Where should the Communtiy team live?

by Dawn Lacallade

I have had the rare opportunity to manage communities that lived in the Support organizations (Dell- Forums), the Marketing organization (Dell-Ideastorm) and Product Strategy (SolarWinds-thwack) and were both Centralized and Distributed. If you are considering starting a community, the reporting location is a critical part of the strategy to determine early. The reporting structure often dictates the quality of the participation so align it with your primary goals.

Part I: Central vs. Distributed Team:

In my experience there are two general models of Community Team. The first model is a Distributed team and includes a small central team that is basically the air traffic control that gets the right questions/ideas to the best department in the company for answers. The bulk of the actual expertise resides in these secondary participants from across the company.

- a broader set of expertise because you have part of a lot of people's time
- the ability to have less head count actually on a Community Team
- Initiating and maintaining the participation from these groups when they are not in the same reporting structure.
- Ideastorm at Dell is a good example of this set up.

The second model is to have a Central Community team that is broader in expertise but dedicated to the Community exclusively.
- dedicated staff even in busy times
- ongoing relationships these dedicated staff members have with the community
- need to prove the value of the larger team requiring strong ROI measures
The Starbucks Ideas site is a good example of the central team.

Part II: Marketing, Support or Product Development?

Early in Dell's community efforts, the focus was on the support value of the Forums, we found reporting into a support organization of great value. It helped to ensure we were included in the new product training and knowledge base information, ensured that we fed into all of the product failure analysis processes, and aligned us with the escalation sources when our broad based team members were out of their expertise areas. On the other hand, living in a cost center (rather than a revenue center) limited the interest from the rest of the company. It was often a challenge to have people see past the support origins.

Dell had concurrent efforts (that were eventually merged) from within the marketing team to launch the blog and Ideastorm. This alignment had the value of being in the space where forward thinking ideas and leading edge concepts are more valued. The focus was more on the front end of the customer life span including PR, product marketing and growing customer evangelists. The challenges were the opposite, we fell farther out of alignment with the Support teams that were a lot of the needed input to the Community.

At SolarWinds, the community lives under the product strategy organization. That alignment has built a community that is closely tied to product development and has very high participation from the Product Development and Design teams. Because of that focus we have utilized the community for new product betas, strategic brainstorming, feature recommendations and early life product bug identification.

As you can see, selecting the goals for the community are a huge part of where the community should live within the company.


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