Category Archives: influencers

Attributes of Thriving Online Communities

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.19.39 AMI got my start building online communities in 1999 with the launch of TechRepublic.com. We grew from a cold start of 0 to 2 Million members in less than 2 years before being acquired by Gartner – it was an insane ride.

I was first asked the question of (more or less) “What makes a thriving community” during the first few months of our growth, and frankly, I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I was primarily focused on designing the site, rolling out new features (like one of the first peer networks in the space), and tweaking architecture. One night when we were working on what was essentially a Social Q&A feature, I checked into our forums to look for inspiration and ideas around how people typically ask technical questions. What I stumbled into was an exchange in the forums about configuring Windows NT for a very specific enterprise environment. Probably 100 in the entire world were capable of having a meaningful conversation about this topic, and we had attracted 10 of this. For TechRepublic at that time, a thriving community meant attracting the most knowledgeable IT Pros in the world, and incentivizing them to share and participate.

I’ve asked myself the “what makes a thriving community” a lot over the years, especially when my practice takes me into a new domain. What worked at TechRepublic in ’99 and Autodesk in 2001 wasn’t necessarily the same criteria for the large NPO communities and collaboration spaces we did at Forum One, or even the range of communities we built and nurtured at Dell.

I was asked to think about the question again last week, and I put together the following list. Given where brands generally are with their social and community efforts, I feel like this is a good and succinct list – by no means comprehensive – but directionally correct.

Attributes of Thriving Communities

Attribute What it looks like to host: What it looks like to member:
Shared Value Business value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise, & advocacy. Value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise & access.
Shared Identity Members rally around, inhabit, and shape community brand. Helps birth and shape community brand.
Vibrant Participation Visible, regular and quality member participation and contribution. Regular Host presence, contribution and facilitation.
Community Leadership Defined rank and reputation model; extending management to members. Meaningful ranks and status; clear paths to achievement and privileges.
Quality Content Content base growing and evolving to most valuable state. Contribution, curation and feedback to evolve content quality.
Expertise Community attracts and develops SMEs. SMEs from host are regular community participants; opportunity to learn & develop.
Culture of Trust Culture of openness and civility. Members air grievances respectfully. Feel connected to host, part of governance & free to provide critical feedback.
Elegant Experience Mature community & social tools, fantastic UX, committed roadmap. Easy to participate and contribute, needs-driven features.
Growth & Responsiveness Base follows growth curve of brand / product. Base guides features & policy. Steady influx of new & quality members, participation in community governance.

 

What would you add?

Announcing the Online Community Unconference 2013 – We’re Back!

ocu2013_2

File under: blog posts I never thought I would be writing – but excited that I am.

It’s been an interesting journey to get here (and I’m certain it will continue to be), but I’m very pleased to announce that we will hosting the Online Community Unconference in Mountain View, CA on May 21ist.

You can register here. <

The Unconference planning team is rooted in the #OCTribe meetup and is made up of me, Kaliya Hamlin, Randy Farmer, Scott Moore, Susan Tenby, Gail Williams, Rachel Luxemburg and Maria Ogneva. Our plan is to closely follow the successful format of the Online Community Unconferences that ran from 2007 – 2010 in the Bay Area and New York that I produced when I was at Forum One – specifically:

  • Personally inviting key professionals in the industry to ensure a knowledgeable and experienced group
  • Adhering to the principles of Open Space Technology to ensure a quality event experience & maximum content – no filler / no talking head keynotes and no recycled presentations that you’ve seen from “noted experts” at other conferences. This is about real professionals having real conversations
  • A great location in the Computer History Museum
  • A commitment to document the proceedings  – see an example of the Book of Proceedings from the OCU 2009.
  • A fun and collegial environment

I’ll have more details as we get closer to the date, but the key things for now are:

  • Registration is open now with early bird rates @ $85
  • We are currently looking for a modest amount of sponsorship (feel free to email me)
  • Our hashtag is #OCU2013
  • We hope you can join us on 5/21!

And lastly… its nice to be back :)

#CMAD 2013 and Sharing Some Appreciation

Screen Shot 2013-01-27 at 6.42.43 PM Today (ok, technically tomorrow) is Community Manager Appreciation Day, or #CMAD. As I mentioned before, Jeremiah Owyang will be tracking the global celebration via his blog: 4th Annual Community Manager Appreciation Day: Jan 28, 2013 In my last post about #CMAD, I encouraged everyone participating to “find there own A”:

I originally chose to support #CMAD because I believe that most organizations are underinvesting in and not properly prioritizing the role online communities can play in their marketing, sales and support strategies. I see #CMAD as a way to raise the visibility of the role of Community Management in addition to a whole lot of gratitude for Community Managers being passed around.

