The Slow Death of Community at the Hands of Marketing?

Tara Hunt kicked off an excellent discussion recently at the Future of Communities blog that coincides with the Community 2.0 Conference.

Tara's basic point is that "community" has become a garish buzzword and all the marketing attention to community could spell its doom. It's scary to her and to me too.

It reminds me of being an online customer community manager 2000-2003. We were so far under the marketing radar that we didn't have to worry about the influence of anyone in the company. We were just something happening on the periphery with little impact to the company. It wasn't until the community actually produced measurable value in the form of tech support that people perked up. By then, the community had developed a culture, norms, expectations, etc. and as the community manager, I was, in some ways, the keeper of the culture. When the marketing people did come knocking eventually, it was easy for me to hear their ideas and work with them on what the community would and would not tolerate. I represented the needs of the community more than the company. It was part of my job as community manager. My comment on the entry was much to this point.

With all this talk about community, community building, community marketing, community ROI, I'm surprised at how little talk there is of actually managing an online community. In my experience, a customer community must have a community manager who is the community's liason to marketing, to management, to product development. A community manager is a leader and deserves a voice in the organization. This role is one that can balance the sometimes misguided perceptions of what customer community is supposed to be, do, produce, create. The community manager is the protector and keeper of the community jewels and should provide the balance that is necessary for community and marketing to accomplish their goals.