Who "Owns" the Community

Jeremiah Owyang recently interviewed Bill Johnston to talk about community ownership. You should take a look at the video before reading the rest of this entry.

I talked to Bill last week here in Portland, and he’s a really sharp community guy. In this case, I think he is mostly right, but a tiny bit wrong in his assessment that marketing should “own” the community (note that he also says that marketing doesn’t quite deserve the right to own it yet until they move past a quarterly campaign focus and into a strategic, long-term relationship building mentality).

First of all, I think that you have to be a little careful about how you use the word ownership. Under a traditional definition of ownership, which is not the definition Bill uses in the video, the community “owns” the community with community defined as all participants (company employees, customers, random fans, etc.) In other words, no one group should feel like they own the community, since that implies a level of control that is mostly an illusion within communities. Doc Searls also posted some similar ideas about brands and social networks, which is related to this discussion, but in a slightly different vein.

However, I do think that marketing should facilitate most customer communities. If you redefine ownership the way Bill does in this video as the people who do the care and feeding of the community to make sure that questions are being answered, the community stays funded, spam gets deleted, content stays fresh, etc., then marketing should probably be the owner of customer communities under this new ownership definition.

However, while this is true for most customer communities, I am not as sure that marketing should own, facilitate, or drive other types of communities. Developer communities and open source communities come to mind as good examples of communities that should be driven out of a technology group not driven by marketing types. I’m sure that a lot of people would disagree with this statement, but I think that developer and open source communities work best when they are created by developers for developers.

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2 Responses to “Who "Owns" the Community”


  • Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis here. When I say “own”, I do mean it in the sense of being responsible for stewarding a community, at least from an organization’s perspective. It’s like a dinner party… who “owns” it? No one. It’s an absurd thing to even consider. But the host is responsible for a clean, well lit space, with great food and drinks, and ensuring a good mix of people.

    I agree with your statement about developer an open source communities… although I have an example from Autodesk of an open source community being stewarded by product marketing staff.

    It will be interesting to see how this issue evolves in 2008!

  • Bill,

    I think you had a pretty good definition of ownership in the video, but I’m not sure your definition came across clearly in Jeremiah’s post about the video.

    The whole question of “ownership” in communities is such a murky one.

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