My “A” is still appreciation, but I wanted to call out a handful of people in the industry who have really helped shape my thinking about Community Management, and consequently, my career in the industry. Specifically, I wanted to acknowledge:

Howard Rheingold: @hrhreingold
Howard is one of the true pioneers in the space, and if you are unfamiliar with his work, you really are missing key pieces of the foundation of the Online Community industry. Howard’s work in and impact on the space is incredible, from his seminal book “The Virtual Community“, to his early participation in The WELL, his book on mobile social Smart Mobs, and his recent work in social and collaboration including classes at Stanford. A brilliant man and a gentle soul.
What I specifically appreciate: Howard laying the foundation for an objective conversation about online communities and collaboration.

Amy Jo Kim: @amyjokim
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Amy Jo Kim in real life, but I consider her book “Community Building on the Web” on of my best Community friends. The book is almost 7 years old, but still remarkably useful in day to day practice. In particular, I find her definition of online community as the one I always go back to:

My working definition for community is a collection of people who have come together for some common purpose, interest or activity, and who are able to get to know each other better over time.

Excerpted from this great interview with Nancy White.
What I specifically appreciate: Amy writing the first book on online communities that was both strategic and practical.

Randy Farmer: @frandallfarmer
Continuing the list of pioneers with Randy Farmer, one of the first Community Architects and also an expert in Reputation Management Systems. I first got to know Randy in 2007 through the Forum One Network events that I developed and hosted with Jim Cashel. For me, Randy has consistently been one of the smartest, most pragmatic, and most helpful voices in the online community industry. We’ve worked together personally on a couple of projects, including an RMS project for Dell’s Communities.
What I specifically appreciate: Randy’s guidance and advice as the industry transitioned from Virtual Communities 1.0 to Social Media and beyond.

Joe Cothrel: @cothrel
Joe Cothrel is Chief Community Officer at Lithium (disclosure, Autodesk is a customer). Though not as widely published as the previous folks that I have mentioned, Joe is truly one of the smartest strategists and practitioners in the industry. Joe was another connection that I made via Forum One events, and I’ve always found his opinions and feedback valuable. Joe is particularly great at brand communities and the organizational issues and opportunities with online communities.
What I specifically appreciate: Joe’s advice and feedback on the best ways to create value with brand communities, and how to describe that value.

Jeremiah Owyang:@jowyang
No #CMAD list would be complete with giving a shout out to Jeremiah Owyang. Although Jeremiah covers many parts of the Social Business spectrum, we has consistently tracked, reported on and researched online communities and the role of community manager throughout his career. Jeremiah has been supportive of many of my personal community building initiatives, including my early Online Community Roundtable meetups and Forum One Unconferences. Jeremiah continues to study the value and impact of online communities and the fact that he continues to steward #CMAD is icing on the cake.
What I specifically appreciate: Jeremiah’s ongoing interest in, and quality coverage of, the Online Community space.

How about you?
Who is on your list? Who are you most appreciative of on Community Manager Appreciation Day?

PS – Looking forward to seeing Bay Area folks at the #CMADSF event on Monday night.

Online Community Expert Interviews: The Best of 2007

I just put together a short list of our best interviews from the Online Community Report for 2007. We had a great group of Community experts sharing their experiences, and I think you will agree that the content is worth a second look.
Shawn Morton, CNET
“The big lesson … was to follow the needs of the community first, not the latest new thing that analysts, journalists or bloggers are raving about… unless your community is geared toward analysts, journalists or bloggers.”

Steve Nelson, Clear Ink
“They (communities) form themselves, so what corporations can do is to foster their organic growth, not force it. Understand that they will be equal players at the table, respect them and let them thrive.”

Lee LeFever, Common Craft

“In my experience, there is a much needed focus on the role of the community manager. Companies are starting to understand that community isn’t a technology that you plug in and leave alone – it’s a way of doing business that takes time and hard work. In the best success stories, there is almost always a person or small group that understands community processes, sets expectations, and balances the needs of the community and the organization.”

Scott Moore, Schwab Foundation

Regardless which definition of ROI you want to use (return on investment, information or interaction), I am hearing more and more community managers who are focusing on helping community members increase their return as a main goal. This doesn’t mean that the organization hosting the community gives up on return, but that it’s not the only bottom line (and it’s not just a monetary bottom line).

