If you have been doing community management for a few years chances are you think that it is or should be strategic. If you are a CEO chances are you haven’t even heard of community management let alone prioritized it as strategically imperative. And there is the rub.

The role of community manager is often quite tactical – welcoming members, moderating issues, making connections, curating content – but at The Community Roundtable, we also see community management as a discipline of general management. It’s an operational choice for how people execute on a business goal and it is a choice available to many executives, functional managers and  individuals. We are not the only ones who see it this way – the Corporate Executive Board has also cited community management as a discipline vs. a role.  Taking a community management approach means operating with a system perspective instead of a transactional perspective. It means improving the performance of the whole instead of concentrating on the performance of a piece. It also acknowledges that shared value creation is more powerful than the hand-off of a perfect solution in a transactional way.

So back to the question – is community management strategic? It is perhaps the wrong question. Is community management strategic in a specific organization is a much better question. Right now, the answer for most organizations is no. Community managers are all too often hired to ‘deal with people online’.  Those ‘people online’ are getting louder and louder and so community managers are being hired by all types of organizations and it is becoming a much more common role. As the role of community manager becomes more pervasive, there is also much wider variation not only in what they do specifically but how various organizations view its importance. There is one common theme – after being a community manager for a while, most people in the role understand how powerful a community approach can be and understand the strategic opportunity communities provide.

There are two paths organizations take at this juncture. The more common is that community management still doesn’t get much attention, the community manager(s) get frustrated, and the program stalls or trips along under the radar of most of the organization.  We are now seeing some organizations who had robust community management and then let the programs atrophy re-invest because of issues or crisis that have emerged.

The second path is that the community management group does get increasing amounts of attention and resources and becomes a key enterprise function. In that case, the teams grow and as they do, they grow out of specific community manager roles.  While many people serve the community, they do so in specific ways – in an engagement, content, analytics, events, innovation, or administrative capacity.

From my point of view, community management must be a strategic discipline within an organization if it truly wants to be a ‘social’ business.

Do you agree? Are you frustrated with how community management is viewed in your organization? What might be done to change the perception?

Thank you to Michael Brito who provided the spark for this post.