11.11.2015

When was the last time you dreamed you had buy-in for your work from other departments, like product, support, or marketing?

Maybe you feel stuck in your community silo, walled off from creating real change. Maybe you work in marketing, but you see enormous value in helping product. Maybe you’re a community builder working in support, but you see how much the marketing department needs a community perspective in their meetings.

Our work as community builders touches so many aspects of a customer’s journey and we have direct insight into our most loyal customers’ motivations and thinking. Yet we are so often left out where we could be most valuable. As a result, we feel invisible to other departments — and sometimes even within our own.

So how do you navigate the treacherous waters of getting interdepartmental buy-in? Is it even wise to do so? And where do you start?

We’re going to answer those questions today.

In order to work with other departments and truly see the business impact of community, you need a roadmap for moving forward. So we set about creating a map that will show you how to approach, deepen, and systematize how you get buy-in from other departments.

This roadmap synthesizes insights from some of the industry’s most talented interdepartmentally-savvy community professionals:

  • Jenna Meister, CMX Summit Speaker and former Global Head of Community Engagement at Airbnb;
  • Elizabeth Tobey, Director of Community Management at Tumblr;
  • Evan Hamilton, Founder of Community Manager Breakfast and former Coursera Community Lead, Director of Community and Customer Loyalty at ZOZI, and Head of Community at UserVoice
  • Nicole Relyea, Community Manager at JauntVR

Their guidance will allow you to weave your own tale of community triumph.

Copy of Components of Solid Community Content Strategy (5)

1. Understand the Root Cause of Miscommunication

I’ve spent my fair share of time grousing because marketing sent out a message that announced something before I, as the community manager, knew what was happening. Then I’d struggle to know what to tell an upset customer because I couldn’t get an answer from the right department and I wouldn’t know if my support and marketing teams were sharing all the information with me.

This lack of communication can chip away at the trust you work so hard to build in your community.

The root of the problem is this: Community is still a nebulous concept to most organizations. As a result, teams outside of your own either:

  1. Don’t know what you do, or
  2. Think that community is 100% in service of their needs.

Which of these is happening in your organization? Is it that people don’t understand what you do? Or is it because they don’t see how what they do has anything to do with what you do?

Let those questions sit there. The answer is the same regardless. You’re all, at the end of the day, working toward the same exact goal: furthering the business. It’s your job to fight to show that your work also furthers the business, and can do so in tandem with theirs.

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Tumblr’s Elizabeth Tobey

The reality is, as Tumblr’s Elizabeth Tobey puts it, “Community sits at the hub of pretty much every department” in most cases.

Community teams are the eyes and ears of a company and so many of the questions that other teams struggle with (i.e. “What new feature will get the best response/adoption?; What needs do our customers have that we’re not addressing?; Who are the super-users of our product who can provide great testimonials for our website?”) can be answered by the community team.

As a result, you may find yourself advocating for community as a business value across the board (and even on your own team), while still figuring out how to get a seat at the table in cross-functional meetings where you could have a lot of impact.

So here’s what you do first: you identify where your insights are most valuable and focus on educating and advocating to one key department first (that’s step two). Don’t try to do everything at once.

Focus on the primary business value that you drive, and find allies who are also working toward furthering that value. It’s important that you forge professional alliances so that the entire company learns the enormous value that comes from co-creating with its most loyal customers, users, or community members. That is your primary business value.

Whether you’re coming into a new role or company or aligning new quarterly goals, you must understand the root cause of miscommunication between departments. Proactively soliciting other departments needs and communicating your community’s value can be the difference between being a cog in a corporate wheel or being a changemaker and truly valuable asset in your organization.

Proactively taking an interest in others’ work is what builds workplace trust. That’s what you’ll dive into next.

2. Approach Other Departments

The next step is to initiate a conversation about the other departments’ needs.

Deliver value by asking questions. Come with data. Propose experiments. Try a pilot program.

yec ama

This is how Erica Kuhl went from reporting to marketing to reporting directly to product over time: she built pilot programs and continually sold the value of community.

When Elizabeth Tobey joined the Tumblr team, she was brought in as Director of Support, with an eye toward making the Tumblr support team community-centric. She has made huge leaps this year.

How did she get the conversation started?

Elizabeth didn’t just stay inside the support team. She jumped into product team meetings and smaller scrums (breakout teams) right away to find out what information they were missing that would help them make better decisions.

By taking the time to understand the problems they were tackling and their timelines, she was able to integrate member feedback through “retrospectives” (more on that later).

Elizabeth made a conscious decision to focus her first interdepartmental outreach to the product team. When she came on board, “There was getting our ducks in a row so we could take on 100% more [support] work, but also being able to integrate with product and engineering first very closely, and then with the marketing and the comms team second. Community is so crucial to product, that I knew that’s where I needed to start.”

Elizabeth knew that, as a microblogging platform, the Tumblr community depended on having a product that suited their needs. If the community wasn’t actively engaged in the product, there would be no product.

To figure out what team you might want to start your outreach with, look at where you could effect change the quickest and prove your value right out the gate: what one department has the biggest gap that community can fill? Start there.

Some examples:

  • Support is having trouble keeping up with all the tickets in Zendesk and keeping response times down. You have a community of power users who want to showcase their status in the community. You could do a pilot program with support and these users.
  • Product is upset by all the bad reviews of your app in the App Store, but you have a community of people who love the product. Work with product to streamline the feedback process and bring in users for focus groups.
  • Marketing needs help with their blog posts. They’re not getting any engagement. From speaking with members, you know what they really value and need more information about. You help marketing restructure their content strategy.

