As the community industry continues to evolve, it is crucial for us to acknowledge and address the challenges that exist within it. That’s why at CMX, as we prepare for our annual Community Industry Report, we’re not just looking at the numbers but also seeking out the perspectives of front-line thought leaders. One such leader is Nikki Thibodeau, a passionate community builder who recently launched her community, “The Community Community.” In her recent LinkedIn post, Nikki made a bold declaration that the community industry is not yet thriving. According to her, we’re at a turning point similar to digital marketing in 2008, and it’s only a matter of time before the community industry reaches its full potential.
In this interview with Nikki, we dive into the nuances of her post and take a closer look at what it means for the future of the community.
How do you see the current state of the community industry?
As someone with a background in digital marketing, I can see that the current state of the community industry is reminiscent of the early days of digital marketing. Businesses are eager to join the community bandwagon but often don’t fully grasp what it entails or its potential. This lack of understanding is evident across industries, and the community industry still lacks a shared language and standardization.
This shortcoming is reflected in the challenges faced by community leaders, who are frequently passed from one manager to another, with each having their understanding or lack thereof of the community. The result is a cycle of inconsistent language and understanding, exacerbating the industry’s problems with standardization and a common language. This is a pain point that many community leaders face and highlights the need for a shared understanding of the industry.
What are some of the signs you’ve seen that have led you to believe that the industry has been growing but not thriving?
As someone who has been observing the community industry for a while, I’ve noticed several signs that suggest it’s growing but not yet thriving.
First and foremost, the unfortunate reality is that we’ve seen layoffs within the field, which is a clear indicator that the industry is facing challenges. Additionally, the lack of community-led growth across the sector signals that the industry is still nascent. This situation is reminiscent of the early days of digital marketing, where there was widespread misinformation and self-promotion. Currently, we are witnessing similar patterns in the community industry, where established players of community communities are putting profitability first, potentially leading to decisions that may not align with the overall interests of the industry.
One of the factors contributing to this situation is the prevalence of community communities that are focused on generating revenue. While monetizing a community is not necessarily bad, it changes the business model. This can be a double-edged sword, as it puts pressure on those communities to make choices that balance the need to meet business goals with the need to nurture and grow the industry as a whole. While fair compensation for community leaders is crucial, it is also necessary to recognize that the community industry is beholden to revenue and that decisions regarding monetization and growth will have a long-lasting impact.
What’s more, is a need for a centralized gathering space for senior leaders in the community field. As the industry continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly important to have a designated place where these individuals can come together to share their experiences, challenges, and questions. This type of exchange of knowledge and ideas is essential for establishing a standardized language and set of practices across the sector. That’s why I founded The Community Community, where there is no monetary involvement, and our only goal is to grow and support one another. It’s a space where community leaders can openly discuss their challenges and questions, free of ulterior motives, and work together towards a common goal of establishing a shared language across the industry.
Do you think it is possible to achieve a standardized language and set of practices across the community industry, despite the uniqueness of individual communities?
I absolutely believe that standardization of language across the community industry is achievable. Regardless of the purpose, the fundamental principles of building a community remain the same. All communities have a business goal as a driving force, and it is this shared purpose that we can standardize the language around.
The more we can define what a community is and how it can be leveraged, the clearer the understanding of the industry will become. This clarity will drive a more standardized language, which will help the industry continue to grow and thrive.
What key considerations should companies keep in mind when building a community in the current climate?
When it comes to building a community for your business, it’s important to adopt a long-term mindset. Focusing solely on immediate ROI may not be the best approach. Instead, in the early stages, the focus should be on listening to your members, understanding their needs, and testing and building strategies to meet them. This can help to build an authentic community that can ultimately drive your business goals. It’s important to keep in mind that in the short term, the investment may be required in areas that don’t have an immediate return but will contribute to the long-term success of the community.
What challenges need to be overcome for the community industry to transition from building to thriving? And what is the next step, in your opinion?
The current economic recession is one of the biggest challenges we face right now. The nascency of the community industry means that adding a community-building component to a budget line can be a hard sell for many business leaders who may not yet fully understand the benefits. As a result, growth in the industry may be stagnant for a time.
However, I see this as an opportunity. Now is the time to start building communities and proving the value they can bring to businesses. By standardizing language and practices, we can showcase how communities can positively impact business goals and drive revenue. As more and more business leaders understand the value of community building, they will begin to create roles within their companies dedicated to this work, and the industry will truly thrive.
This is a remarkable moment for our industry, as we hold power to shape it and make it something special and impactful. We are the ones in the driver’s seat, and although the journey ahead may be challenging, with determination and effort, we can create a thriving community industry.