Community Management at 10 - a conversation with Rachel Happe

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett June 19, 2019
The 10th annual Community Management survey provides plenty of reasons to be optimistic - and plenty of challenges

The Community Roundtable recently released its 10th annual Community Management survey (registration required.) In a follow-up conversation with founder Rachel Happe, I wanted to better understand how business communities are performing, where community leaders are winning and the challenges of today. 

The top three findings are grouped as follows:

  1. Communities propel engagement
  2. Communities transform organizations
  3. Community leadership is unevenly distributed

There is plenty of detail to keep community advocates interested. For example on the first point:

When individuals are inspired, engaged, and empowered they fuel a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. Success breeds success because people see engagement rewarded, increasing their comfort in engaging themselves. People live up or down to the expectations set by those around them – and their imaginations and ambitions are limited or expanded based on what they can see in their communities. The culture of a community has the power to limit or empower its members. Our research shows that, in intentionally-managed communities, members feel a high rate of empowerment – and engage at equally high rates.

Perhaps most revealingly, the report concludes that those firms which are operating at what the survey describes as an advanced level are producing demonstrable value, despite the fact that engagement levels are not particularly different from those who operate at an average level. The report suggests that any difference is down to the quality of engagement and the ability to measure success: 

As well as measuring strategic success, those with advanced strategies measure more of every kind of metric. Two metrics, however, stand out because those with advanced strategies are much more likely to measure them: answers and resolution time. Those two metrics are key to assessing community value for the organization and value for the members. 72% of communities with advanced strategies can calculate and prove their value as compared to only 42% of all communities. Of those that can calculate value, those with advanced strategies are also more likely to be able to calculate ROI. This, no doubt, is part of the reason that those with advanced strategies are more successful in securing budgets.

During our conversation, I asked Ms. Happe to outline the problems that many communities face. She said that while community managers are now adept at what they do to foster community building, engagement, and related community activities, they still struggle on the vexed question of measurement. 

For example, managers are not always clear about which metrics matter or, where they are certain, how to relate those back to the business. Ms. Happe says that community managers are not trained in the nuances of business measurement in the way that finance and procurement people are. This makes defining and then measuring value difficult which, in turn, leads to difficulty in securing appropriate budget and resource funding. By way of illustration, she said that many community managers are working on their own, with little to no business support. 

One surprise was her take on how well communities perform among high tech companies. I was under the impression that tech firms would likely be leading lights. Ms. Happe refutes that, arguing that while those communities have been long-standing and well understood, they tend to be insular and viewed through the lens of acting as a support mechanism rather than as a vehicle through which to drive business change that adds value across the entire organization. 

We also discussed my recent conversation with JLL's Rose Hayes during which it emerged that:

JLL is using technology to organically develop a loosely coupled organization that optimizes itself around work that's valuable while incrementally eliminating busywork.

Ms. Happe knows JLL well and concurred with my assessment that they are one of the firms that 'gets' how value can be created across business functions. 

As we concluded, the hoary topic of change reared its ugly head. This is now such a well-worn path that it inevitably induces the metaphoric eyeroll but as Ms. Happe knows only too well, many organizations are feeling the existential heat of change being thrust upon them. How those same firms respond will likely have a significant influence on their ability to succeed and thrive. But then life is becoming more complex and responding to that issue alone requires a different way of looking at the world.

In what many might regard as a counter-intuitive view, the report advises: 

Business models and mindsets need to be flipped from risk-mitigating and process-compliance to inclusion-focused and opportunity-seeking. Control, stability, and efficiency are no longer assets, but liabilities.

My take

As always in our conversations, we go off-piste and down some of my favorite rabbit holes. Even so, Ms. Happe was able to show that while community management remains something of a novelty, the value it delivers is clear to see. How well business leaders and community managers respond to current challenges is an open question. What is undeniable though is that success is demonstrable and capable of measurement in terms the business can understand - provided that help is at hand.