What does being community-led actually mean?

Community-led and community-driven, (to me) these mean the same thing, but what do they actually mean for the community industry?

What actually makes a company community-led? Or what makes them not community-led?

Most of my forum discussions start off as a tweet…

What makes a company community-led?

— Rosie Sherry (@rosiesherry) April 3, 2022

Tom Ross:

Community being prioritised in terms of mission/values, resource, budget and focus. Basically putting resource/effort ahead of empty words.

Bethany Handy:

Companies that have community leaders at the executive table helping direct organizational strategy, their executive teams are “bought in” and understand the power of community, and they allocate resources to community building initiatives.

Iambami + Guild

Iambami: I’d say it having people who share a common goal, listening to their opinions, asking for their back, making every single person in the company feels included.

Guild: Great answer…we’d add “and other stakeholders included”, not solely employees but also customers, partners, investors, advisors etc.

Kurt Kemple:

A company that invests more in community initiatives than they do traditional marketing and user research initiatives.

If they aren’t backing that statement up with money and people it’s not real.

There’s also a list on the Community Led website (by Commsor) which lists:

Connecting

Companies focus on building many-to-many relationships.

Empowered

Community teams have the resources they need to succeed.

Cross-Functional

Community is a core thread that runs through the entire organization.

Symbiotic

Community provides value for both the company and members.

I don’t disagree with anything in the list above, I just feel we could go deeper, cover more ground or be more explicit overall.

Some examples that spring to mind:

  • a community could have lots of resources, but they may not have decision making power at the exec level
  • a company could be appear to be supporting the community, but really they are trying to dominate and land grab for their own long term benefits
  • ‘providing value’ could be abused, I think it’s more than that, it’s about being more equitable and respectful, giving back as much as you gain, if not more. Too many companies will hide behind ‘but we provide value’ nonsense.

I like the ‘balanced’ approach that Kurt mentions, especially because as much as I love community and believe in the magic it can co-create, a business needs more than community to survive. Maybe we should all have equal pieces of the pie for community, product, growth/marketing/sales, business operations, etc.

I’ll stick with my comment from Twitter:

whether it’s community-led, or customer-led, or product-led, design-led, etc… it’s a shorthand term that represents a philosophy/focus area. How an organization decides to act on that? How they define it? It’s going to vary.

The common thread, through all the definitions I’ve seen, is that the community is prioritized.

I’d say the opposite of a community-led organization is one that treats the community as a cost, an afterthought, or at worst, a burden.

Things get dicey when an org pays lip service to “their community”, which they use interchangeably with the municipalities they lobby into; their total online audience (including paid ad impressions); or their customer base (whether or not the customer identifies as a member of said community is usually glossed over).

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Is a country a company? Yes, because it operates on the international market and makes a profit.
Is the people of the country a community? Yes, because without them, the country won’t exist, and people are developing it by living and working within the country.

Is the country (company) led by people (community)? On the one hand, yes, because people vote for the government (moderators), but on the other hand, people do not affect the government decisions if they are in line with the community goals and wealth. And still, a country led by people, because they’ll rebel if they don’t like something too much.

And the primary goal of the government is to make people happy and gain profit. Same for the community-led company, it needs to gain profit driven by the management and team members but in line with the community goals. For sure, if they create a product for the community and care about members’ goals and wealth.

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I’m adding this comment about ‘community-driven’ as a reminder that there are differences between ‘driven’ and ‘led’.

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Also adding in this from Zachary:

“when business growth is derived from the community”

Interesting discussion. Most people assume ‘community-led’ is a simple thing to define and act on. However, its rare that a community has a single voice. From my experience working with a community based around a product, people rarely agree on what is a priority and even which horizon to aim.

For that reason, I’m not overly keen on community-led as a term because it’s over simplifies the complex interactions between community members and upwards to product managers and brands.

Community-focused
Community-driven
Community-first

Are terms I’m more comfortable with.

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