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What Does it Mean that 60% of Fortune 50 Companies Invest in Community?

5 minute read

December 9, 2019

Over the last two years, I’ve been tracking community investments of the top 50 companies out of the Fortune Global 500. Fortune Global companies are the largest companies in the world, ranked each year by Fortune magazine. Fortune creates the list by ranking public and private companies that report annual revenue figures to their government each year for the corresponding fiscal year. 

Looking at this list of top organizations, you can see how these large companies grow and change from one year to the next from a revenue standpoint. However, it can be hard to tell exactly how they invest in marketing, sales, and strategic efforts that lead to revenue growth, such as community programs. Many of their community programs operate behind registration walls, are invitation-only, and are often not even called community programs (they’re referred to variously as networks, event programs, or engagement efforts, to name a few). 

So I decided to pull back the curtain on these programs as far as I could. I did this by talking to people inside these organizations, tracking their community management roles and job postings on various websites, and, where possible, locating their online and offline communities. At a high level, what I learned is that - between high-valued startups and the Fortune 50 - somewhere between 38 and 53% of these companies invest in true community programs. There is therefore still a lot of opportunity for growth, community building, and connection among some of the largest organizations in the world. 

The data from my research also suggest that 60% of companies in the Global Fortune 50 invest in community programs. This includes companies like McKesson, Royal Dutch Shell, AT&T, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Total. While these organizations all invest in true community programs, though, many others do not. In fact, nearly half of the programs labeled “community” are not true community programs. They are most typically community relations or corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

Sharing this research with community builders is essential. It can be hard to decipher which organizations are building community programs, and what kind of programs they are building. Here, I’ll share the top three insights about the Fortune 50 that I gleaned from research. You can download the full report for more information about the community investments of the Fortune Global 50 and the top 50 valued startups

1. Though 60% of the top 50 organizations claim to invest in building community, only 38% focus on building true peer-to-peer community programs.

 

% of fortune 50 companies with community programs that are focused on community relations

This chart shows how, of the 60% of companies that invest in community, 53% invest in peer-to-peer programs, 10% invest in community relations and peer-to-peer programs, and 37% only invest in community relations programs. 

Community relations programs are far different from peer-to-peer community programs. Community relations, which include Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, funnel resources into existing communities by giving away funds, mobilizing employees to volunteer, or having team members connect with policymakers to create change that mutually benefits the organization and the local community. Said differently, CSR and community relations programs are about investing in existing communities: sponsoring a local softball team, donating for a Scouts silent auction, volunteering for non-profits, or attending town halls in local communities where the company has a presence. 

Do not get me wrong: CSR and community relations programs can be a boon to organizations and local communities, but they are not “community programs” as a community professional would define them. Building a brand community requires special investment and effort that differs from the investments and efforts of CSR and community relations programs.

2. Most Global Fortune 50 organizations that invest in community do so through employee community programs. 

While community relations are the top types of so-called community programs run by these organizations, the next most common are employee communities. In fact, one-third of the Fortune Global 50 programs were employee-focused. That means they employed at least one community manager with an employee- or internal-community-related job title and a dedicated program to connect their employees to one another. For instance, Fannie Mae hosts a digital workplace collaboration program, where they connect employees. The company manages this community via Yammer, and its goal is to increase innovation, cross-departmental collaboration, and decrease employee turnover. 

This type of program is indispensable for large, complex organizations. Community programs help information flow throughout the company, rather than existing in siloes.

% of 2018 Fortune 50 Companies that have community programs by type

After employee programs, developer and engagement programs were the most popular, followed by customer success communities.

Developer communities were essential for businesses with complex technology that required an ecosystem of developer support to enable their success. Amazon’s AWS developer community is one of the most robust examples of this type of program.

Engagement programs are any programs that connect prospects, partners, or customers together to talk about the brand and any topics related to the brand. For instance, Xiaomi, a Chinese electronics company, hosts a forum in which customers and prospects can talk about their products, give feedback, but also talk off-topic about electronics from other brands. 

Success communities, like Apple’s peer-to-peer support community, help customers help one another. Apple (which also has a developer community) invests in its support community as a way to improve customers’ usage of its products and services.

3. There is a wide-open field of opportunity for community builders

Most Fortune Global 50 companies do not invest in true peer-to-peer community programs, and there is a wide field of opportunity awaiting any of us able to help large companies understand how, why, and when to invest in community programs.

Communities need a strong internal leader focused on communicating value and generating excitement across the organization. Those organizations that do not have this have not seen lasting success. One community manager I talked to, whose community program was repeatedly shifted around and questioned, gave this advice to companies: “Be open to learning. It was frustrating to step in and manage [our] community and then have [the company] wonder if I was redundant.” Get ready to advocate for your position in organizations like this, and to wait patiently to measure the return on investment. 

Want more insights about how the Global Fortune 50 and the world’s top-valued startups invest in community in 2019? Download the full report. 

Carrie Melissa Jones

Written by Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.

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