And where (I believe) the industry is spending far too much time right now.
Authors note: I was previously employed by Orbit, have spoken at events sponsored by CommonRoom, and have been paid for content by Commsor. As with all the posts on this site, this blog post is my opinion.
I've been sitting on these posts for a while. I wanted to ensure it came from a place of empathy and understanding. I want this to serve as a commentary on the state of the community industry, not a critique of anyone or any specific organization. After some thought, conversation, and the spirit of candor, I feel it is essential to publicly express my expertise and opinion on this topic.
As I started writing, I realized there’s enough for a multi-part series. And it’s not all “bad things,” either. As someone shared with me this week — it’s time for the community industry’s reckoning.
This is part one of a four-part series.
Part Two: the VC-Backed Double Standard
Part Three: Substance > Hype, Signal > Noise
Part Four: Giving a Damn about the Industry
The Downturn of Community
Part One out of Four
In recent months, it’s been a techpocalypse. Time and time again, we hear of layoffs, restructuring, reorganizing, and shifting goals. Companies are forced to make decisions to keep afloat. If you’re not providing value, you’re gone.
I was caught up in this techpocalypse, along with nearly 50% of the company I was employed by. Many of my colleagues are still looking for work.
“In light of macroeconomic conditions….”
“Due to massive company restructuring….”
"To brace ourselves for the economic downturn in front of us….”
Roles that were once deemed essential and rewarded with swag, bonuses, swanky perks, and offsites were now redundant despite the optimism of the overall organization.
“Despite this challenging moment, I still believe in the business, mission, and vision.”
“With this in mind, the company will be better off financially.”
“Because of these cuts, we’ve extended our runway beyond this unforeseeable hardship.”
For many community folks, their time at a “community-driven company” ended. As quickly as it rose to the forefront of everyone’s growth plan, community efforts were deemed inessential for many folks.
What does this mean if you’re a community tooling company?
If community teams are among the first to go — what does this mean for the once-exploding market of community tools? It used to take up headline after headline: splashy VC funds were announced supporting this growing sector, and companies worked to edge their way into a company’s budget.
If you’re a community tooling company — your purpose has just been questioned. Is this tool going to help my bottom line?
And subsequently — is this tool one we can avoid paying for if we don’t have a community team? Is the community helping my bottom line?
If you’re a community person at a company, be mindful — your boss or your boss’s boss is likely to be asking these questions right now. Given the macro environment — I’m not sure they will dig around and search for answers.
Companies including but not limited to Orbit, CMX/Bevy, Bizzabo, Slack, Salesforce, Hopin, Twitter, Stripe, CNN, Commsor, Venafi, Swag Up, Peloton, Clubhouse, New Relic, Airtable, Shopify, Lightricks, MURAL, Coinbase, DocuSign, Meta all laid off, downsized, restructured, canceled projects, reorganized. Whatever you want to call it, to call it plain and straightforward, they pulled the plug and called it quits on at least some of their community efforts.
I was a community human out of a job.
I was a community human who had job interviews stopped midway through the process.
I was a community human who interviewed somewhere only to get an email from HR that “due to a shift in priorities, we no longer have a community/dev advocacy team.”
Discords have been abandoned. Slack channels have gone neglected. Forums are left with open questions, and projects are shut down or no longer maintained. Users have been neglected and hung out to dry.
Community tooling companies, read me loud and clear — read the room and prove your value as a SaaS provider.
Tooling companies must demonstrate long-lasting value in the tools they have created for those who need them most. Show that you care about community folks and their job other than another paid conversion.
I’ll elaborate further in the series on how I’d like to see this space change — but to put things simply, we must be relentlessly focused on the value community can bring.
Tooling companies need to invest in what they believe matters: the value that community can bring to an organization.
Community builders spend a good chunk of their time crafting reports, building rapport with community members, keeping conversations going, educating and supporting users, aggregating product feedback, building loyalty or support programs, and a myriad of other duties as assigned that create value for members — all to help the company improve their bottom line.
If a company has a community team today — I can practically guarantee they understand the value of community.
I don’t want another blog post, think piece, or explainer article that tells me the “value of community.” I don’t care to have someone make the case in a listicle of 72 ways to build a blossoming community. I don’t want ideas or projects that take up an entire bandwidth team when I’m already a day late and a dollar short on everything else I’m doing.
The fact of the matter is — many of these tools are designed for a one-size-fits-most approach, not custom-tailored with your individual or organizational goals in mind. Let's discuss the technical debt that exists simply adopting a new tool in your workflow.
I simply want tools, tactics, and strategies that work, saving me time and energy. I need resources that help me bring and demonstrate my value to the organization I’m working for. If I invest my company's time, energy, money, and resources in an additional community tool, understand that I’m also putting my reputation on the line, advocating for your vision of the future of the community world as a whole.
If I’m putting my trust in a software company I advocate for: how do I know that this isn’t going to bite me in the ass?
Pinky promise no spam. Sporadic updates on what I'm up to in open source, machine learning, community building, among other things is much more my vibe. 😉