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Graphic text that says, "Community isn't a place. It's how."

Reflecting on a Year: Community Isn’t a Place. It’s How.

The pandemic gave new meaning to a truth that has always been there—people have a fundamental need for authentic, personal connection. Whether at work, at home, or with hobbies, we have seen communities that bring people together thrive. We have seen companies that are community-first, with users that love their product, set a new standard for how to build and innovate. We have seen the rise of community-led growth and are even more convinced that there is a deep need for better solutions to empower organizations to focus on what matters most.

Community is more than a place that people gather to learn and share - it is how companies today build, grow, and create loyal, happy users.

An update about Common Room

Since late last year, we’ve been excited and humbled to partner in closed beta with generational companies whose growth and innovation has been led by their community. We have interviewed and shadowed hundreds of community leaders and built our own community, Uncommon, to support their work. We’ve also assembled a world class team, many of whom have played a key role in building some of the world’s most impactful communities, and are ready to shape a new future.

Across our customers, we are now serving over 2 million community members! We are also launching our new website today - with a deeper look into our product which you can request access to now.

Demystifying the community function

A few months ago, we posted a popular poll: Where should the community team sit in an organization? Many of you believed that community should be its own function, and we’ve seen many community-led companies bringing on Chief Community Officers this past year. Marketing organizations came a close second.

What we’ve learned from partnering with community-first organizations is that community is a team sport - the backbone of community functions are similar across every organization, but it’s influenced by where the community team sits.

Every community team performs 5 essential functions: They quarterback, they nurture, they amplify and educate, they report, and they support and triage.

Diagrams of the 5 functions Community teams perform most often

Quarterback: We have seen community managers and developer advocates all be the quarterback from the community to internal teams -- whether it’s being the voice of community for feedback to the product, sharing a community report of a product launch, or simply routing visibility to the right teams (sales, customer success, product, support, and more) -- they are the heart of community.

Nurture: Healthy communities are self-sustaining, but they don’t become that overnight. Community managers and dev advocates all build relationships with individual community members; making them feel heard, seen, and appreciated. Great community leaders understand where members are in their journey and create champion programs to start the flywheel of advocacy.

Amplify and educate: Community is about skilling up. This might mean creating content like YouTube videos and blogs that help your community learn, or finding and amplifying content that is community-created.

Report: Measure and show the impact of community on your business. The need for reporting on engagement and understanding how to measure a healthy community is a specialty of ours. And as community-led growth accelerates, how will you measure community attribution? It’s the new imperative.

Triage and support: Communities 10 years ago started out as a place to get questions answered. They have evolved so much since then, but support is still a key function that we see across teams. Community teams need to understand which issues to prioritize and make sure they are addressed.

We’re building our product to service the multifaceted work of community teams and their interactions between the community at large and their cross-functional internal stakeholders. Democratization of community context and insights across internal functions is critical to building better products, providing a better service, and powering community-led growth.

The time to invest in community is now: The Community Maturity Curve

Just as community members have a distinct maturity curve -- from joining a community to get questions answered, to participating, to becoming advocates, we see organizations follow a community maturity curve as well.

Most software companies born today are “community-native.” They start building a community from day one. We did too.

We observe a distinct community maturity curve across organizations building community:

  • Phase 1: Seeding the community
  • Phase 2: Facilitating growth and sustained engagement
  • Phase 3: Showing community impact on the business

Phase 1: Seeding the community

Organizations typically build their community on one channel to start. We call this the seed stage of your community. At this stage, nothing matters other than giving to your community.

If you have an available or open source service, providing product support and helping community members get hands-on is critical to how you give. Our own community Uncommon is in this phase right now. Yes, we’re very meta.

Key metrics include sentiment, engagement, and member acquisition/growth. While it’s attractive to lean on community channels as support channels, it’s important to view a predominantly support-based community as a reactive and temporary phase.

The gold standard is getting to one of advocacy. The organizations that treat community purely as a support motion are completely missing the point.
At Common Room, we are uncovering the science behind healthy communities - the patterns and insights that have caused certain communities to thrive, and others to fail. Our product shows metrics like community responsiveness as an indicator of community health and KPIs such as “80% of community questions are answered by other community members” as a standard of a self-sustaining and healthy community.

In the seed phase, bring on community leads who have deep (technical) knowledge of your product and/or love to interact with people and are passionate and authentic. Sometimes this is one person, in most cases it’s a couple.

Phase 2: From seed to growth – moving from reactive support to proactive relationship and program building

As communities mature, community teams begin to support and manage more ways for members to interact with the brand, the product, and each other.

Every organization we work with that has more than 50,000 community members interacts with their community on at least four channels. These channels can consist of a chat-based community, like Slack or Discord, a searchable forum, like Discourse or Stack Overflow, a social media account, like Twitter, and a repository or support queue, like GitHub or Intercom.

Organizations that engage on at least 3 channels start to think about recurring events hosted on platforms like Bevy or Meetup, and training and certification programs.

Building great communities over time involves an investment in multiple channels of engagement, communication, and education spanning from support forums to training and certification programs, corporate events, and much more.

Community teams in the growth phase focus on identifying community contributors and content creators whose work extends the reach of product best practices, knowledge, and use cases. They build ambassador programs to officially recognize and reward these invaluable community members. They create training and certification programs to educate the next cohort of product champions. They partner with select community members to build CGC (community generated content). This can include a speaker bench – a set of community members ready to speak at events and share their expertise, or co-creating great blogs, tutorials, TikToks, and more.

Phase 3: Showing community impact on the business

The most sophisticated community-led organizations we are working with are beginning to seek more concrete ways to measure and report on the impact of their work. They want to understand how nurturing and cultivating community leads to positive business outcomes.

Combining community engagement with product usage and revenue data has unlocked differentiated insights that enable community teams, in partnership with other stakeholder teams including marketing, customer success, support, and sales, to better engage and facilitate the needs of every community member on their customer journey.

In the impact phase, community leaders believe it is critical to understand how community engagement leads to product adoption and revenue.

Many of our community leaders at this stage are surfacing Common Room metrics in their board decks and executive reviews.

A better way to build

Across the maturity curve, the best community-first organizations put community at the heart of how they build, how they engage, how they learn, and how they grow. They leverage rich feedback and data generated by their community to ship better products, provide better customer experiences, and evolve their brands and categories. They use Common Room to intelligently aggregate and share product feedback, identify early signals of bottoms-up adoption, and get deep insights into the health of customer accounts. They are led by developer advocates and community managers who deeply internalize and evangelize the importance of community as a cross-functional team sport.

Community isn’t new. But the intensity of investment in community-led companies and teams is recent. Our mission is to support those leaders and those investments in community. As we continue to learn and build for the more than 2 million members we help our customers serve, our customers will be able to support and grow their communities with high velocity, and we’ll be there to support and grow with them with every new member they welcome.

Get started with Common Room for free today and connect with other community and DevRel leaders through our Uncommon community on Slack.