3 Online Community Predictions for 2017
1. Product and Community Will Be Tightly Integrated
Fitbit, the company known for its wireless wearable devices that tracks personal fitness activity, integrates with their online community through Challenges and Activity Groups. These Challenges and Activity Groups enables everyone to compete with friends and all Fitbit users by pushing the data captured in the mobile app and wearable devices to the community; allowing members to earn badges and climb leaderboards.
TurboTax, the online tax preparation software company, integrates with their online community, AnswerExchange. If you’re in the middle of filing your taxes and get stuck, you have the option to search for answers from right within the user interface. The search feature pulls results from questions asked in the community and displays the best answer provided by a member expert. Community answers are also verified by TurboTax staff to ensure accuracy.
These types of integrations won’t be the case for every online community, but if you’re in software, offer SaaS, create wearable devices, an electronics manufacturer, or into smart connected products, this is an easy way to scale your support team, engage and delight existing customers, and spur activity in your community.
2. The Line Between Community Manager and Product Managers Will Blur
A community manager’s responsibilities and a product manager’s responsibilities are not so dissimilar in that they both engage customers, both create roadmaps, and both create and maintain requirements. I mean pull up a job description for both roles and put them side-by-side. You could almost match up responsibilities line-for-line. The main difference? In the community manager’s world, the community is the product.
Where you’ll see the most success in creating as valuable of an experience as possible for your members is to have a seasoned community manager with a strong product background or a seasoned product manager with a strong community background. If you’re fortunate enough to recruit either one, you’re guaranteed to deliver a flawless product that was directly influenced by your engaged members.
3. Online Communities Will Be Mobile-first
Successful online communities are beasts when it comes to user-generated content. When you’re on a desktop, navigating and engaging with all that content is easy, well fairly easy at least. But if you shrink that screen size down to a smartphone-sized screen, it’s damn near impossible to perform all the functions like on the desktop counterpart.
With the amount of time people spend on mobile devices, community teams need to think mobile first. A mobile experience should be seamless. Your online community is inevitably going to be visited for mobile devices. If your members (and prospective customers) have a bad experience, their business is going to be lost.
Your visitors are used to operating in a mobile environment. If your community is optimized for a mouse and keyboard, things will get frustrating quickly. Common signs of finger-unfriendliness are a need for constant zooming and un-zooming and “sniper-clicking”. If you see someone desperately using the very tips of their fingers to try and navigate your community, something is wrong.
4. Community Managers and Social Media Managers Will Continue to Be Misunderstood
As a community manager myself, I try to stay in-the-know of who’s hiring community managers. I’m not keeping tabs because I’m selfishly looking for career opportunities. I keep tabs because it provides great insight into the companies, and the industries they represent, of who is adopting and developing community strategies.
Giving a quick look through job descriptions for community managers sometimes leaves me confused, even a little disappointed. I find myself saying “Isn’t what they’re describing the role of a social media manager and not a community manager?” Though some of their tasks can overlap, social media and community managers serve two very different business functions. (See also Do you really need a Community Manager or a Social Media Manager?)
I can boil the difference down into its most simplest form:
- Social Media Managers increase brand awareness and reach to acquire new customers through the distribution of relevant marketing content and advertising through social networking platforms.
- Community Managers connect customers to one another AND enables them to directly interact with the brand.
When discerning community activities from social media marketing activities, just remember that social media marketing brings people in the door and community ensures that they stay and are comfortable. It is our job as community professionals to define the role of community manager, continuously educate the marketplace, bring clarity, and deliver value of this indispensable business function.