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The Community Roundtable released its first State of Community Management (SoCM) report in 2010. And in the ensuing five years, the report (and the discipline that it covers) has matured from a collection of disparate practices to a set of measurable competencies with proven business value.

While many community managers still face challenges identified early on -- most notably underfunding of projects -- they now have a set of tools and benchmarks by which to gauge progress, set goals and measure success.

From Tacit to Explicit

Rachel Happe, cofounder with Jim Storer of the Boston-based Community Roundtable, producer of the annual report, described the report's evolution from 2010 till present as an arc from tacit to explicit knowledge:

Back then we were aggregating practices. We didn’t know what was standard, we didn’t know what were best practices, but we had inklings of what was important .... Now it's 'Do you want a community? Here's what you need' -- that's where we are today.”

By following the progression of the reports, it's possible to at the same time see the stratification of a role that was charting new territory in the workplace. Each year brought a refinement of questions, as clear patterns emerged from the survey. Happe offered the difference between asking if a community has a welcome process to asking what the welcome process includes as one example. The survey creates a virtuous cycle -- with feedback from practitioners, being analyzed and codified in the report, which in turn can inform community manager's strategies. 

In a recent post, Dion Hinchcliffe, Chief Strategy Officer at business consultancy firm Adjuvi, pointed to the integral role community managers play in the success of social initiatives. When asked what the SoCM offers to the field, Hinchcliffe described the annual report as,

... the benchmark for how digital communities are nurtured and facilitated by a vital new role that we've not seen in earlier forms of communication and collaboration: The online community manager. The collective industry lessons captured by the SoCM have been notable in showing how communities produce value."

Putting into Practice

Heather Ausmus has been working as a community manager for over three years. In her position as online community manager for customers in the building efficiency area at Johnson Controls, Ausmus uses the competencies outlined in the SoCM reports to create a roadmap and prioritize goals for the year ahead.

When asked to describe the biggest change in the years since she started as a community manager, Ausmus said that leaders within the organization,

now understand the community more. Now that we can communicate the value of the community and correlate it to community management activities, we've started putting emphasis on community engagement."

With the introduction of benchmarking, Ausmus started to incorporate the maturity model to measure and adjust activities to meet goals. She noted the reports provide a common vocabulary for her to clearly communicate with management.

Senior Manager of Collaboration at Ricoh US, Courtney Zentz has also seen a change in the attitude in her five years as community manager. She described it in one word, "acceptance." The 25,000 member internal community Zentz manages aims to be at the epicenter of everything the employees do with content and collaboration. Zentz sets up monthly KPIs and targets for growth based in part on the maturity levels in the SoCM report. She uses it to help "get to the next level."

Zentz advises community managers to, "take the good with the bad and grow with it. This is a very new space for everyone. If we didn’t do things the right way in the first place, but we just went back and fixed it. Don't be afraid of trial and error." 

A Gamble or a Smart Investment

Companies that treat community management as strategic as opposed to tactical achieve higher levels of maturity. And in the words of Happe, achieving higher levels of maturity with communities is "the difference between gambling and a smart investment."

The 2015 State of Community Management survey is currently open. Community managers, take the 20 minute survey here.