Bill Binenstock, CBS Interactive
“The good news about our industry and our space is that there are so many incredibly cool things to do and so much innovation taking place. The bad news about our industry and our space is that there are so many incredibly cool ….”

Guy Kawasaki, Garage / Truemors

Not everything has to be a Google or YouTube to be a “success.” Small sites
can be great “lifestyle” businesses: no outside investors, work in your
underwear at home, and use any Macintosh that you want. Life is good in the
garage.
(editors note: my home office is in my garage, but I generally put pants on)

Jake McKee, Ant’s Eye View
“But even as this awareness grows and the tools get better and better (anyone seen Facebook lately??), we still advise our clients of the same thing we have for years: build relationships, don’t implement tools. Relationships are the crucial part of any “social” activity, whether online or offline, whether business focused or personal.”

Joi Podgorny, Ludorum, Inc.
“It has been said before a ton of times, but I will keep saying it until it becomes common knowledge – Communities are hard work. They take resources to design and plan, but more importantly, they take resources to maintain.”

Susan Tenby, TechSoup

“Enlist your most opinionated and helpful volunteers and create a “management group” of sorts. Connect with them every month, outside of the larger group, if possible, through a conference call, take their agenda items and and help them help make the community a success by forming the structure of your community with their ideas and your vision.”

Know an online community expert with an interesting story to tell? Or are you one yourself? Email me, and you may be the next expert interviewee!

Who Owns Community? – Webinar this Wednesday

 I’m doing a webinar with Matthew Lees from the Patricia Seybold Group this Wednesday about how the community team functions and is funded in the corporate environment.

Please join us if you can.

Who Owns Community? – Webinar
Aligning Business Sponsorship and Responsibility with Community Goals
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
11:00 AM Pacific / 2:00 PM Eastern
Free Webinar hosted by Forum One and the Patricia Seybold Group

Online communities and social networks are changing the ways
organizations do business in this customer-empowered, Web 2.0 world.
Different companies have taken different paths in defining the
ownership of community initiatives.

Join Matthew Lees of the Patricia Seybold Group and Bill Johnston,
Director, Community & Research of Forum One Communications, for this
live Webinar in a discussion of these questions and issues:

• Who should be responsible and accountable for it? Who should fund it?
• What problems can arise — both within the company and within the
community — if the “wrong” group owns it?
• Do the answers to these questions depend on the industry, the type
of community, or other things?

Space is limited. Click here to register.

5 Questions Webinar: My content, transcript and archive

I had the pleasure of participating in a webinar yesterday with George Jaquette of Intuit and Aaron Strout of Shared Insights.

Aaron just posted the webinar archive and transcript on the Wearesmarter.com site.

Additionally, I wanted to post my notes from the event, which more or less sum up what I said (or meant to say: ) ).

Question 1: How do I create a value-driven community strategy?
It is important to remember that value is relative to your organization and also to your community. As an organization, you need to do some research (and soul searching) on why you want to host a community, what value you need to get out of the activity, and most importantly, what value YOU can bring to the table.
Hint: making your customers happy is generally a path to growth.
Question 2: Which metrics should I be measuring? (Measuring value in traditional and non-traditional ways)
The short answer? It depends on your community goals. It should be a mix of quantitative and qualitative.

Traditional Web Metrics ( a few examples)
Page views, time on site, referring sites, referring search engines, referring search terms

New Community / Social Media Metrics ( a few examples)
Member engagement: activity and “investment” in community
Member Loyalty & Satisfaction
Membership Growth and Attrition
Member referrals (also a sign of engagement),
Quality of content and exchange: For instance, resolution time, days thread was active, ratio of validated responses. Support communities are leading the way on best practices and reporting.
Tracking the brand through the “Community ecosystem”: Tracking brands and community members as they travel through the larger community ecosystem that spans sites, technologies and devices.
Impact of the community on revenue: Particular attention is being paid to the value of members, both to the host communities’ revenue, and the organization’s sales or fundraising.
Mobile interactions with the community: including views and posts from mobiles.

This question is explored more thoroughly in our Online Community Metrics 2007 report, which can be downloaded for free here.
Question 3: How do I manage my community, and how can I enlist my community to help?
First, you don’t “manage” a community. You host. If your intention in engaging in community building activities is to manipulate the community in some way, don’t bother. Members will run away in droves.
With that said, there is a role in every community for a manager or moderator that ensures that the community is a “clean, well lit place”, or at least keeps to the culture and values expressed in the community policies. Policies and norms of expected behavior should be clearly articulated and easily accessible. This leaves the community moderator / manager to more interesting activities than deleting all the posts with “f@ck” in them, like actually participating in the community.

