The global pandemic and work from home has seen an explosion in interest in community management and professional communities. In reality, it’s not really that new, but the pandemic has helped people to understand the potential power of professional communities.
Last week with my Purposeful Relations co-founder Tim Bailey, I attended the inaugural Guild Community Summit on ‘Community Trends 2022 – the business of community’. At least I hope it’s the inaugural one as if it’s as good as this year’s summit then I already look forward to attending next year’s community summit.
It’s rare to attend a conference where every session is interesting and provides nuggets of learning, which is what this one did. I haven’t written every session up, but have covered most of them.
Community management and AI
We kicked off with a contribution via Zoom from Venessa Paech, co-founder of Australian Community Managers. She explored if and how artificial intelligence (AI) could play a role in successful community management.
Venessa focussed on reminding us that communities are first and foremost about people, so there isn’t yet an overwhelming use case for AI for most community management activities. However, there are some potential uses, especially around community content and conversations which could be categorised and tagged using AI.
Minimal Viable Communities
Next up it was Rosie Sherry to talk about her experience and understanding of Minimal Viable Communities (MVC). The MVC concept takes the idea of Minimum Viable Products (MVP) and applies it to the business of creating professional communities. The concept is simply to start small and grow. It’s a bite size comprehensible way to talk about building community.
What struck me is that it was very similar to the ‘social media strategy’ approach I took and recommended with clients in the early days of social media.
Think big, smart small, act fast.
The think big is to imagine the potential of the community to shape your vision.
The start small is to experiment, see what works and start to prove the concept.
The act fast is that if you don’t others will and the opportunity might be lost.
MVCs enable you to experiment, practice and obtain data on what’s working (or not working). The initial conversations and activities will help inspire new and better ideas, leading to new opportunities. One of the most important things to remember when creating and building communities is that it takes time. You need to invest time and resources in the early days to reap success later.
Tim Bailey identified that the Minimal Viable Community process looked very much like lean development or the lean method of management. That is to try small, cheap experiments with activities within your community, to see which offer opportunities to further develop the community or indeed revenue opportunities.
The MVC presentation also introduced the concept of ‘community containers’. A community container is simply the ‘stuff’ in the community. It might be a project, event, commitment or even a group of activities. A community container is also content such as podcasts, videos or blog posts.
Community management roundtables
The summit then split up into two huge ’roundtables’ to discuss questions and issues raised by delegates. The roundtable that we were in looked primarily at issues around engagement, such as how to get community members to be more active. One important point was that ‘lurkers’ or ‘listeners’ are still important members of communities even if they don’t actively contribute to starting new discussions or commenting on existing ones. They often make up 80-85% of community members.
Another issue we discussed was how to get buy-in from senior leaders and colleagues to invest in creating and developing professional communities. Once again, we talked about the vital point that it takes times. Professionally managed communities can be extremely effective, but they usually aren’t an immediate success.
Our roundtable had some great contributions by attendees as varied as the Financial Times, JISC (the organisation that provides digital support to universities and colleges) and Agency Hackers.
Business of community and community trends
Guild’s chief marketing officer, Michelle Goodall, gave an informative presentation on the business of community and community trends. Like me, Michelle has been doing professional community management for a long time. We are both early adopters on Usenet, forums, Second Life, ‘ALL the socials’, LinkedIn and Guild.
She kicked off by asking and answering the question ‘Why is community so hot right now?’
The pandemic is clearly a big part of it. Social isolation coupled with the toxicity of some social media meant that professional online communities provided a safe space for human connections.
Trust is another driver. Specifically, the decline in trust and how trust has shifted from institutions to people and peers. She cited data from the Edelman Trust Barometer to show the steady shift in trust so now a ‘person like yourself’ is trusted. It is people like yourself that you find in the best professional communities.
Technology companies were some of the first to realise the value of professional communities by both creating their own and by acquiring successful independent communities. It was good to see Mind the Product mentioned several times, as my old friend James Mayes has done a fantastic job in building it and then selling it to Pendo.
Michelle also talked about key community trends such as: opportunities in community based marketing; data and measurement; migration from legacy platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn; and increasing investment in money and time.
National Education Union community measurement case study
Mike Joslin, lead marketing officer, for the National Education Union (NEU) gave a mind blowing presentation on how the NEU is using data for community, campaigning, and communications. If you don’t know the NEU that’s because it’s relatively new and is a merger between the NUT (National Union of Teachers) and the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers). The NEU is the largest education trade union in Europe, representing more than 460,000 members. I’ve known Mike since we both worked on communications for the Labour leadership campaigns in 2010 – Mike for Ed Miliband and me for Andy Burnham.
