Introducing CaaS ('Community as a Service')

Introducing CaaS ('Community as a Service')
Photo by Evangeline Shaw / Unsplash

What is 'Community as a Service' and why do we need it? This article does a good job of kicking off the discussion, back in 2018.

Start by accepting that as much or even more creation of business value happens by crossing over the enterprise perimeter. The company is now longer a black box. What's outside is. Therefore, today's jungle gym careers mean lateral moves for fresh graduates, mid-careerists, and veteran executives, constantly searching for new capabilities, collaborations, reflections, and outcomes. The chimney career of our industrial era is as old-fashioned as the chimney.

Community: a new business value creation discipline

This decade, induced by a combination of the pandemic externality and a wide array of maturing digital collaboration technologies, sparked a flurry of anticipation and activity in professional community development. While it's still early days in this (primarily Web2 powered) space, experienced community leaders already offer a lot of framework for this emerging new discipline and there are still many learnings to be had.

For each operator, contributor, or participating member, communities offer nourishment for personal  and professional growth, which, has typically being reserved for vertical organizational structures.  

What we're actually seeing is a great appreciation of horizontal organizational structures with 'communities' operating under a less stringent governance or organizational 'raison d'etre'. Each professional community triggers a new cohort of collective relationships, horizontal thinking, and (often serendipitous) outcomes, cascading back into vertical institutions that need an impetus to accelerate.

The "why" factor

Ultimately, there are two value propositions. One for the operator, just like a business owner or a P & L owner in a large organization, the question to ask is why are we doing this? What is our opportunity and why are we best positioned to take it. This quickly boils down to the core decision: is this going to be a sponsored community (free for the end-user) or a paid community (paid by the end-user)?

My ecosystem colleague Madeleine Milne, wrote a blog post that explores whether a paid community is right for your business. There's definitely more of a hard metric for success, with the ultimate test is simply when paying members sign up.

Each community works differently. Communities are like websites in the 1990s. They seem like novel things and more people will overrate their effectiveness and will want to do what others do (like in a restaurant "I'll have what they are having") . Engagement metrics vary per project and each community is an aggregation of individuals. Just like a company, an organization that is constantly in motion with specific dynamics and relationships that shadow its formal structures, albeit with a looser governance structure.

Balancing design with learning by doing

Community builders are effectively architects. We must always take a holistic strategic view on how a specific community can grow - in leaps and bounds - in various phases. It's a mixture of long-term thinking and alignment with the community stakeholders while at the same time, getting obsessed and passionate about the nitty gritty. It's a bit like curating a artisanal shop just off the side street from main street where all the retail chains are. It's a 24/7 exercise in maintaining the creative direction while constantly ticking the tactical boxes and things to do.

How community can help solve a problem they have and/or contribute to their goals. When presented as "how can we help you?" rather than "here's what I need from you". There might be where CX=CX. Customer experience and community experience could go hand-in-hand.

That's the theory, at least. Now how does it work in practice?  For starters, Richard Millington, Founder of Fever Bee has an excellent definition of Community and a comprehensive, easy-to-read Beginner's Guide

source: Fever Bee

From start to scale

The start is the most exciting and anxious. Just like any business, the road to success is paved with failure. There's a level of passion, humility and grit required as a mindset coupled with a longer term alignment amongst the community stakeholders/owner operators. The hockey stick effect works here to prepare everyone for the journey ahead:

Credit: Bobby Martin

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