Give your community the tools to help manage the community , including the ability to rate and flag content, escalate issues to the moderator, and provide feedback on the user experience.

Find your influences and evangelists (typically, the most active (and positive) members), and put them on a pedestal. Sean O’Driscoll of MS has a lot of great things to say about the topic of engaging influencers.


Question 4: How do I grow my community without losing intimacy?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly get this question. If you design a community UX poorly, event one with 100 members will feel anonymous.
My feedback was to basically grow from your base, and stick to your values and culture. Give members the ability to create subgroups, and allow members to create rich profiles.

Question 5: Within our company, who should blog and who shouldn’t?
Those with a point of view, subject matter expertise and a PERSONALITY should be blogging. I made the point that good blogging candidates in a company are likely already blogging outside of the company. Good corporate blogging often times feels like corporate “reality TV”, providing access inside the corporate membrane in an informal, interesting and (hopefully) lighthearted way.

There were great questions via the phone, and a great back channel chat happening during the call. Again, the transcript can be found here.

The Social Graph: A Conversation with Marc Smith from Microsoft Research

Note: This is cross-posted from the OC Report.

You have probably been hearing the term “social graph” a lot in recent weeks.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook describes the concept in a recent Business Week article:

As he (Zuckerberg) describes it, this is a mathematical construct that maps the real-life connections between every human on the planet. Each of us is a node radiating links to the people we know. “We don’t own the social graph,” he says. “The social graph is this thing that exists in the world, and it always has and it always will. It’s really most natural for people to communicate through it, because it’s with the people around you, friends and business connections or whatever. What [Facebook] needed to do was construct as accurate of a model as possible of the way the social graph looks in the world. So once Facebook knows who you care about, you can upload a photo album and we can send it to all those people automatically.”

Since the Business Week interview, it seems (at least to me) like the concept of the “Social Graph” has taken on a life of its own. The definitions of social graph (at least from what I’ve seen) range from the mathematical construct Zuckerburg describes, to a mapping of relationships in a particular network. Others have suggested that the social graph maps relationships as well as contains activity streams, semantic data, and more.

I’m trying to get my head around this, as I think many are. I tried to think of the smartest person I know who regularly studies social network theory, and Marc Smith from Microsoft Research immediately came to mind. Marc was kind enough to answer my questions via email, and a transcript of that conversation follows.

Q. What is your definition of the “Social Graph”? Can this concept be discussed outside the context of social network theory?

I do not think you can get away from the ideas in social network theory and still make any sense of the concept “social graph”.

Computer Mediated Communication systems are social networks.

“The Social Graph” just means that since Joseph Moreno’s 1934 work on sociograms, we recognize that [1] all entities are tied to other entities through relationships and [2] all relationships can be represented as directed graphs, node lists, and matrices, and that each of these data structures is amenable to further analysis. The current fad is just the ever growing awareness of these facts combined with a very real change in the costs of authoring, collecting, and analyzing these structures in digital media. In a social network nodes are people and edges or lines that connect the nodes are relationships.

Our social network research focuses on relationships in older forms of computer-mediated social network services like email lists, newsgroups, web boards and other repositories of threaded conversation. We found interesting “roles” like “answer person” (seen below).

We documented this “answer person role: in a paper we recently published in the Journal of Social Structure: “Visualizing the Signatures of Social Roles in Online Discussion Groups” which is available from: http://www.cmu.edu/joss/content/articles/volume8/Welser/

Some of the tools we used to do this study along with others are available from our website (http://www.research.microsoft.com/community/projects).

Our research points to the way to move from “page rank” to “people rank” by generating “social accounting metadata”. These measures of author behavior capture the structure of conversations and populations of community participants; the results can provide useful relevance ranking features for improving community search. Eric Brill published on the topic of making use of Netscan metadata as a feature of relevance ranking algorithms:

W. Xi, J. Lind and E. Brill, “Learning Effective Ranking Functions for Newsgroup Search,” SIGIR’04, Sheffield, UK, July 2004.

We have published a series of papers in which we demonstrate the value of social accounting metadata to identify authors who display behaviors that are clearly associated with a particular role or function, such as the relatively few “answer people” who provide much of the support in online discussions.

Tammara Turner, Marc Smith, Danyel Fisher and Howard Ted Welser, Picturing Usenet: Mapping computer-mediated collective action, Journal of Computer mediated Communication, September 2005.
Viégas, Fernanda B., Marc Smith. “Newsgroup Crowds and AuthorLines: Visualizing the Activity of Individuals in Conversational Cyberspaces“, Proceedings of Hawaii International Conference on Software and Systems (HICSS) 2004.