I’m passionate about getting PR and communications professionals to use data and analytics more effectively, but despite more people understanding that it’s essential, most still don’t do it. What was most astounding about the NEU case study was its sheer scale.
Successful public relations or communications always needs a clear business objective. For a trade union, two critical objectives are membership recruitment and retention. Much of the NEU’s community management and use of data is focused on creating engagement and added value for members.
One of the many challenges in using data and analytics in PR and communications is to bring multiple data sources together in a meaningful dashboard. It’s one of the issues I discussed with Adam Vincenzini, the director of global communications at Philip Morris International in our presentation at the DataComms conference last week.
The NEU has successfully integrated more than 250 data sources, including everything from social media monitoring and online surveys, to traditional polling by market research companies. But far more important than simply sucking in the data is that the NEU used the data to improve what it did.
It used the data to create 350 personas (yes, 350) so its campaigns and messaging could be microtargeted at those members who were most interested and most likely to act. It focused on what people wanted to hear, rather than what it wanted to say. Despite a high level of targeting and personalisation the NEU was focused on ensuring everything it did was GDPR-compliant to respect the privacy and data security of its members.
One example of how the NEU used data for actionable insights is how it improved how it used social media. The NEU is now the trade union with the largest social media reach… so large that its reach is larger than every other trade union combined. It also used the data to create micro-ads targeted at as little as 3,000 members.
Another interesting aspect of the NEU’s approach is it worked with external developers to build its own tools and apps. The two primary reasons it did this were to ensure the tools and apps did what it needed, and secondly because the scale of the NEU’s activity meant it was more effective as it didn’t need to pay inflated service and licence fees and subscriptions.
Senior leadership communities
Stephen Pobjoy, senior stakeholder leader, at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development gave an interesting presentation which showed how it’s possible to get senior leaders engaged in online professional communities.
The pandemic might have provided the impetus, but the CIPD’s success was such that it is continuing to invest in creating and developing professional communities. He successfully punctured the myth that senior leaders won’t engage in online communities.
One of the ways the CIPR is growing its professional communities is by using an apex approach. It is asking senior leaders, who are already engaged in communities, to nominate the right individuals from their teams to join specialised communities focusing on their specific roles, expertise or interests.
Both the CIPD and the NEU case studies are rare examples of a professional or trade membership organisations getting community management right. It is something many struggle with as they already believe that as membership organisations they are good at community, so often don’t fully appreciate there are new ways of working.
Community operations model
Blaise Grimes-Viort’s presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of professional communities. He went through the four parts of the community operations model – planning, processes, suppliers, support).
Community Based Marketing (CBM)
Ashley Friedlein tackles the elephant in the room
Guild CEO and founder Ashley Friedlein gave an informative presentation on community based marketing. The elephant in the room is that ‘community’ people are often suspicious of marketing people who fear they will pollute their precious communities by trying to sell stuff to people. It’s rather like the relationship between public relations professionals and marketing people where PR people fear marketeer will pollute relationships with aggressive sales language and behaviour.
The reality is that marketing is a legitimate alongside communities and relationships.
Guild defines B2B Community Based Marketing (CBM) as:
Community Based Marketing (CBM) brings professionals together around a shared practice or area of expertise to create closer, and more valuable, relationships with prospects and customers.Community Based Marketing – the new play in B2B marketing, Guild
PR as providers of community management as a service
It was Ashley’s presentation on CBM that illustrated why public relations professionals are perfectly placed to provide professional community management. It’s right there in the definition “closer, and more valuable, relationships”.
That’s public relations. The clue is in the name – relations. Public relations isn’t, as some people mistakenly think, about media relations. That’s only a tiny part of what real PR professionals do.
Relationships are the lifeblood of every organisation and company. They can’t exist without relationships with prospects, customers, employees, investors, regulators and more. Public relations is the profession that helps manage those relationships with people. Communities are about people and their relationships with each other, the community and organisations. That’s why public relations professionals are perfectly placed to provide community management.
Ashley’s presentation identified community based marketing as sitting at the Interest/Consideration, Desire and Loyalty/Advocacy levels in the traditional marketing funnel. The same place as public relations sits (with the addition of Awareness at the start). Neither CBM nor PR are best at Action/Conversion, but they both play an essential role in ensuring action is possible.
Why not join a professional community on Guild?
There are more than 4,500 professional communities on Guild, many of which are discoverable and free to join. Why don’t you create a Guild account and see if there’s one for you? If you are a senior in-house PR or communications leader, then please contact me and I will send you an invitation to our professional community. It is made up of nearly 100 communications senior communications and corporate affairs leaders from all around the world. Or if you are thinking about your own professional community, then get in touch to discuss it and see how we can help.