It's community that counts

In July 2009, we implemented a community strategy at F+W Media International (David & Charles as we were then). Nearly 12 months on, it's interesting to reflect on what we have learnt, successes and where forward opportunities lie.

Firstly a little context. The community strategy was part of our group solution to facing the changing market landscape. It was an initiative to drive cultural change around how we think about our market opportunities and, specific to our business, there was a requirement to get our separate divisions (previously publishing & book clubs and in the US magazines & events) working more closely together. The community strategy was simple - to align our teams around our core communities of interest (craft, art, writing, design etc.) and not around the channel of books, book clubs, magazines or events.

At the time of implementation this was an innovative step and over the past 12-18 months we've seen much talk about the role, importance and opportunity that community can play.

So, what have we learnt about community strategy?

This post by Mike Shatzkin about the big digital issues in January 2011 poses some interesting questions and I'll aim to share my views on some of these over the next few weeks & months. What struck me in reading this was how community strategy helps us to address so many of these issues.

Embracing community means putting the customer at the heart of the decision making process before you think book, content, product, magazine or event. It allows you to take a view on opportunities informed by insight into the audience and we're now seeing how this creates opportunity.

Take our craft business where we have a team of editorial, marketing and direct to consumer product managers working together under one community leader. We are bestselling publishers in the category and have completely re-engineered our direct to consumer business from the traditional book club model that was in decline to a growing ecommerce and mail order business under our RUCraft brand. Now granted, we may have been able to achieve this without community strategy, but what's really interesting are the new opportunities now coming through as a result of working as a community team.

My top three benefits to the community strategy are:

Partnerships: By having a wider context, every conversation with an author, supplier or media contact can have a wider remit. So it's never just about the book but can be about growing audience, exclusive product or even new business venture.

Investment (time and budget): By viewing the community as a whole, you can make smart investment decisions and focus your time and budget on the greatest potential, fastest growing opportunities.

Ideas: Exposing teams to wider elements of the business sparks new ideas - spotting a new trend as a result of something a product supplier is doing or researching a concept direct with a consumer audience.

My top three learnings from implementing community are:

Role & cultural change: Having the community conversation above and beyond existing editorial conversations requires a new way of thinking.

Give it time: There is no silver bullet to success and it is now, nearly 12 months on, that we're really seeing the strategy starting to deliver for the business.

Managing opportunity: What we've found is that as the team starts to click there are a fountain of new ideas. Difficult decisions around where to invest time and budget are required to manage this and keep energy levels high.

Back to my reference to Mike's post. I can't pretend to have the answer to many of these questions, but I do fundamentally believe that the community strategy is the right path to react and respond to the market changes by continuing to focus on meeting customer needs & desires.

I'm interested in how (or if?) others have implemented community strategy and how you've found it - what's working for you?