‘Answer people,’ the folks who contribute much of the value in the Internet, are a small minority of all online users. Our paper reports that less than 2% of authors in Usenet newsgroups are likely to be the helpful ‘answer person’ type — authors who reply to many other people with brief replies. Information visualizations highlight the difference between these helpful folks and other types of contributors. Of course, the remarkable things is that so few can provide so much to so many.

Q: Does the concept of the social graph deserve the media attention it’s been getting of late?
Yes. Yes. A critical social structure is suddenly becoming very visible and computable in ways that are novel. I am impressed!

Q: Besides Facebook, what other sites or companies are doing interesting things with the “social graph”?
Everything that is about bringing people into contact with people creates a social graph, so all sorts of things are in this space. Email is about social graphs, it just often lacks the UI for the data structures it generates. That is changing, of course. Now there are applications that natively focus on the directed graph as their data structure. That is new as wellFor example, have you noticed that most email clients let you create contact records for each person you know but almost no email clients allow those contacts to have relationships to one another. Applications that generate one data structure do not always have mechanisms to read or analyze that data structure, or only gain those features as they mature.

Marc’s suggestions for further reading & listening:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graph_theory
http://www.insna.org/
Audio: Listen to Marc Smith’s portion of the OCLC Symposium

Interview with Joi Podgorny on the OC Report

If you haven’t, check out the interview I did with Joi on the Online Community Report.

She obviously did the hard part… providing great content!

This month’s Online Community Expert interview is with Joi Podgorny of Ludorum, Inc. Joi’s area of expertise is the post-Facebook crowd, Tweens and Children.

Joi’s Bio:
Joi has worked the past decade building and managing safe, online communities for kids, as well as developing and implementing strategies in the realms of digital production, integrated marketing, and youth interactive research with such companies as Nicktoons, YTV/Corus, ABC (Australia), Kraft/Post Cereals, Neopets, Sparktop, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Ludorum is dedicated to developing, acquiring and marketing intellectual entertainment properties, in both the new interactive distribution channels as well as classic linear TV. At Ludorum, Joi leads the integration of interactive/online strategies into Ludorum’s television, publishing and toy properties.

The evolving role of the Community Manager

Cross posted from the OC Report:

The topic of online community team organizational structures seems to be getting increasingly hot.

The two main questions seem to be:

• Where does the community team “belong” in a corporate structure?
• What are the roles on that team?

I’ve explored the former a couple of times, so I thought I would spend some time on the roles of the team, and in particular, the community manager. I would really love to hear what you think about this. I know leaving comments on this blog can be a bit of a pain (working on it), so if you have any issues, please email me.

The role of Community Manager seems to be evolving in the following ways:

The role is less about moderation and more about product management.
Most thriving communities need little action by the moderators. Management tools are (in general) sufficient enough to combat spam, and most communities have empowered the members with tools to flag abusive or inappropriate posts. Simply put: with adequate and findable community guidelines, active moderation can (and should) be in the hands of the members. strategy, features, UX, platform, budgets, marketing (and a hundred other things). In short, very much like the role of a product manager.

An expectation of communicating value (ROI) rather than stats
Community managers are now expected to not just report stats (page views, membership growth), but also to report on other points of value, and to contextualize that value, at least in part, in terms of progress on business goals.

Community managers are expected to grow relationships with the influencers in the community
Community managers are increasingly expected to know who their lead members are, and what effect their influence has on other community members.

Community managers should be thinking about “portability” of their team
In some companies, sources of community funding, and even the reporting structure of the community team is changing every few quarters. We live in evolutionary times, so it is good for community managers to reach out to senior staff on teams outside their immediate reporting structures.

In some cases, seasoned community managers are evolving into the Community Director, with several functions reporting in to him / her. My Community dream team would look something like this (YMMV):
• Moderators
• UX
• Analytics
• Content Manager / Community Editor
• Marketing
• Developer / Ops

I’d like to hear from the community managers out there. What are you experiencing in your day to day work? What am I missing here?

Cool News OTD: One of the best marketing resources you’ve probably never heard of

I’ve been subscribed to the Cool News of the Day newsletter (also available in convenient blog form) for several years. It’s the ONLY email newsletter that I read daily.

Cool News highlights innovation in marketing strategy and execution. A lot of the articles skew towards retail, but they  is always some gem of information in each of the articles.

As an aside, I’m pretty sure that Tim Manners, the editor, is going to join us on the Advisory Board for the Marketing & Online Communities conference.