What’s the purpose of your online community?

Now think about this. What’s it really about?

Are you limiting the perceived value of your community in the way that you introduce and talk about it? If you are in a support community and talk about it as such, you might for example be limiting it to users who visit only when there is a problem.

Rather, you should be asking your users who come there how they are planning to scale their use of your product. Are you giving them ideas for how to expand its value throughout their enterprise? Are you asking them about how the product can help them to advance their career by becoming a product evangelist? Are you offering incentives to provide innovative uses of your product?

There’s an entire value chain that your community could serve while you’re “just” offering support. Consider the much deeper usefulness of a community that helps your customers to accomplish more than their goals by learning how to make the most of your product.

The same goes for other sorts of communities. If you are running a health support community, are you taking the opportunity to encourage members to find excitement in life outside of their health challenge? If you are running a community of practice, do you provide incentives to go off topic into conversations unrelated to the field the community is dedicated to?

Once you’ve thought about how you communicate the value of your community, consider how calling yourself a community manager may be limiting your own career options. What value are you really providing? Is it merely management of communities? Where else are your skills applicable? Take some time to articulate exactly how you are helping your organization through the creation and management of a sustained and thriving online community.