I’m struggling more and more with the idea and purpose of brand communities. To be more specific, product-centric communities for B2B tech.
I’m defining community broadly - not just the forum or user group events. This is anywhere where users are engaging with and about the brand. This can include social media, 3rd party forums like Reddit, Stackoverflow, Github, Slack, etc.
Here’s my rub.
I believe a community manager’s role is to take these engagers and do two things:
- Where possible, create a safe space with direction as to what a user should/shouldn’t do, so that they have the best possible experience
- Steward those that are interested into developing a positive relationship with the brand. This can be through networking, ambassador programs, personalized experiences and invites, and even just attention
Yet, most of the interactions I see in these digital channels are all about product activation.
- Users engage either to get “unstuck” in the shortest time possible by engaging with actual users. * Users join for social proof - to see that there is activity and possibly to see others like them
- Users join to learn
- Users join as a placeholder - they expect to engage in the near future, but aren’t yet ready
Sales is responsible for converting users into customers. To do so, they have to understand user needs and help them realize value as quickly as possible. Sales is the most incentivized to use their time to engage with possible customers, not every user.
Community teams typically want more company engagement within Community rather than doing all the community-building on their own; yet, there is a clear concern by many (although I think it’s lessening) about having Sales present in the community.
I don’t know the right answer here. I feel strongly that Sales can add a lot of value, and extra helping hands, in these environments. They can (and do) respond faster typically, and have access to more resources.
At the same time, by engaging directly, they may inadvertently reduce the public discourse that occurs, and the ability for community members to support each other. This may reduce engagement and have other downstream effects.
There could also be a middle ground, where a Community channel is carved out just for practitioners. But I think we’re all seeing that it’s pretty hard to tell users where to have conversations, unless we’re only talking about gated communities.
I don’t know. What do y’all think? Should we embrace Sales in community or should it be off-limits? Are there other concerns not listed? Would more participants allow community pros to focus more on programs and architecture/member journey?