How to Make Community the Basis of your Business/Membership Model

 Excerpt from the white paper Elizabeth Engel and I released which you can download for free

 Listen to our webinar on leading engagement



  Imagine being part of a community of peers whose sole focus is on your success.  Instead of pushing lists of benefits, products, and programs, the organization harnesses the collective intellectual power of your group to construct the concrete solutions and ongoing support you need. You are a partner and cocreator rather than a passive consumer. Wouldn’t you be engaged?

  The Community Roundtable provides its members with such a community. The CR is a boutique, for-profit membership organization for online community managers, directors of community programs within large enterprises, and other stakeholders in the health of communities, including everyone form support staff to executives. It provides a quintessential example of engagement through collaboration on solutions. 


 In 2009, The CR’s founders realized that, while the adoption of social media was spreading like wildfire, there was little awareness of the complexities involved in building and managing online communities or support for the architects and managers of those communities.

 The CR was founded to help define, support, and promote the new “business of community” and build a foundation of new and emerging knowledge.

 Value Proposition

 According to The CR Community Manager Hillary Boucher, soon after launching, “we found that the greatest value folks perceived in the community was not so much programs or tools but their communication with each other—the community itself. This is why facilitating connections between members became our focus and priority and the basis of our value proposition.”

 One of the differences between a purely social community and a business-oriented community is purpose. The CR’s community experts intentionally construct and cultivate their platform to convert people who merely share a profession into a purpose-driven community of partners who work together to produce results critical to their own success.

 According to Boucher, it is these connections that make The CR unique. “We are constantly helping members collide from different functions and industries. It is this collision that brings some of the best ideas. The most valuable way to engage is by building relationships between members of organizations and between members and the association or service provider.”

 Becoming an Engaging Organization

  •  The CR brokers strategic relations. The CR’s greatest source of sustainable value and engagement is its ability to identify shared challenges with its members and partner with them on solutions that benefit both parties.
  •  Helps members cut through the clutter via content curation. Instead of populating the website with reams of information and resources, The CR curates content to member needs because, as Boucher says, “everyone is overwhelmed with information; we want to help members cut through the noise.”
  •  Enables peer-to-peer, cross-industry problem solving. The CR’s membership includes people from different industries and those with different roles within the same organization who rarely, if ever, have opportunities to talk to each other. The CR actively facilitates relationships conducive to results by introducing members with shared problems or goals to each other, by creating provocative dialogues between member groups and thought leaders, and by engaging members in solution-oriented collaborations and conversations in which they constantly learn from each other and apply what they’re learning.
  •  Cultivates, develops, and engages members in leadership. The CR identifies and develops selected members into community leaders, thus deepening their commitment to the organization and advancing it to the level of partnership. These leaders have real authority to police community behavior, respond to requests, welcome new members, lead discussions, and help The CR identify hidden community value and scale community efforts.  The CR develops members into leaders and eliminates rigid boundaries between “members” and “staff.”
  •  Invites members to be co-creators and shares with them the results of their contributions. Instead of delegating research to a separate function or entity, The CR uses its members’ practices, experiences, and knowledge, gleaned from targeted discussions, regular roundtable talks, and formal research projects, as key sources of insight into the profession.

The CR organizes, analyzes, and archives this member-generated content and converts it into usable data and reports, which increase the collective knowledge capital in the profession. The results are shared back with the members, giving them fresh perspectives on their profession and insight into emerging patterns and trends.

That’s not the end of the process, though. As new situations arise and new solutions are constructed, members update and expand archived reports and generate new discussions. Hence, a passive product like research data is both translated into new solutions and becomes the catalyst to new content creation, engaging members in a virtuous cycle of value creation and value conversion.

  • .Emphasizes retention over recruitment. The CR advocates controlled growth in the size of its membership and continuous increases in the value and depth of existing relationships. The CR’s model is based on converting casual members to high-value, high-revenue relationships. This is a long-term development strategy that requires patience and foresight, but it is also the basis of sustainable growth
  •  Planning for the Future. Executive and volunteer leaders often expect immediate results from a new community initiative. “The truth is,” Boucher explains, “that it takes time to take a person from awareness to membership, from membership to partnership and advocacy. We realize that relationships take time to show ROI. Our strategy is to build a small base of relationships and cultivate and grow them upward.” Organizations cannot build the relationships that make a group of individuals into a community through a tactical focus on product sales and events.  Engaging, sustainable relationships involve continuous growth and change in what and how members learn, perform professionally, adapt behaviors, and connect with the organization and each other.

 The key to real engagement, Boucher explains, is finding pockets of authentic shared goals and motivations, where community and organization interests truly merge. “Struggling communities,” she says, “are usually those that haven’t found shared value among and between stakeholders.” The basis of health for the community is identifying what she calls the “sweet spot”—the point of connection between a company’s and its customers’ perceptions of value. Building truly collaborative communities around a “sweet spot” and engaging them in crafting solutions are perhaps the most powerful means of generating real and sustainable engagement.

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