Picture of 6 panelists standing in a row from Left to Right: Madeleine Milne, Blaise Grimes-Viort, Richard Gott, Laura Roth, Michelle Goodall, Kian Bakhtiari

Digital Community Leaders Report Launch

In September we delivered the launch event for the digital community leaders report 2023. We were delighted to partner with Steadfast Collective to produce the report for a second time, following the 2021 report.

The event, hosted at The RSA in London, featured two panels of experts talking through some of the key findings and themes in the report. If you\’re in or on the fringes of the growing group of digital community leaders, this is your chance to catch up on what happened.

Speaker Panels

The first panel was hosted by Jan Carlyle, MD of Autumn Live. It featured experts in community strategy – Michelle Goodall, Madeleine Milne and Kian Bakhtiari.

The second panel was hosted by Pete Heslop, MD of Steadfast Collective. It featured digital community technology experts – Laura Roth, Blaise Grimes-Viort and Richard Gott.


They were joined by 40 people who were welcomed with a drinks reception and a printed copy of the 2023 Digital Community Leaders survey report.

Insights from panel 1 on marketing and strategy

Michelle Goodall

Michelle, formerly CMO of Guild, now operates as a consultant and has 25 years experience in community building. She spoke about needing to have somebody in a very senior position who really believes in the principles of community. This enables authenticity and the growth of a sustainable community. In addition, community leaders need to be able to speak the language of the C-Suite. This will both enable communities to be taken more seriously and release more of the positive power of communities. Finally, Michelle emphasised the need for events within communities, and the powerful opportunities that exist when both elements are used together.

Madeleine Milne

Madeleine recently launched Customer-ization.com to advise brands on their customer engagement and community strategies. She spoke about providing value to your community. This is essential to being authentic, otherwise members see through it. In many ways, the brand or organisation is the enabler to the community benefiting from each other. Plus, with advertising rapidly changing, owning your own relationship with your customers, through community activity, is the future.

Kian Bakhtiari

Kian is the founder of The People – a global community of young diverse change-makers. He has been named as one of the Top 50 Future Leaders by the Financial Times. Kian spoke about ensuring you don\’t start building a community because you want something out of it. Just as our ancestors did, create a forum and see what happens. Your mindset needs to be about creating a community for the purpose of community. And by doing that, you will learn about what\’s relevant to your audience, which is valuable for an organisation.

In addition, communities can enable co-production / co-creation and much more diverse insights. This runs counter to the traditional, hierarchical business models that were established in a previous time. Working with your community can save you a lot of money and wasted efforts. This is because the insights generated mean you\’re far less likely to create, for example, a new product or campaign that misses the mark.

Insights from panel 2 on tech, platforms and operations

Laura Roth

Laura, recently co-founded Community Pros of London, and echoed Michelle\’s point about how essential it is to get your c-suite leaders onboard. You may need to spend as much time talking about your community internally as you do externally. Identify and create advocates in your organisation and get into the boardroom and key meetings. Link community to each of the challenges across the different departments of the organisation. Link stories to data to get attention and get that buy-in early, so it builds support and momentum.

Also, Laura advocates for commercial / brand communities to sit in their own department / function. That way they avoid being measured and judged by KPIs and metrics that are not appropriate.

Blaise Grimes-Viort

Blaise, has two decades of experience in global social media and online community leadership and runs Is The Answer, a change agency focused on digital community-led transformations. He spoke about the use of automation in the technical side of digital community management. He reflected on his experience of many organisations having a shallow depth of understanding currently. Some are resistant due to the risks of getting it wrong or previous bad experiences. However, there are huge benefits to automation when used in a nuanced way that enables consistency of experience, especially as you scale. Often though, community managers are great generalists. As a community grows, it really needs a knowledgeable CTO to embed this kind of detailed, technical evolution.

In addition, Blaise advises others to start your community with a 1-2 year roadmap and a plan for how you will manage scaling. Many don\’t, focussing more on the now, and then come unstuck.

Richard Gott

Richard has over 23 years of experience in the membership and associations sector and currently chairs the Memberwise network. This is a network of over 8,000 membership and association professionals working with 3,000 leading organisations in the UK and the EU. He gave us an incredible stat – that the biggest 100 membership organisations have a combined membership of 52 million people! He explained that, traditionally membership organisations had very \”broadcast\” relationships with their members. The organisation spoke, the members listened, and it was seen as a privilege to belong. Now, many are starting to evolve to a more community-focused model, something that was accelerated by the past few years. The pandemic disrupted their normal, conference-driven annual programmes. This has increased engagement, as conversations can continue before, during and after events.

However, use of and trust in data is low, and many membership organisations don\’t have data and digital strategies / plans in place. This is something Rich believes needs to change, especially to make sure new, younger members join organisations.

Key Takeaways from the experts:

  • Get your c-suite leaders onboard with community building to maximise investment and impact
  • Make sure community sits across all departments in your organisation
  • Community thrives with events, build the community, then add the events strategy. Or, if you have a strong existing event audience, consider evolving to include a community model
  • Often, digital community leaders can get overwhelmed. Using automation and the right tech will save significant time
  • Have a strategy and roadmap, so you can manage growth sustainability and not falter
  • Companies that empower their customers and involve them in their business narrative make cost savings, grow and scale!

Huge thanks to Ann Longley and Steadfast Collective for co-producing this report with us.

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