A Cultural Anthropologist's View of Community Management

3 minute read
Marisa Peacock avatar

This year’s State of Community Management report, published by The Community Roundtable, takes an anthropological view of tracking, observing and analyzing how community management is being developed and implemented across organizations. And like cultural anthropologists before them, they have created a maturity model designed to help us all better understand the issues and competencies relevant to community managers. Margaret Mead would be proud. 

Community Managers in the Wild

The State of Community Management report begins with an examination of community managers at work and revealed eight core competencies -- elements that need to be addressed to build a successful community. They include:

  1. strategy
  2. culture
  3. leadership
  4. community management
  5. content & programming
  6. policies & governance
  7. metrics & measurement
  8. tools

Accompanying these competencies are four stages (hierarchy, emergent community, community, network) through which they can progress as organizations begin to integrate into a community management mindset.

community maturity model.png

The Cultural Landscape of Community

Even if you’d been living under a rock for the past few months, you’d still know that something was afoot. From political and cultural revolutions to issues of social justice, online communities around the world have been able to leverage their networks to promote their message to masses to gather support.

The social ecosystem, consisting of social networks, online forums, online petitions and videos, made it ripe for community managers to organize and mobilize their supporters to take action and make a difference.

While crisis helps facilitate the community manager’s role, the authors of the report note that many organizations still find themselves unprepared to respond appropriately using the right tools. They write:

Crisis may be the best way to understand the need for community management, but many organizations are seeing dramatic reduction in operational costs and increases in the quality and speed of innovation."

Perhaps as a result, or in spite, of their lack of resources, communities are taking new shapes and forms to accommodate their needs and values. Organizations looking to develop a presence among these communities must understand the different types of networks and their complex structures.

Learning Opportunities

The report highlights three types of community structures:

  • Exclusive -- feature relatively high barrier to entry (e.g., fees, expertise, credentials)
  • Discrete -- membership is based on activity
  • Distributed -- no official membership exists, allowing participants to interact and engage from a variety of platforms

Maturity Provides Opportunities, Challenges

As community structures and activities mature online and off, community managers are afforded a great opportunity to help guide actions in alignment of organizational missions and goals. Community management strategies are also expanding within the organization as more opportunities for employees to form internal communities.

While such growth can provide great prospects, it also presents new challenges. Building workflows and deploying the right technology are not always easy -- considering that community engagement often relies on experimentation, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to develop proactive strategies, only reactive approaches.

Explore, Build, Translate

The authors are undaunted by these challenges and are optimistic that community managers will learn how to overcome and chart “new paths for their organizations in a complex new environment.”As a whole, they see community managers as explorers, builders and translators. 

From an anthropological perspective, The Community Roundtable presents a fascinating framework for how community managers can navigate their way through an evolving network of social activists and online advocates. For organizations that are not necessarily looking to change the world, the report may seem overwhelming.

For those wanting to examine the role of the community manager more in-depth, the report provides an appendix full of artifacts, organizational patterns and initiatives.These provide an additional lens through which to analyze patterns and approaches of community management.