects, potential customers can join communities to explore product functionality and gain new knowledge. Established customers can engage in communities to share feedback and get updates. Advocates, promoters, and loyal fans use online communities to share their stories and knowledge with peers.
As a Community professional, your strategy has the ability to add value to many parts of the business. Each potential community use case can enhance the strategy and goals of many different internal departments. One of my favorite Community industry leaders, Holly Firestone, VP of Community at Venafi, has created a fantastic framework that outlines how communities can drive ROI across the business.
Community is not meant to exist alone on a forum or in a silo in your business’s org chart. The community can be a key component to the customer experience journey — IF you can make your case and sell your vision internally.
In this blog post, I will share my best practices for how to grow your community’s footprint across the org by sharing the value of your community, getting stakeholder buy-in, and making it easy for other departments to leverage the community. These are some methods that I’ve had success with during my career and I hope they can help you too.
Let’s get started!
Unsurprisingly, the foundation of any cross-functional work is relationships. This is such a no-brainer step, that sometimes it doesn’t get the attention it really deserves. Building relationships is more than just making new friends (although that is definitely part of it!). You have to build the right relationships.
A good place to start is your company’s org chart. Familiarize yourself with how teams are organized and uncover who manages the people and programs that affect customer experience. These are your people.
Talk to your boss and team members and learn how you currently work with these individuals and their business units. Ask if there are existing relationships or cross-functional processes in place. Is there history with that team? What kind of blockers existed in the past that might have prevented closer collaboration? Basically, do your homework.
Now that you know the players, it’s time to make some introductions. I like to reach out and schedule a 15–30 minute meet and greet call. If you are in the office (or living in a pre/post Coronavirus world), you can offer to buy them a coffee or meet up in the break room. Keep it brief and make your purpose clear when you schedule time.
Here’s how I typically format my invite and ask:
Intro meetings are all about listening and learning — not action. This is your opportunity to share the potential of community and what you can achieve working together.
During the intro meeting, my focus is:
- Introducing myself and my role.
- Learning about what they do and what their goals are.
And here’s the big one —
3. Asking “How can the community help you?”
I want to learn their initial impressions about how they envision the community helping them better understand or engage with customers.
In these conversations, my goal is to uncover any sense of shared purpose and interest. I take a lot of notes and try to resist the urge to jump into solution mode or go too far down any one rabbit hole. There might be opportunities for quick wins or to affirm “we can do that!” But overall, I try to keep it brief, keep it friendly, and plant the seed about the value community can bring them.
It is also very possible that whoever you are meeting with will have absolutely no idea what community is and how it could help them. This happens. All the time. Their reaction can vary based on their experiences and how customer-centric and community-led your organization is. Don’t worry, all hope is not lost. This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship and there’s a lot you can do as a community leader to show the value that community can bring (more on that in a moment).
With these folks, try asking alternate conversation starters like:
- “What do you wish we could help our customers with?”
- “What’s one of the biggest gaps you see in customer experience?”
Last note: these tips are great if you are new to a company or in a new community position, but this approach can be a great starting point anytime you have a new idea or community initiative you need to gather cross-functional support for or whenever there is a new hire you want to bring into the community friend zone.
Have a Vision
Making friends and planting the seed of value is just the beginning to building great cross-functional collaboration in your Community role. To take things further, you need a plan — a strategic vision for your Community.
A community strategy defines your approach, goals, and how your community program will support your company’s strategic objectives. A well-defined strategy will articulate the purpose of your community and give you the language and a framework to share your vision.
Strategy building is no simple task and honestly, a lot of Community Managers skip this and go straight to program planning and tactics. Don’t be one of those people. It can be very tempting to jump straight into action. However, without a strategic vision as your Community North Star, you’ll have a much harder time being successful and gaining the cross-functional support you need.
How to define a community strategy could easily be a standalone blog post — or series. Luckily, there are a lot of great resources out there to help you begin this journey. One of my personal favorites is the Feverbee Strategic Community Management resource.
Once your strategy is drafted, shop it around with your leadership team. Make sure your vision is aligned and you have their enthusiastic backing. Without it, you’ll likely be able to make some progress, but eventually, you’ll hit a roadblock. Limited budget and resources, misaligned prioritization, and the worst— apathetic indifference to the community are killers to long-term and cross-functional success. Without leadership backing, it will be difficult to make transformational change allowing the community to spider out into other orgs.
Make It Easy
You’ve built relationships. You’ve got an incredible strategy. And best of all, your cross-functional peers are excited about the community! Hooray!
It’s now time to get these new community friends integrated into your vision.
Before you proceed, a word of caution: No matter how much enthusiasm your peers have, the community is never going to be their number one priority. It’s sad but true. In the very best-case scenario, you and your cross-functional buddies are partners in executing a shared project/program for compounding, mutually beneficial results. In most scenarios, your work might be a means to an end to help them achieve their goals (or vise versa). Worst-case scenario, the community is a helpful tool or resource, but ultimately, it is a low priority with a low level of impact on their goals.
All of this is okay and normal, and a big part of why it’s your job to make it easy for them to get involved. Community isn’t their job, it’s yours. The ball is in our court as community leaders to help make cross-functional involvement as seamless and frictionless as possible, so that your peers will love working with you and the community. The more friction there is around working together, the less benefit the community will see.
Making it easy for them could take many forms. It might mean:
- Giving employees an easy way to login to the Community. SSO is your friend.
- Creating internal training to demystify the community experience and teach employees how to engage.
- Working within their workflows. Understand what tools and processes they have in place and show them how community can fit into their established routines.
- Creating easily accessible reports and metrics that share results and progress toward common goals.
Whatever the ask is — don’t make them do the hard work, put that burden on your team.
I hope these tips help you navigate the cross-functional waters of community management. I’d love to hear what you’ve done to share your vision, gather community friends across the org, and demonstrate the value of a community outside of the forum.