In spite of growing evidence of the value of internal and external communities, executives still hesitate when it comes to funding online community initiatives. This is just one of the findings of The Community Roundtable's fifth annual State of Community Management 2014 report, released today.

At 77 pages, this report is the most in depth to date, offering a body of data against which communities can benchmark their efforts. It builds on the quantitative methods established in last year's report to create a set of community maturity indicators.

This is not only a report on the performance of communities, it is a testament to the knowledge gained from them. The methodology and examples included throughout the report were informed through the active involvement of TheCR network members, who make up 43 percent of the 164 communities surveyed.

Age Does Not Equal Maturity

Communities with the most evolved strategies and operations -- termed "best-in-class" -- were more likely to measure value (at 85 percent) than the average communities (48 percent). Age does not necessarily correlate with maturity however, as communities formed in the last three to four years were able to build on the lessons of earlier communities. 

The report identified five key markers of maturity:

  • A measurable community strategy
  • A fully resourced roadmap
  • A community playbook
  • One or more full-time community managers
  • Executive participation

The distance found between having an approved strategy and having a resourced roadmap suggests that executive enthusiasm rides high for community initiatives in theory, but falls off when it comes down to how to execute the strategy. 


Forrester Senior Analyst Kim Celestre confirmed these findings, 

Communities are being up-leveled to be a part of the overall customer experience strategy. The C-Suite is getting more involved in the strategy process .... Where (community initiatives) go off the rails a bit is when the community team needs to find the resources for greater community initiatives and more involvement across the organization."

Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder of The Community Roundtable, was not especially surprised by the findings, but by the stark discrepancy: 

Learning Opportunities

It explains a lot of what’s going on in the market right now -- community managers who are tasked with everything from moderation to community strategy ... and organizations don’t really have the confidence to make investments because they are not sure which investments matter - in those cases, they make no or little investments, so community managers are operating under really tight constraints and being asked to succeed." 

But the data from the best-in-class communities revealed that "the more you invested in community processes and programs, the more likely you could determine value and increase engagement."

One suggested solution to close this gap is to increase the C-Suite's involvement in the community. This can be achieved through a combination of executive coaching, understanding executive needs and creating content and programming that generates interest. The data suggested that CXO involvement benefits not only the funding of the roadmap, but the level of engagement in the community.

Happe noted that CIO involvement holds more weight than other executives, in that it "influences not only the maturity of feature sets but also the maturity of community management practices (like community advocacy programs) and engagement rates when they not only sponsor but actively participate themselves."

Where Community Managers Come In

While communities exist without dedicated community managers, those that do see impact in engagement levels, ability to measure value and higher levels of maturity. Community managers reported wearing many hats, with more than half responsible for 22 different tasks including developing a community strategy, creating, curating and sharing content, executive training and actively maintaining a community culture. 

5 Years On

When asked what had changed since the first report, Happe responded, "we now know what questions to ask," but noted that some things have remained static -- "community managers are still asked to handle a lot and are stretched pretty thin." 

Title image by woodleywonderworks (Flickr) via a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.