Community Managers and Reporting Structures

There are many differences of opinion about where the community manager or the community team should fit into the reporting structure of any organization. In general, I think that it depends on the type of community. The community management function should report to the team most closely connected to the audience you are trying to serve.

Too many companies automatically put the community function under marketing, which works well for certain types of communities, but can be disastrous for other types of communities. For example, developer communities or customer support communities should rarely, if ever, report to marketing. However, I do think that marketing should manage the communities for certain types of customer communities or communities that support a specific marketing campaign. Communities focused on a product line could be driven out of a product marketing group.

Developer communities and open source communities should be driven out of a technology or engineering group, since developer and open source communities tend to work best when they are created by developers for developers. Developers in general have very little tolerance for marketing and anyone who lacks technical credibility.

Support communities should be driven as part of the broader support organization to ensure that the customers in the community are getting an appropriate level of support. The support staff deals with support questions all day and are the most appropriate group to be answering the questions in the support forums and making sure that support customers have what they need from the company.

In some cases, the community should report to the senior management of the organization. Some communities cover multiple functions including developers, support, customers, and product information. In those cases, the community team should be placed high enough in the organization to be able to effectively interface with all of the other teams in the organization. If the community is a critical part of the the products or services offered by the company, it might need to be it’s own function within the organization.

It is worth spending some extra time deciding where the community function should be placed within the organization. You need to take a careful look at the audience for your community and place the community in the appropriate organization.

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7 thoughts on “Community Managers and Reporting Structures”

  1. Beautiful, and the best way to look at it. There is no single solution to the idea of community. Step back, consider the mission of the community team, and decide where the reporting should go that best fulfills this mission.

    It seems that too often it is merely thrown in the “marketing bucket.” I think that this is fundamentally because the concept of community is still somewhat misunderstood. If we see it merely as “a way to get customers,” then marketing makes the most sense with the boxes we’ve previously built to throw things into. However, if we see it more appropriately as “a way to interact with people,” then we have to figure out who those people are and how they best approach interaction. This means that serious thought goes into understanding the mission.

    Nice post, Dawn.

  2. CM should report to the senior management. They need to be able to move from department to department to accomplish their job and goals

  3. John,

    You are absolutely right when you say that “There is no single solution to the idea of community.” The key to building communities is to spend enough time upfront to really think about what you want to accomplish. The reporting structure and other decisions should come out of honest thought about the right solution for your particular situation.


    I think in most cases you are right. In past positions, I’ve reported to the CEO, CTO, and CMO as community manager, and it really does help to report to senior management. This gets harder in a company the size of Intel (80,000+ employees), for example, where it’s hard to make the case for any position to report to senior management.

  4. Dawn,

    Great post, and it addresses an issue that I think we all ponder as the idea of CM has emerged. To me, as a person who came up through the public relations career track, I see a lot of parallels. When I refer to public relations, I mean it in the broad definition as the function that relates with external publics (customers, media, investors, social responsibility, etc.) and not the PR hacks that try to get attention.

    From that perspective and in my experience, the CM (and PR manager in the past) tends to fall into the Marketing silo but the most successful companies treat it fluidly and have dotted lines to most functional groups as well as directly to the CEO. In this way, the CM serves as a conduit of information between the company and the online community and adds value internally and externally. While the tools and techniques have changed, I think the enlightened company emphasizes listening and that extends way beyond any single department.

  5. Chris,

    You bring up a great point about having dotted lines to the other functional groups and the CEO to serve as the conduit of information. The community manager has to be very closely aligned with all of the other related groups in order to be effective within the community.

  6. Hmm, I agree that a community should be closely aligned to its functional objectives and with the folks within the organization who have the most in common with that audience. But I’ve also found that not every group knows *how* to communicate and engage with an external audience effectively. Oddly enough, sometimes marketing is one of those groups.

    I think you are better off searching in your organization for where the best customer engagements and conversations are already occurring and let those folks take the lead, rather than trying to pick the “correct” group to run with it. I’ve found that looking at where current (and successful) customer advocacy initiatives reside is usually a good starting place.

    Scott Dodds

  7. Scott,

    Excellent point. It is important to have community management report into a group or a person with a passion for community who also knows how to really engage with the audience in the community. Being able to build on existing conversations is important, and I want to make sure that people are taking the time to think about where the community management function should live. Every situation is different, and each company needs to find the reporting structure that works for their individual situation.

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