Building a successful community strategy
Consultants offer leadership guidance to building a successful community strategy.
When leaders are looking for ways to grow customers, reignite communities, and develop new strategies, that is typically a time when leadership might consider seeking the support of a community consultant to evaluate the state of the community and offer improvements to their current organization's community strategy.
In June, the Community Consultants Collective (CCC) and the Community Leader Institute (CLI) partnered to offer CLI members an interactive event to offer tips on hiring a community consultant. The session was led by CLI Brad Weaber and offered conversations with CCC board members Todd Nilson, Carolyn Zick, Mathijs Vleeming, John Summers, and Deb Schell.
Many companies and organizations jump into community building before having a strategy. In addition to the lack of a plan, things change rapidly, and keeping up with technology and the economic changes can be just as complex.
In this article, a few of the takeaways from that event will be shared, along with insights on how leadership can approach consultants intentionally to help them make decisions for the business.
Founded in September of 2021, the Community Consultants Collective is a watering hole for community professionals transitioning to freelance and consulting work to get support, training, and the tools to grow their expertise. Join for free, connect with your peers, and elevate your career!
Why hire a community consultant?
Whether you are a startup or a large enterprise company, bringing on a consultant doesn’t have to be a big decision or a massive investment – but it could be the difference between your community launch’s success or failure.
Most prospective business leaders aren’t sure where to start or what to ask when meeting for the first time with a consultant. Todd Nison shares that a company’s leadership team could push back on bringing in a consultant if the request comes from internally – someone on a community team or even the Director of Community.
“You need to be thinking in terms of the upside that you are going to bring to the organization when thinking about bringing in a consultant,” Todd said.
Some people don’t need a specific specialty forever - community strategy is something that you need at the beginning of a project.
A few questions he mentioned you could ask include:
What is needed for your current challenge?
Is there a need for a redesign of the community structure?
Will there be a need for someone who is tech-savvy and has a background in operations, integration, and implementation of systems or programs?
Do you need to get someone to help you increase activity in your community through hosting or co-hosting events, workshops, courses, or conferences?
Carolyn Zick shared her experience with Patron and said that the most important step for any community professional to have in hand before talking to a consultant is the process and systems used to manage and operate the community.
“If those things aren’t sorted, you may want to look at your time to understand what you need. Being thoughtful with your internal team before conversing with a consultant will make it a much more successful conversation,” Carolyn says.
While some community pros might want more strategy guidance, John Summers says that some of the clients he’s worked with need to validate their internal processes. Having someone from outside the organization to speak with the leadership will offer an opportunity for fresh perspectives.
“Having someone come from the outside, other senior leadership members tend to listen. If you are trying to get traction, bringing in a consultant can help you know if you are missing an opportunity,” John said.
John gave examples of when a large enterprise organization hires a consultant; it usually validates the community's structure, strategy, and approach. In addition, community consultants can help by providing varied levels of support to the organization they don’t have in-house; in most cases, the community professional will ask the consultant to advise on the development of a community if the organization doesn’t have one.
Deb Schell provided context about entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses launching a community for the first time. “It depends if the client wants to restructure a community, launch it for the first time, or grow a community.”
Most business owners are overwhelmed with the number of decisions they need to make, and having an experienced consultant who’s built many communities and seen mistakes, can guide new community leaders.
Mathijs Vleeming shares that the frameworks community consultants bring to organizations are proven and tested. Hence, clients know they are getting methodologies that have worked for other communities structured similarly to theirs.
Strategy Tips: Building a sustainable community in a challenging economy
The community industry has been dramatically impacted by a challenging economy since 2022. In the 2023 Community Industry Trends Report from CMX, 44 percent of people who responded to the survey felt that their organization would increase their community investment, and 59 percent were concerned about losing their job.
In addition, the size of a community team is getting smaller, while the community professionals are being asked to do more than before due to a challenging marketplace. In the report, 54 percent of teams said they have at least two full-time employees mainly focused on moderation and event management.
Bringing on a community consultant can help assess the misalignment of tasks, processes, or systems that aren’t working and build a better plan for improving the impact community professionals make on the organization.
However, in a world where the public expects a community to be “free,” most don’t understand the expense of hiring a facilitator, moderator, events coordinator, graphic designer, or other operational support roles.
A community organizer is a professional role and job that has been compensated for a long time. Still, it has been a new development since the beginning of the online community ecosystem that community professionals started to earn a living by supporting communities online instead of in a physical location.
This means that the community professional has an additional responsibility to teach the leadership about the needs of the community and the costs involved with providing the community experience, professional support, and guidance that can’t be done without hiring skilled experts. John says that the data is not optional – keeping a community role is required. “If you can’t tie your community metrics to the community goals, you will have a rough time.”
Todd said that a vital communication factor is how leadership pitches a consultant to the community team. “You want to know your motivations for bringing on a consultant.”
He said a leader needs to ensure the community professional that the consultant is there to help. Deb agreed and added a story about a CEO she recently met who shared that the community is the product. If a CEO doesn’t understand the value of a community from Day 1, then the community will not be sustainable.
Strategy Tips: Align community tasks with business goals for revenue growth
Building relationships with the leadership of an organization is the first way that a consultant would engage with a business, company, or organization. People only work with those who they know, like, and trust. This means as consultants it is our responsibility to share with the business owners, community professionals, and leadership about the importance of alignment of a community strategy with the business goals from the inception of a community launch.
One of the key factors to a successful community is having the right people in the room and that’s how Deb said she helps guide clients through challenging transitions – by understanding their ideal members. Most of Deb’s clients approach her for her expertise on the Mighty Networks platform but she has so much more than technical expertise to bring to the table – as a former journalist, she’s learned that the key to communication is asking questions and listening to others to understand their story.
As a consultant, Todd shared that he always approaches conversations with clients to ensure he is providing the highest impact to set up a business to reach their goals, and sometimes that goal changes, but knowing that there are goals is what matters most.
In the future, with the uncertainty of AI and social media, there’s no better time to invest in building a community interested in talking about the things that matter most, and that depends on where you are, who you are with, and who is facilitating that conversation.
The problem is that the past funding has focused on marketing and advertising, and the future is focused on connection, collaboration, and conversations. Community isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a way of gathering online and in person to build relationships with real people.
The best conversations you have are with the people you invite into your home, consider social media as the conference where you meet them and the community platform as the home base where they can be heard.
CCC News and Updates
The Community Consultants Collective is looking for new board members! If you know someone that would be a good fit, don't hesitate to contact Deb@FindCalmHere.com to learn more.
The July CCC meeting topic focused on scope creep; if you missed it, check out the recap on the blog; click here to read it.
Join us for the next Community Consultants Collective session on August 2nd at noon Eastern by going to CommunityConsultants.Life/Events and signing up for the recurring link, add it to your calendar (click add events) so that you don’t miss any coming up in the future!
Stay updated with the CCC as a member by checking out our resources.