Community managers delivering stellar ROI despite extensive burnout

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy May 22, 2018
The 2018 Community Roundtable survey of community managers is out. Some very encouraging results but resource pressures are leading to heightened stress and burnout.

community impact
Rachel Happe, who has led the Community Roundtable since 2009 kindly sent me a copy of the 2018 annual survey among community manager practitioners. (Download link.) While the survey respondents are self-selecting, the results are extraordinary and instructive.

Key findings

  • Communities are change agents: Community programs impact multiple functions,
    stakeholders, and departments in organizations. They have immense potential to be agents
    of change by efficiently dispersing knowledge and information across organizations and
    their markets.
  • Communities create transformational value: Community programs show an average ROI
    that exceeds 2,000%. They enable behavior changes that directly impact profitability and
    revenue generation, while also having an overwhelmingly positive impact on brand and
    cultural sentiment.
  • Community teams are underfunded: Community professionals are burnt out due to
    increasing success and workloads without the accompanying increase in resources and
    support. This is limiting impact.

The report provides examples of community programmes demonstrating a positive impact such as

A large majority, 80%, of community programs report an increase in asking and answering behaviors, which are critical to capturing implicit knowledge and making it transparent and accessible...Nearly 30% of community programs saw individuals taking on more leadership tasks, including helping individuals proactively address problems, which is key to unlocking hidden potential.

Pressure and burnout

You'd think that in light of those findings that community managers reported ongoing and enhanced support for their efforts. That's not the case. The report found the average size of community teams is the equivalent of 4.4 FTEs who are endeavoring to fulfill up to 12 roles such as strategy, engagement, moderation and analysis. It is therefore of no surprise that reported levels of stress and burnout are very high, and, equally unsurprising:

Community programs are not reaching their full potential to impact strategic goals and transformation due to a lack of resources coming from the executive level.

Faced with pressure, managers are inevitably drawn into making hard decisions about which roles require prioritizing:

In order to continue performing, professionals are spending most of their time on maintaining community engagement and content.

Community professionals have no time for critical tasks like measuring value, program management, and internal advocacy - all would fall under business management.

The report notes that time devoted to business management is an astonishingly low 10%, with little or no time available to document, communicate or advocate what's happening. The report describes this as leading to a 'circuitous problem' where the work undertaken by community managers is lost or unrecognized.

My take

This report is both encouraging and troubling.

On the one hand, the report says that community approaches are becoming commonplace for complex business problem solving and success is apparent if not always easy to measure in conventional terms.

But underfunding and a failure to promote the collaborative mindset holds back fresh development.

Funding is easy. But for as long as management insists on proven ROI and doesn't resource the time needed to make and follow the business case then there are no wins to be gained.

The collaborative mindset is an altogether different issue:

Moving from a zero-sum mindset to a collaborative perspective requires a radically different view of competition: changing the “winner-take-all” thinking to win-win-win and generative approaches to business models. This is a hard shift in a business environment rife with layoffs, asymmetric financial rewards, and no budget or time given to individuals for experimentation and reflection.

Add in FUD around AI-style solutions eating jobs, the mistaken belief that cognitive systems possess magical powers and that 'data-driven' primacy is all that matters and you have a toxic mix of pressures. In short, believe the BS and you get BS results.

We recently noted that Bill McDermott, CEO SAP put his weight behind revitalising the SAP community. Evidence of action comes from fresh hires of well-respected people in the SAP developer ecosystem. Only yesterday, I saw Craig Cmehil re-pimping his schtick. I guess it was necessary given the reboot nature of SAP's 2018 community. The new initiative outcomes are less clear but it is early days.

My concern with that community remains. Restrict investment to the developer end and maybe you get better developers. But SAP is a business system which has to meet the needs of LoB managers and which faces specific non-technical challenges that won't go away anytime soon. That's a different problem.

Looking back over the history of community management, the progress made has, at times, seemed glacial. The latest report provides cause for modest celebration. I hope that community managers can look forward with confidence though I suspect that's wishful thinking.

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