2018 was a big year in the community industry. There’s more energy and interest in community-driven business than ever before.
I shared a few of my predictions for 2019 on Twitter, and wanted to add a little more color. Here are my full 2019 predictions for the community industry.
- The social media backlash will continue, with more people aiming to find a more healthy relationship with social media, and declining trust in the big platforms. The need for more intimate community will grow this year. Big platforms will offer more private community features, but this will clash with their business models. Moving from a public feed into closed, smaller groups is a major shift for platforms like Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn is making new investments into their groups platform but has made their public feed the main priority. Platforms that are fully dedicated to group-based experiences will emerge. Reddit has been low-key one of the most popular websites on the web, and their growth will only continue since they’ve nailed the group based community experience already.
- Businesses will capitalize by offering their own niche branded communities, as people leave large platforms and seek more trusted, intimate options for community, around their products and missions. Their reach on the big platforms won’t be as strong, so the idea of building their own communities will become more compelling to them. We’ll also see a lot more founders launch niche community-centric businesses: the likes of companies like Indiehackers, Tech Ladies, GrowthHackers and Girls Love Travel. Many of these entrepreneurs will be influencers who build a network around them to gain more ownership of their fanbase.
- Chat based community platforms (Discord, Telegram, Slack) will continue to grow rapidly. The quality of these communities will be an issue, especially when groups become too large. As a result, there will be some fatigue around this format and people will crave more structure again. Look for more attempts at software companies recreating forums and groups formats this year.
- There will be a noticeable shift away from VC as the only default option for startups, and more options (like Indievc, Lighter Capital) will emerge. This trend has been brewing for a while with a growing distrust of VC’s, and more role models of companies that are choosing to take a more reasonable pace to building businesses. The NYT just published an article discussing this trend. When businesses can move slower, they can be more intentional, and focus on long term community.
- Community platforms will become more focused on specific objectives like ambassador programs, events, product feedback, and support. We’ll also see platforms focused on specific markets like consumer, membership, and SaaS. The old one-stop shops with very high price points will continue to win support community contracts but will lose out on other program types when there are more focused, affordable options out there. I expect (and hope) to see a lot more variety in the community tech ecosystem over the next couple years.
- Community professionals, on the other hand, will become less specialized, and work across many different departments (marketing, product, ops, HR, support, etc.). The idea that community is an independent department isolated from other parts of the business will fade. Community will be integrated into every part of the business. To take on more senior positions, community professionals will need to familiarize themselves with different parts of the business so they can get clarity on how community impacts every part of the business. They will be generalists. This will allow community professionals to take on more strategic roles. We’re going to see more VP’s of community with a lot of influence in their companies.
- The industry will become better at measuring the value of communities, as platforms become more focused on specific objectives and markets, and community pros take on more strategic roles, The more focused the platform is, the better their analytics and integrations will be. We’ll see more examples of communities that can report on ROI this year than ever before. Things will be better, but there will still be a long road before teams can very clearly prove their value. I think things will really tip in 2020.
- Crypto will still be a major player in the community industry, but with the downturn, will start cutting the community teams that they rapidly built up. There will be a flood of talent in the market of people claiming to be community experts after working on ICOs. That said, there are still a lot of crypto companies with cash, and community will continue to be a key part of their strategy. The ICO community strategies were much more about gaining attention than building real community. But the ones that succeeded are now trying to build up developer and user ecosystems that will need sophisticated contributor programs.
- To diversify revenue, and avoid losing distribution on big social, media and press organizations will continue to launch subscription membership programs. In 2018 we saw hundreds of these kinds of programs launch. The social media backlash will fuel this shift, as media, like influencers, will work hard to regain control of their audience. Subscription and membership come hand in hand. Membership communities is a growing market in 2019.
- There will be a boom of tech and programming focused on offline community building, local event programs, and user groups. The focus will be on hosting more, smaller events, to complement the big conferences (which will also continue). People are craving deeper, more intimate connection, and community-driven companies will aim to fill this need on a local level. Much of this will be volunteer driven, by local ambassadors around the world.
It will be an exciting year for the community industry! We’ll check in again at the end of 2019 to see how these predictions played out.