We know brand communities are valuable. They fuel marketing, product, customer success and sales value. They sit at the core of billion-dollar businesses like Airbnb, Yelp and Lyft. 

But businesses are still grasping at straws, trying to figure out how to properly harness their power. 

Ask a community manager and they can tell you any number of stories about how this shows up in their working lives. They’ve probably worked for an organization that shoved them into various, random departments and didn’t understand their skillset. They have probably spent a good portion of their jobs not only building community but also struggling to get the business intelligence resources to prove their own value.

Why does this continue to happen? And what can we do?

The Root of the Problem: Our Well-Intentioned Beliefs

In 2016, I spearheaded a research project that gathered perspectives from over 500 community and marketing professionals. 

One of the key questions we asked was simply: “How do you define a community in your organization?” 

The majority of respondents to "The 2017 Community Value and Metrics Report" agreed a community, “has members that develop relationships with each other offline or online.” 

This is a no-brainer. A community does not exist without relationships that extend beyond. However, a whopping 44 percent did not think that a brand community needed measurable goals and objectives in their organization and 46 percent did not believe that community was a strategic initiative or line of business in their organization. 

Other industries don’t have to prove their business value again and again — their value is almost inherent in many organizations. But for the vast majority of businesses to make a deep investment in community strategy and to prove that the investment is worthwhile, community needs to be made both measurable as well as strategic. 

Let’s look at what you can do to ensure your community strategy is successful. 

Measurement Matters

Fifty-six percent of respondents said community does not have measurable goals and objectives in their organization.

In order to get resources, you need to show the value of your work. Community in itself is absolutely a value, but for a business to continue investing in it, there needs to be a solid, measurable goal and objective for its existence. This, of course, applies to other areas of the business as well. 

The measurement of community goals and objectives is essential. When left unmeasured, it’s impossible to tell if building community has made your organization successful. Set SMART goals with your community team for all your community programs (or create annual and quarterly V2MOMs, like we do at CMX, taking a page out of Salesforce’s playbook). 

Learning Opportunities

Community Is a Strategic Initiative

Fifty-four percent of respondents did not believe community was a line of business or strategic initiative in their organization.

This destructive belief is actually the root of the all the other destructive ones that follow. Community needs to be a strategic initiative or line of business. If you don’t know how the community you’re building is tied to real business goals and initiatives, you will not be able to continually gather resources to grow and flourish. 

How do you go about defining the line of business that community can drive? 

If you’re a community manager and unsure where you fit here, it’s time to meet with the “higher ups” to have a conversation about your focus and the business’s focus to identify where you’ll make the biggest impact. Anchor this conversation with the SPACE model, and you’ll have a framework you can use to define which line of business or strategic initiative your community can drive. 

Create a Solid Strategy

Our research indicated that the business value in 35 percent of communities does in fact change at some point in their community’s lifecycle. Humans are complex and businesses must be agile in their approach. 

But crossing your fingers and hoping that your community will benefit the organization is not a solid strategy. Many communities have shut their doors over the years due to an inability to show progress toward goals — don't let yours be one of them.