I just got back into the “community software” category after an eight-year hiatus with Mobilize. The customers, analysts and consultants are still amazing, but the technology hasn’t changed much. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
The tech world moved on to friction-free, beautiful, personalized experiences that fit the user’s lifestyle. But community software vendors are still talking about the same giant matrix of features as last decade, and shoving more functionality into already bloated applications in order to win more deals across more use cases.
What community software looks like now.
There are a few cool startups with vision and modern sensibilities, but the larger vendors are owned by private equity firms for whom growth, cash flow and ROI are the driving force, not innovation.
Instead of leading with vision, these vendors are focused on protecting and growing dollars from customers. And the communities fueled by these systems are transactional at best, mostly confusing, and often ignored. Not to mention, they haven’t changed their look since Destiny’s Child was together.
To make matters worse, the community managers are losing credibility because they’re not getting the engagement needed to justify their investment. They should be getting a promotion and more budget, but are scared for their jobs.
So why do I say ‘Community Software is Dead’?
You can no longer throw up a forum and expect people to come, learn how to navigate and fulfill their goals, much less feel connected. You can’t just “create community” with a portal on your website.
And selling “software” is out. Driving outcomes is in. Building a strong network of committed members requires time, energy and experience. It takes people, from the sponsoring organization and the vendor.
Here’s my summary on where the category needs to head.
It starts with a strong purpose that resonates with members. With that, you can create authentic connections (online and offline) that draw people in more deeply.
When Tom’s Shoes gave a pair of shoes away for every purchased pair, or when Movember blew up the world with mustachioed men every Autumn for men’s cancer and suicide issues, they pulled people in. They created movements.
Those are large-scale examples, but the same lessons apply to build a professional network in this era. There’s too much noise. If you don’t have both an emotional, intellectual AND practical connection with members — and dead-simple ways to get started — the efforts will fall flat.
That’s why I’m excited to be back. To work with organizations who want to create movements. Organizations that understand what it takes to light people up in an otherwise distracted era.
So I don’t think of it as “Community Software” anymore. We have a chance to bring a sense of belonging and purpose to a disconnected world. To give the industry an overhaul.
It’s time to create movements.
And it starts with purpose.