This is an incredibly important question – whether you’re starting out on the journey with a new community or even when you’ve already been managing one for a number of years.

One would assume that most companies that already have a customer community would be easily able to answer this question. Yet we find that is often not the case. Or, if the initial purpose is still clear, another question arises – Has the community evolved beyond that and are we missing opportunities to expand its benefit?

The benefits that a community can deliver are numerous and there are some great case studies out there extolling the virtues of customer engagement. In areas as widely spread as to go from Customer Service to Product Development and from Technical Support all the way through to Marketing and Sales, we can clearly state examples of where this engagement with customers has turned out to be beneficial.

The wealth of potential benefit can cause the question of a community’s purpose to get muddled over time. For brand new communities, it’s often exciting to see engagement happen in many ways and you want to encourage whatever you can. Without a clear purpose and goals though, it’s easy to lose focus.

As for existing communities, it gets in a muddle because they are an organic thing & always changing. Not only that, but as more parts of your business start getting wind of what that community can do, they will want to start getting involved as well. The ‘why’ question continues to change.

Whether you’re starting out, or whether you’ve been running a community for a number of years, you have to constantly restate the purpose of your community and reset its goals.

Why is a clear (and public) purpose so important?

There are ways to see when a community does not have a clear purpose:

  • Business communications that go out for an organisation – the community purpose itself is not stated anywhere.
  • Inconsistent community messaging or no dedicated community messaging.
  • There is often a lack additional communication channel strategy (specific to community). No clear signposting on the website to point people in the direction of the community. Inconsistent use of user generated content throughout the business.
  • Few or no campaigns to increase membership of the community.

Without a clear purpose, we also see a lot less integration into business processes. In larger organisations especially, there will be many different types of team – each with their own role, targets and priorities. As a community’s reach and potential grows within an organisation, more and more teams may want to start reaping their own benefits –  leading to a lot of stress for the community management team. They have to constantly adapt to the differing priorities of the various teams they work with.

This will lead to inconsistencies in how projects are managed, in customer/member case escalations as well as difficulties in managing what can and cannot be said by the community managers. When community elements are not consistently managed, seasoned members become aware very quickly, causing confusion.

It’s best to have a consistent project methodology for your community so that everything can go through the same process.

How can this lack of clarity affect customers?

For the customer this lack of clarity means it is hard to start engaging in your community. It can be hard to understand what the community is for. It can be unclear what can be asked and where you should be for your specific questions. It can also be difficult to find information about what the customer can get involved in and how it works to be a true contributor.

Which is why it’s so important to really think on the question: Why should you have a community?

You need to really understand the reasons for why you want a community.

Ask questions like:

  • What is it that I want my members to get involved in?
  • What are we aiming to achieve and what do the members get out of it?

This then leads on to questions like:

  • How can my members get involved?
  • What team and business processes do I need to set up to support these goals?

The beauty of a clear purpose and a set of goals for your community, is that you can then start to measure the value it provides. This also creates an understanding of what can be done to continue to adequately fund it.

For the customer this means:

  • If the purpose of your community is clear, all your members will speak with one voice, and it will be quickly picked up by newcomers.
  • A clear purpose ensures everyone in your community is engaged in the same activity, so it is easy to understand for a new member what the expected behaviour is and how to participate.
  • If you have clear goals for your community, it’s much easier to create the framework to allow your members to actively pursue them.

Want to find out more about this or how Standing on Giants could help? Contact us any time to discuss it further.

Vincent Boon

Vincent Boon


With a background building communities at Sony PlayStation and creating the multiple award-winning giffgaff community, I specialise in creating and running branded online communities that bring a touch of magic to the interaction between customer and brand. The result works both ways, with happier customers that feel honestly treated, and more insightful companies that waste less time and money on stuff no one wants.

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