Online communities are bringing in the harvest and reaping the benefits of their hard work.

This is the overarching theme of the State of Community Management 2015, released today by The Community Roundtable.

Rachel Happe“As a data analyst, that’s an exciting place to be because it helps educate stakeholders about the value we bring,” said Rachel Happe, co-founder and principal of the organization during a pre-briefing.

“The discipline has made amazing progress over last few years. Online communities are now common. When we started The Community Roundtable, that wasn’t something I could have said.”

Happe and her colleagues gave CMSWire a rundown of the key findings in this year’s report.

Strategy, Operations and Tactics

The research this year focuses on three areas: strategy, operations and tactics. All three need to be in balance to ensure the long-term success of any community, the report maintains.

“Communities need a community-centric strategy, operations to support and reinforce engagement, and day-to-day tactics to make engagement happen,” said Happe. “In the past, community and engagement has primarily been seen as a tactical problem. Leading organizations now understand there is an operational component as well.”

Strategy: Invest in people and processes, not just platforms

Although not an earth shattering finding, the research shows that many organizations are still placing too much focus on the technical aspect of communities, and not enough on developing its community team or systems to support them.

“The technology alone is not going to get you where you want to go,” said Happe. “Most of the reason you need bigger teams is not just to keep up with the tactical growth of your community, but to plan, align and integrate the community into the rest of the organization and profession.”

This is why TheCR recommends the following:

  • Provide ongoing professional development to your community management team (37 percent of best-in-class communities offer either conferences, coaching, memberships in professional networks, or some other way to develop their staff)
  • Hire enough staff to handle both the day-to-day management and strategic aspects of your community
  • Define the structure, culture and rewards of your community through policies and governance (Be sure to include both prohibited and expected behavior. Only 40 percent of community policies do this. The other 60 are missing out on the chance to reinforce positive behavior – something that nine out of 10 of the best-in-class communities do, according to the report.)

Operations: Advocacy Programs Are More Than a Checkbox

Consistent with last year’s report, communities with formal advocacy programs – and especially multi-tier programs that address a variety of advocate types – are essential to becoming a best-in-class community.communities with advocacy programs

This year’s report shows that best-in-class communities are almost twice as likely to have formal advocacy programs, and three times as likely to have multi-tier programs.

The report also went a bit deeper into the features of these programs, with access to the community team, early product access, recognition in community and the opportunity to give product feedback at the top of the list.

Ted McEnroe“Communities with formal advocacy programs are more likely to be able to measure value and ROI, have an approved strategy and roadmap, and to engage in strategic planning,” said Ted McEnroe, head of content for TheCR.

“They also scored higher than others on all levels of the community management model,” he added.

Tactics: Quick Wins Help Improve Engagement

The final finding of the report reveals some quick wins that organizations can take advantage of in order to improve engagement.

  • Define your company’s value: Those who defined shared value for both business and member objectives are 3x as likely to be able to measure the value of their communities.
  • Implement or upgrade new member welcome programs: Offer a range of programs that incorporate a human connection for higher engagement, including video welcome tours and welcome callsnew member
  • Invest in community management training: Professional development for staff exposes them to people, ideas and practices will help them develop more successful communitiesProfessional community development

Want to find out more about where communities are in 2015, and where they’re headed? Download the report here.

Simpler Media Group, 2015