Who Should Own Your Online Community?

Community Strategy // Community ownership can depend on a lot of things - like who will use it the most, who will pay for it, and so on. These four steps will help you decide on ownership.

Julie Dietz
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Every business project needs an owner. Someone who will work with colleagues and stakeholders to develop goals and a strategy, then implement that strategy. Often these owners aren’t just single people. They’re entire teams or departments.

That’s the way it is with online communities. One person may take the lead, but it’s teamwork that makes a community successful. Which brings us to the question at hand: Who should own your online community?

While communities are organization-wide initiatives, the team directly responsible for your community has a huge impact on its success.

Who Usually Owns Online Communities?

Marketing is the most common owner of online communities, according to the 2017 Business Impact of Online Communities Study. Marketing owns 38 percent of online communities. Following marketing are corporate communications and operations/support, with 12 percent each.

Those three departments are a good starting point, but just because marketing, communications, and support own the majority of online communities doesn’t mean they should own yours.

How to Decide Who Owns Your Community

Follow these three steps to determine the best owner for your online community.

1. Review Your Community’s Goals

Every community should have three to five goals directly related to business impacts like bringing in new prospects or reducing customer support costs. Look at your goals and see which departments they’re most likely to impact.

The department most impacted by your community is a top choice for ownership. For example, it’s natural for a customer support community be owned by your customer service department.

But while customer communities may have a natural owner, association communities can be trickier because their primary goals may fall under multiple departments. A private member community that builds relationships between members and the association benefits the membership, communications, and marketing departments, for instance. Any one of those departments could be a successful owner for community, so you may need to dive deeper into the primary purpose for your community to determine where it should fall in your association.

2. Follow the Money

Every community needs to be funded, and many organizations give ownership to the department that’s putting up the cash to keep the community running. This is a major reason why communities are often owned by marketing departments – they’re the ones fronting the bill and driving the community’s main goals.

However, both association and customer communities can also get their money from other sources. Association membership departments may bear the bulk of the cost for communities that act as a central hub for member benefits and association news, for instance. In commercial communities, customer support might put up the funds in order to create an online customer portal.

Look into where you got the budget for your online community. That department likely aligns with your community’s goals and would be a great owner.

3. Evaluate Department Bandwidth

Your community has a greater chance of success if its owner has at least one part-time or full-time staff member to run it. Now that you’ve determined the most likely owner for your community based on goals or funding, make sure your choice is feasible. Talk to the department you’re considering, and ask if they have the time, staff, and expertise to run it.

If they don’t, consider other options:

  • Is there another department who could run or co-own the community and get similar results?
  • Can you hire an additional employee to help run the community?
  • Does your community software provider offer community management services that could supplement your team?

All these options will help ensure anyone who owns your community has the resources they need to make it successful.

4. Pick Your Owner, But Share the Impact

Once you’ve chosen an owner, empower them to become internal advocates for the community. They can start by finding valuable, non-promotional ways for other departments to get involved. Make this a project that breaks silos and gets your entire organization working together.

Have your community owner work with staff from other departments to learn their challenges and outline how the community can help. Find reports from the community that will help different departments meet their goals and suggest a few ways staff can participate. Just remember that all staff participation should be member-oriented and add value. The last thing you want is for your community to become just another marketing channel.

For example, your marketing department may be struggling to find customers for testimonials and case studies. They can use the community to find and contact satisfied customers to help with those projects. Marketing can also stay involved in the community by posting announcement widgets and blogs. Be sure to keep the discussion forums about your members, though!

Expert Tip: After your community is up and running, periodically report results to each of your departments. If marketing found three new case studies from your community, highlight that in a report. As your staff sees the benefits of your community, you’ll gain long-term support.

Align Your Community’s Owner with Business Goals

An online community will be most effective when its owner is directly related to the community’s business goals. Evaluate your community’s purpose and its strategy, then see who will be most effective in carrying those out. Once you’ve made your decision, set your new owner up for success by ensuring they have the resources and organization-wide participation they need.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Julie Dietz

Content Manager & Strategist, Epic Notion

Julie is a Content Manager & Strategist at Epic Notion. In her past life, she worked her way through Europe and Asia as a freelance writer, editor and English teacher for local and international businesses.

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