5 Min Read

Why Community needs a seat at the table (and how to get one)

Welcome to first post in our Pulse 2022 blog series! (AKA the Pulse cheat sheet of your dreams.) We’re sharing key lessons and digital strategy from experts in Community, Customer Success, Product and more. Let’s go!

First things first. Why should you invest in Community and why is it important to highlight that investment to your executive team continuously?

In this candid conversation between inSided’s Managing Director, Marili ‘t Hooft-Bolle and Venafi’s EVP of Community, Holly Firestone, the duo discussed ownership, stakeholder management, and how to get Community inserted into the overall company strategy. Firestone shares some of her interesting takes from over a decade of Community experience.

Community is a team sport

There is always a debate on who owns Community within an organization, whether it’s Customer Success, Marketing, Support, or others. But at Venafi, Community is a function of its own.

That’s because, unlike other teams, Community has an impact on every part of the business and you don’t want to narrow its focus.

“Community touches everything. Almost every team can get value out of Community. Why would you limit that value to one specific team?”
-Holly Firestone, VP of Community, Venafi

It’s critical for every team in your business to understand the intrinsic value of Community and for that value to not become siloed in respective team goals. Missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.

If you’re on the Support team, your goals roll up to Support goals—will you ever realize the value of increased adoption, retention, or expansion? If you’re in Marketing, and your goals roll up to Marketing KPI’s, will it be easy to see the value of community-driven product requests or an increase to your overall self-service ratios? When viewed as a whole, Community has the potential to de-silo those teams, and get them to work together more effectively—which in turn strengthens the whole Community.

According to Firestone, there are two key components to this cross-functionality:

  1. The community serves the needs of the entire business and needs to be aligned by top level company goals vs. the goals of one specific function. That’s the only way to reach its full potential.
  2. Having community reporting to the CEO—as its own separate function—gives it the influence needed to not only impact the entire business, but also to get support from the entire business. As an added bonus, it sends a message to your community members about how much value you are building and that you prioritize building FOR them.

Because at the end of the day, Community isn’t Marketing. Community isn’t (just) Customer Success. Community isn’t Sales. Community is Community. Community is everything.

“Community is not the icing on the cake, it’s the flour.”
-Holly Firestone, VP of Community, Venafi

And Community’s ROI runs across the business for different functions. Here’s Firestone’s Center of Excellence model created for folks to to share with their leadership teams:

FZ5kuWPXwAEDtGvSource: @HollyFirestone

Why Community ownership is a challenge

Community has been undervalued for years, often only used as a way to minimize the amount of incoming support tickets.

Because of that, we don’t have a lot of community professionals that have advanced their careers in the way they need to in order to rise to the executive level. Back in the day, we also saw fewer people “choosing” community as their career, due to unclear paths for advancement and compensation.

Firestone describes her first community role in 2011:

“I was living in San Francisco and making $38K a year. You had to really want to build community and believe in its success to choose this career path,” she says.

“With the explosion of community and community related roles in the past few years, there’s a dearth of community professionals with senior-level experience. Lots of new community professionals are entering the field, but companies are struggling to hire for Director levels and above.”

Still, Firestone acknowledges, you’re not going to bring in a manager to report to the CEO. So what we’re seeing is Community folding under other functions or Chief Community Officers and VPs with little to no community experience, and most are running a Community for the first time: learning as they go.

“It’s going to take a few years before we see the executive leadership pool for Community grow, and until then, we’ll have companies struggling to set Community where it belongs.”
-Holly Firestone, VP of Community, Venafi

Venafi is in the early stages of building their community.

“Right now, I’m focused on leveraging our community to help support our company’s main initiatives. In order to do so, I need to make sure the rest of the exec team understands the value community brings and that the investment of their resources into Community now will pay off in the long run,” Firestone explains.

Final Thoughts

Getting executive eyeballs on a Community program can be a daunting task, but one that will pay dividends once you can show your executive peers what you can do for them and have a clear ask of what you would need from them. Having gotten those two right, will make sure Community can add specific insights to any phase of your companies’ growth and or company goals you’re chasing.

Venafi certainly is on track, and by making sure Community is looked at centrally from the executive table, will have a huge headstart as they advance the program.