3 reflections from the 2022 Community Industry Report

3 reflections from the 2022 Community Industry Report

Tags
Defining communityResources
Reading Time (Minutes)
8

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Confession: I’ve been sitting on this draft since I first read the 2022 Community Industry Report two weeks ago. And I’m not very proud of publishing this draft-state-article, so handle your comments (and my heart) with care.

I was nervous of posting my brain soup ramblings to the internet without thinking deeply enough about it, so I waited until people smarter than me had something to say 😉. Last week, I went to a Twitter Space with Todd Nilson and Jenny Weigle, and it helped me clarify some of my brain soup into... brain words.

It’s still pretty chaotic, but alas — this was your warning. Please don’t be mean to me.

This article is broken down into the finding from the CMX report, my reaction, my takeaway(s), and actions with linked resources on where to go next.

Screenshot of the section The Most Common Frustrations for Community Professionals
Screenshot of the section The Most Common Frustrations for Community Professionals

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#1 Quantifying community

Finding: Organizations believe in the value of community, but continue to struggle to measure that value. 87% agree community is critical to the company’s mission [but] only 10% say they can financially quantify the value of their community and only one-third can connect their community data to their customer data. Reaction: I rolled my eyes hard at this.

Takeaway: I’m struggling to articulate this in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a total jerk. I’m torn between three thoughts. 1️⃣ One, maybe we’re not training community professionals to look at the right data. We tend to hard skills like statistical analysis as separate from soft skills like community-building. (P.S. I hate the hard/soft distinction so I hope you’ll never catch me saying it unironically.) This is super wild to me, because we live in a world of numbers AND emotions, and we can’t choose for them to stay separate. At this point, I should disclose that I have a degree in statistics, and I also hate looking at numbers, so this puts me in a hypocritical and bizarre position to be making this statement. Alas. I think that community professionals should be trained in the right questions to ask around value and numbers, and perhaps this would solve this abyss between the 87% and 10%.

2️⃣ Second thought — Maybe the “value” isn’t being defined properly by the right people. My anecdotal observations suggest that many online communities and community SaaS platforms are run by capitalistic tech bros (and funded by... well, venture capital). This is not conducive to real, long-term value. Here’s what I mean by this. As a community builder, you may observe how, because of your “ask for help” channel, 10 customers have not only gotten their problems solved, but gone on to teach others about how to use your product. Or maybe you facilitated a virtual event after which two people met up IRL (this happened to me! yay!). Now, lets say your leadership is only tracking one key metric: quarterly revenue. You’re going to have to do a LOT of explaining around why your community connection observations matter, and maybe it’s not worth your time.

3️⃣ Third... VALUE IS SO ARBITRARY! Who cares!!

I’m sick and tired of measuring everything. I truly believe that we hyper-focus on goals at the expense of everything else. This take might be too hot to handle, but if I was an exec with a community hire, I’d trust them to tell me whether it’s working or not, and leave it at that.

Actions:

  • Upskill community professionals on data. Learn about end-to-end community attribution.
  • Watch where your money is coming from and what that says about values. Ask what investors care about.
  • Get execs to redefine key metrics (for example, measure belonging).
  • And if that doesn’t work... just let community professionals do their jobs and let it go.
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#2 The can of worms that is Web 3

Finding: 15% of communities are actively working on Web 3.0 focused projects and an additional 17% are considering it. Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are the most common form of Web 3.0 project that community teams are working on.

Reaction: 🤔⁉️🌈⛳🤔

Takeaway: I would likely put myself somewhere near the “considering it” category, except that I’m not actively considering it. Web 3 is floating around as an idea, and I want to learn more, but this is one question I can’t stop asking: how will web 3 fix anything if we don’t fix the existing human-powered problems on the internet?

As community builders, we would do well to learn about how web 3 can and can’t influence the world of online community building. For example, I think DAOs are hella cool in theory.

Where I get stressed is when people over-evangelize DAOs and community ownership. Distributing tokens and sending people on their merry way isn’t going to solve power inequalities that are already entrenched. It’s not going to make people less racist or sexist.

Jackson Dame, one of our Founding Members of Soapbox Project, has been advocating for web 3 inclusion for a long time in their role as Rainbow community and education lead, which they’ve recently been fired from. Unlike most people I’ve met in the crypto space, Jackson’s been tirelessly fighting for inclusion, belonging, and true community concepts. I appreciate the “crypto realism” of embracing future possibilities, but knowing that there are many human obstacles in the way.

Basically, if you’re part of the 15% working on web 3 projects or the 17% considering it, I hope you’ve picked up a whole lot of critical thinking skills to match.

Actions:

  • Read Governing the Commons by Elinor Ostrom (note: I haven’t read it; this is an action for me too).
  • Practice critical thinking, specifically around inequality and tech ethics.
  • Read history of the systems and communities you’re working in. I recommend books like Algorithms of Oppression, The Wake Up, Braiding Sweetgrass, and The Color of Law.
  • Follow tech ethicists on sites like Twitter. My favorite is Marco Rodgers [@]polotek. (I’m not tagging him and I request that you don’t either, because he asked not to be tagged in web3 discussions... because of the toxicity.)
  • Listen in on governance conversations to see how blockchain tech is actually being applied today.

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#3 Tech leading the way on community adoption

Finding: 47% of respondents report that the work in the tech industry.

Reaction: That is a wild chunk of change that’ll really define community trends! And I don’t quite know how to feel about it...

Takeaway: We! need! more! tech ethics!

I said this already in the last thing, but it’s both exciting and scary at how much tech is leading online community building. Take healthcare, for example. Only 3% of respondents are reporting in from that industry, and it is soooooooo siloed (in the United States, which is all I know about re healthcare). I don’t know what it looks like to adapt online community building principles to an area of work that is largely in-person and high-stress, but I know it’s important.

Maybe I’m being selfish and thinking just of myself, but if I was able to work in community with my care team vs. sending them a message on a crappy online tool that no one ever reads, my life would be so much better. Or if doctors could come together and speak out against the insurance industry, we could see real change.

Anyway, I’ll put a pin in this rant, but it’s an important conversation to me because community building drives solidarity, unity, and power. (Bosses don’t want workers to talk to each other about their salary for a reason, and they’re scared 💩less of workers unionizing, right?)

If we want to create real impact through online communities, we have to figure out how to make it less tech bro centric and more... all humans-centric.

Actions:

  • Join some offline communities!
  • Take up a volunteer opportunity in your neighborhood — some ideas are the library, farmers market, reading at a primary school, food bank, etc.
  • Talk to your neighbor(s)
  • Do a mental audit of your network. Are you finding that your network is mostly homogenous when it comes to industry (or other demographics)? If so, what can you do to expand? How can you use online communities as a tool to meet people you wouldn’t in real life?
  • Read Community by Peter Block

That’s it for today. (If you haven’t noticed already, I’m terrible at writing conclusions.)

If you noticed that this article seemed more disorganized and chaotic than the other ones I’ve written, it is because I was debating whether or not to finish writing it in the first place. One of my community role models, Carrie Melissa Jones, spoke out about her erasure from CMX, and it’s made me rethink how much I want to be promoting this industry report.

There is much more to be processed about all this, so we’ll leave it here for now.

In solidarity,

Nivi

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