This is your starting point before moving to step three. There are some key steps to follow here. Here’s how you start these conversations:

  • Talk to stakeholders from various teams. Schedule a meeting or go get coffee. Ask them what their goals and priorities are. Where do they see their team in six months, in a year? How can community help get them there?
  • Ask to sit in on other teams meetings and listen. What information are they looking for that you could provide?
  • What next? Always create action items from meetings so that they don’t just waste time. After a coffee meeting or a formal meeting, write down one way you’ll help secure a quick win for that department and when you’ll check in, even if this is a “note to self”.

Here’s the result of the work Elizabeth did in less than one year: Today, less than half of their work is a traditional support role, allowing support team members to spend more time empowering users, creating authentic dialogue, and getting to know the community’s needs.

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3. Share Quick Wins

After you get settled in, sharing the good work you and your community team are doing is the best way to provide continual opportunities for growth. Other departments will start to see where community impacts and helps them.

At Tumblr, the Community team leads the “retrospective” process after a launch of a new feature or product improvement. These retrospectives are essential to showing off the value her team creates. “I feel like half the company is on the email for those retrospectives and we’ll soon start presenting it in the weekly product meetings.”

In addition to product retrospectives, the team leads community events retrospectives. “For example, [we create an event retrospective] if there’s a protest because creators don’t feel heard, or if there’s an issue on the site with certain types of ads.” Rather than trying to shut down any other team’s efforts, the retrospectives are presented as facts and observations, with recommendations based on qualitative and quantitative data.

This provides a means for the community team to create major insight for the company without pushing any agenda. It’s pure value.

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Create value through reporting.

Nicole Relyea, Community Manager at JauntVR at says, “I created a weekly newsletter that goes out to the entire company on a weekly basis. I regularly share community insights, screenshot interesting tweets/those from major accounts mentioning us, screenshot graphs of growth when it’s related directly to a product launch or piece of press. Whenever I see a board meeting on the calendar, I create a slide of community insights and forward it to the CEO to include in his presentation as well… I think screenshots and images are key to getting people to look at it.”

The result? “Literally every week after I send out the update, someone will respond thanking me for doing it, or with ideas or suggestions for things to include the next week,” Nicole says.

Instead of contextless numbers, try these when crafting a report:

  • What information is important to other teams? To the company as a whole?
  • How can you tell a story around your reporting in a digestible way? Including pictures of customers and direct quotes or making the report into an infographic is an eye-catching way of helping people skim your report.
  • Is your team all or mostly in one location? Make a physical reminder of your company’s community such as a Wall of Win. If you can find an area that most team members pass by (near the kitchen is always a great place), this place can be a spotlight for the best that’s coming out of your community and keep the customer’s voice in other department’s mind.

4. Deepen and Systematize Your Impact

When you’ve done an excellent job working with other departments and communicating the value of community, two things will happen:

  1. You’ll have the opportunity to build proactive programs that have serious impacts on the bottom line, and
  2. Departments will come flocking to you wanting to utilize the community your team has worked so hard to build.

For making an impact on your company’s bottom line, look at where community can impact revenue and scale, says Evan Hamilton.

While the growth funnel will be pretty well defined by this point, companies often don’t think about retention and drop-off of loyal customers.

evan hamilton“Are there ways you can help retain people, get them to spend more… are the efforts you’re undertaking accomplishing that?” When Evan was at Zozi, they were able to show that customers who had good support interactions not only spent more money subsequently than customers with average or bad support interactions, but they also spent more than customers with no support interactions at all.

Scale is another area where community can have tremendous impact on the bottom line. From beta testing to generating content, to moderation, look at “what doesn’t scale in your company and where [the community] can help out in ways they enjoy,” Evan advises. “Look at where a bunch of people doing a little bit of help can massively help your company.”

Ultimately, community’s role in any company is to develop deep relationships with your members or customers. These are your relationships to own. In addition to working with teams and giving them access to community members, it’s also your responsibility to be protective of those same members. Make sure to establish clear guidelines for what the company can tap into the community for will help you protect your community from over use and keep you from being the person that just says no all the time.

When community becomes integral to your company on a corporate level, it’s time to look for ways to incorporate community as a company value from the very core. It’s time to take all the work you’ve done and make it part of the organizational culture.

jenna_meisterAirbnb sets the stage for interdepartmental cohesiveness with its employee onboarding programs. New hires receive presentations from all departments, giving them an overview of the entire company’s goals and priorities. In her Community department’s presentation, Jenna shows new Airbnb team members how centrally integrated the community is into every facet of the company.

“Community is a central point that all things come from. It’s woven into nearly every new project and program and supports several company OKRs [Objectives and Key Results].”

This is the pinnacle of community buy-in and you, too, can achieve it after you’ve put in the legwork to prove your value through each step of the way.

Conclusion

While you’re working hard to prove your value and communicate with other departments, don’t let your entire direction be determined by other teams’ needs. Not every department or business decision has a stake in community and recognizing when and where you can’t contribute is as valuable a skill as being involved.

Try pilot programs, go out for coffee, get to know your coworkers. Depending on your role and your community, use the initial conversations outlined above to determine what department your goals and skills align with best and prioritize your time and energy there first. If you find that it’s not a fit, move right along.

Photos courtesy of the #WOCinTechChat photo project on Flickr.

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Crystal Coleman

Crystal Coleman | @thatgirlcrystal

Crystal is a community manager for gTech Consumers at Google. She is formerly the Director of Community at Townsquared and Community Manager at Ning and with Wetpaint, Inc. You can find her on Twitter at @thatgirlcrystal.