Where does the community team belong in a commercial organization?

Cross-posted from the OC Report:

Where does the community team belong in a commercial organization? This topic came up at our recent Online Community Roundtable and we ran out of time before we could properly discuss, so I thought I would queue up the discussion here.

The responsibility for Online Community in many organizations is distributed among several teams, including:

– Marketing, which typically owns blogging, blogging outreach and any sort of affinity community, and has some skin in the game on strategy.
– Product Support, which typically owns Discussion Groups
– Product Development, which may or may not own Discussion Groups, a Beta site, and potentially a “Labs” community, as well as potentially product development communities and user groups.
– Events, which owns “live” events like conference and any online component
– Web Team, (who’s reporting structure is usually a whole different ball of wax) which typically owns some technology and user experience
– IT, if you are REALLY lucky, your IT department is somehow involved with infrastructure.

The above is just a rough composite sketch based on my personal experience. The reality is that in most orgs, it usually more complicated, especially if you are a company involved in building customer community as part of your business, as opposed to customer community being your primary focus.

So, where does the responsibility for community ultimately reside in an org?

Marketing? At it’s best, marketing is about acting as the advocate for the customer back to the organization. At its worst, marketing is actively trying to convince customer and prospects to do something they didn’t know they wanted to do, or don’t want to do. A lot of online community activity is coming out of marketing teams today because of typically large marketing budgets, and marketing teams interested in experimenting with new technologies and trends like social networking and blogging. Still, until most marketing teams are REALLY ready to put their own agenda aside and listen to and act on feedback from their audiences, community engagement will be fairly superficial and short term.

Support? Support communities, and in particular those based in Discussion Groups have done the best job of fostering a real sense of community for most companies. Most companies have accepted the fact that the cost of funding Discussion Groups are offset by call avoidance and increased customer satisfaction. Because of this, there is generally a spirit of peer cooperation and a genuine interest in helping customers, as opposed to forwarding an agenda. Could the Support organizations role evolve in to an umbrella role of stewardship for all Online Community activity? Perhaps, but I don’t think this would happen in most companies for political reasons, and in particular, Marketing’s “Divine Right” ownership of customer touch-points.

Sales? Probably not. See the “agenda” issue with Marketing.

Product? Maybe, but I see most product teams as participants in a community, and in particular the community ecosystem around their product or service.

IT? Yeah, right.

It really surprises me that there isn’t a more formal approach emerging, and in particular a role on the executive team like “Community Czar” or “Chief Community Officer”. Maybe this is what the role of CMO wants to evolve into?

What do you think?

Bill Johnston - Founder, Structure3C. Former Head of Community at Dell & Autodesk. Mobile: (415) 233-6914 Twitter: @billjohnston LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/billj In a sentence: Seasoned online community and social media executive and advisor with over 15 years experience developing large scale online communities, social media initiatives and successful online product strategies.
5 comments
  1. […] I blogged about this several months ago, and it seems like the discussion is heating up as organizations try to figure out staffing and funding for 2008. Looks like we will have another interesting year in the community and social media space Where does the community team belong in a commercial organization? […]

  2. […] Corporate program management of community programs Respected community expert Bill Johnston asks the important question of who owns the community? For the many companies that are struggling internally to understand the social media sphere, the […]

  3. Thanks for the head-up as to what my thinking might be as we grow. Right now, your idea of a “Chief Community Officer” is right up my alley, because as a CEO of a small start-up, you have to be in the forefront.

  4. We recommend a dedicated core team with four roles as a minimum for a social / social marketplace site which are increaingly what corporate sites are becoming. These are: editor, commercial manager, community manager and new media creative.

    IT and development certainly play a part, but increasingly this can be outsourced or simply handled on a on-demand basis, whereas the other roles are full-time requirements for a successful online presence.

  5. I have a great title at the organization where I work, Chief Network Officer, and we’re in the process of taking a very strong face to face experience based on local chapters and try to integrate an interest and/or industry based network as part of our value proposition.

    We are struggling w/ how IT supports the effort, how we incorporate strategic alliances and outside partners and how we engage our membership, which is exclusively CEOs.

    We have had a lot of success in attracting members in a short time and are now getting ready to figure out how we convert networks from a membership benefit to something that they are willing to pay for in addition to the current dues.

    Our key person is what we call a network director. We’re constantly evaluating the responsibilities, what additional support we need.

    I am currently looking to hire at least two network directors and am finding, like many of you, that it’s not an easy role to fill. and we need them all around the world, which adds another twist.

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