A Startup CEO's Perspective on the Problems Facing the Community Industry

Carrie Melissa Jones
April 5, 2014
May 3, 2024

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Hiring for the community role at my startup, Socratic, has been an incredibly frustrating task.

The problem, I’ve realized, is with the word “Community”. When I say Community, most people hear “social media”, “marketing”, or “customer service”.But that’s not Community.

Community is about building an ecosystem where individuals forge relationships with each other and work toward a larger goal, a mission, a shared vision for the future. A Community Manager builds and fosters the relationships that build that future. That is very different from what a social media manager does.

Where does the misunderstanding come from?

It boils down to the fact that there are two kinds of tech companies: companies where Community is central to the product (e.g. StackOverflow, Airbnb, Wikipedia, Github), and companies where Community is peripheral to the product.

The role of a Community Manager is vastly different in these two companies.

In community-peripheral companies, Community is used to describe supportive and operational roles, often in marketing or customer service. These companies don’t typically invest a lot of resources in their community, and the influence of Community Managers is limited.

In community-centric companies, Community is about strategy as well as operations. The line between Community and Product is blurred and the career trajectory of a great community person expands with the company.

The misuse use of the word “Community” has hurt community managers: people who would love working at Community-centric companies end up at Community-peripheral companies and grow frustrated from lack of respect, resources, and care for the Community.

I’ve met too many Community Managers who are leaving the field because they don’t have enough influence on their company’s product or strategy.This is dangerous.

Many of the big problems we need to solve in the years to come can only be solved by large groups of people working together.

That means that if we’re going to solve these problems, we’re going to need all the great Community designers, managers, and thinkers we can get.

We’ll only get those people if Community is respected as a craft and career in its own right. And that starts by making the name clear.

My challenge to all the Community Managers, builders, and strategists out there: reclaim the term “Community” as a vital part of the product and the lifeblood of business, or invent a new term altogether.


Thanks to Carrie Melissa Jones for reading a draft of this. We’re hiring for our community team at Socratic.

Photo Credit: echerries via Compfight cc

Carrie Melissa Jones
April 5, 2014
May 3, 2024

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