If you don’t love research, identifying costs, project planning, developing benchmarks, getting internal support, and building decision trees, don’t become a community strategist.
We’ve created more community strategies (and trained more strategists) than most.
Believe me, this isn’t just a small jump to focus ‘on the big picture’, it’s a completely different type of work.
It’s often work community managers discover they don’t enjoy.
In our coaching, four areas seem to surprise people the most.
1) You need to cost your strategies.
If you’re presenting a plan and you don’t know the resources it requires, you have no idea if you’re creating something feasible or not. Worse yet, you’re not taking your work (or your colleagues) seriously. It’s hard for people to support something if they don’t know what the costs are.
For example below, every community strategy we create is fully costed by both the time and financial resources required:
This is critical for two reasons. First, once you know the time required, you determine how many staff you need to reach each new level. This, in turn, guides you on the financial resources you need. Second, this makes the plan flexible. You can present options based upon resources available. (i.e. ‘with [x] resources I can achieve [y], but with [xx], I can achieve [yy]’).
Once you have your tactics prioritised you can quickly adapt them by the time and resources you have available.
2) You either have research or guesswork.
If you can’t point to the research that supports every assumption in your strategy, you should be honest and call it guesswork. You have no idea if it will work or not, (but, hey, at least it sounds good).
You have to love the research side of community. You have to enjoy interviewing dozens of people internally and externally, identifying segments, understanding their priorities, and using that to craft your approach from the community’s goals down to the specific tactics you decide to use. You have to analyze in-depth what is and isn’t working (more on that below). You have to enjoy reaching out to peers and researching other communities to identify the best approach towards everything you want to do.
3) Building Decisions Trees > Reporting Metrics
It’s one thing to set measurable goals and KPIs on the way towards achieving them. Reporting what happened/building a narrative around the data is vital. But reporting doesn’t tell you what you’re going to do differently. If you want your strategy to be more than just a snapshot in time, then you need to build decision trees based upon what the data tells you.
If a metric you really care about drops by 10% in the next few months, what will you do differently? You need to build out what success/failure of each tactic looks like, what you will stop doing and what you will invest more resources in doing based upon the data you’re seeing.
This is how you build a strategy that lives indefinitely instead of a strategy which becomes stale from the date it’s published.
4) Building Internal Alliances
You should never ‘drop’ the strategy on surprised colleagues.
The strategies we present are never a surprise. They’re the summation of a lot of conversations and collaborative decisions we’ve guided clients through to reach a point of agreement. If people are disagreeing with aspects of your strategy, you’ve probably not communicated frequently enough with your colleagues.
Anyone can whip up a detailed strategy document in a dark room in a week or two. The reason it takes us 3 to 4 months to build a strategy is we bring our clients along the journey with us. Every point is discussed, objections highlighted, concerns addressed as early as possible.
The end result is a strategy which has the support of all the key stakeholders (and key members of the community). There is a gulf in difference between tepid acceptance and enthusiastic support of a strategy.
Once the strategy is established, you have to continue to maintain strong relationships with stakeholders, address concerns, demonstrate results, build a shared narrative through powerful stories etc…
If this is the kind of work you want to do, then, by all means, push to reach the strategist level. But be aware it’s a very different kind of work from managing a community.
…and if you really want to thrive, don’t wait to reach the strategist level before acquiring these skills. Gain these skills before you have the job.