Online Community Department Vs the World

Where does the community team belong in a commercial organization?

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?
[Keep reading for indepth reasoning behind the different departments]

Where does the community team belong in a commercial organization? – Online Community Report

I received some great responses via email and comments on my previous post: Where does the community team belong in a commercial organization?

Most responses I received gravitated towards the marketing
organization, with Product Development and Product Support running
close behind. A couple of folks recommended cross-organizational teams.

Joi Podgorny
‘s comment was very encouraging in that she had made a
decision to have her community team function as as a stand -alone

We ended up having the online community live as an
autonomous unit within the company. This was done for a variety or
reasons, but especially:

– representation on the executive level – the only team that could
voice the unique needs that the online community team had was the
online community team themselves

– innovation – having to get approval for new plans/ideas, etc for the
community and then seek approval from dept heads that didn’t understand
our core goals began to hinder the innovation possible on the team

Once our team had autonomy, the morale and inventiveness of our team soared.

After thinking about this a bit more, and mulling over all the great
feedback and ideas that my original post spawned, I feel like the best
options are…

Where Does the Community Team Belong? A Follow Up -Online Community Report

Aside from the ROCKIN’ quote from my favorite mentor, Joi Podgorny, this is a really relevant discussion– especially as branding continues to grab hold of the power in communities.

I have recently found myself bottlenecking all things kid/community (which, thankfully for my mind, I have stopped doing).  There was a period of time where I was concerned with the large difference between the needs/wants of my kid community and what marketing believes the community needs/wants. 

We have large collection of subculture kids who believe that our series has characteristics of rebels, goths, emos, pranksters, jokesters, (Tim) Burtonesque.  They identify with the darker side of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network‘s kid-mania.  Who would have known that the graphic novel series Naruto could be considered a competitive property other than our rabid audience?

As we strive to “lighten” our property for a marketing/license-friendly adult audience, the kids themselves continually hammer home their favorite naughty bits of the stories.  As a company that believes in kid-content & kid-inspiration, it would not serve us well to ignore their young voices. 

It is my job to ensure that the voice reaching the online community stays within range of the brand as well as the desires of the audience.  When we took an autonomous position, we didn’t necessarily depart from the Marketing initiatives.  They are the structure from which we build.  We share information from our community to both the creative and marketing sides of the house. 

We’re like the grown-up kids of our marketing parents, and we live in the apartment above the garage.  We’ve got the same DNA, raised with the goals & morals of our parents, and we’re always within contact… but our environment, perspectives, and goals are different. 

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