Category Archives: Community 101

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?

#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.

Supporting Community Manager Appreciation Day #CMAD

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 7.14.57 PM

First established in January of 2010, Community Manager Appreciation Day (#CMAD) is held on the 4th Monday of January to celebrate the role of Community Manager. The celebrations range from small acts of gratitude, like thanking a staff community manager with a note, to major events and meetups all over the world.

Jeremiah Owyang, the event’s creator, is tracking all of the activity on his blog here:
4th Annual Community Manager Appreciation Day: Jan 28, 2013

San Francisco Happy Hour on 1/28
I am helping organize a San Francisco happy hour on the evening of the 28th at District Wine Bar. The event is free, but you must register and RSVP here:
Community Manager Appreciation Happy Hour – San Francisco

Google Hangout from the folks at My Community Manager
Tim McDonald and the team at My Community Manager are hosting a hangout on Google + all day on the 28th – more info at:
My Community Manager G+ #CMAD Hangout 

Again, Jeremiah is doing a great job of tracking all of the activity across the globe via this blog post.

Find YOUR own “A” in CMAD
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. With that being said, I have a couple of suggestions for celebrating #CMAD:

  • As a baseline, acknowledge the community managers on your staff with thanks and perhaps a small gift
  • Thank a community manager in one of your passion or hobby communities
  • Thank those you have learned from in the space – I threw a shout out to Amy Jo Kim, Howard Rheingold and Joe Cothrel… and I will continue to add to that list on the run up to the 28th
  • Think about how we go beyond “appreciation” for the CM role next year – should it be Advancement? Acceleration? Let’s ave this discussion during the year!

As I look back on my 14 years in the space, I am encouraged by the progress in tools, practices, programs and professional network… but we still have a long way to go! I look forward to seeing Bay Area Community Managers at the Happy Hour on 1/28.

The Role of Brands in Online Communities

There seems to be a wave of bad advice and misguided thinking regarding where and how brands should engage with their communities. Examples include pundits advising brands to prioritize social efforts “off domain”, being passive observers in their communities instead of active hosts, and a general sentiment that hosting a brand-based online community is high effort and low return.

This is really unfortunate, as I’m convinced many organizations are missing key opportunities to realize value from online communities. The reasons for the bad advice and thinking are myriad and may include legitimate causes like: steady pressure from a slowly recovering economy, increased demands for customer attention online and competition for prioritization amongst a growing list of places to play in social media. Unfortunately, the lack of direct experience and ego play a role as well.

Stakes
So, what’s at stake? Your network of customer relationships. Said another way: you can rent this network on Facebook (along with other tenants), or you can make the investment in hosting, growing and managing the network yourself. Renting is cheaper in the short term. Building and hosting the network creates a business asset that is generative in value if managed properly.

The Role of Host
When I say “host”, I am specifically talking about on-domain, brand-hosted communities that are built on a community platform (like Lithium or Jive) and housed under the brand’s domain. Examples include Autodesk’s AREASAP’s Community Network , Dell’s TechCenter and Lego’s CUUSO . The value of these communities is multi-dimensional, but hosted brand communities are generally a “clean, well-lit place” for a company to:

  • offer customers peer to peer support, lowering support costs and increasing customer satisfaction;
  •  co-develop product and service ideas with customers, lowering research costs and creating products with a built in market;
  • give special access to and content from insiders (like product developers) in the company, increasing the value of the community for members;
  • share special content to enhance the use of (or use in) the products;
  • discuss improvements or extensions to products and services;
  • facilitate niche communities of practice around specializations;

to name just a few in the long list of possible activities that produce value for both the brand and community members.

Being a Good Host

“if you talked to people” by Hugh MacLeod @gapingvoid

The web is littered with failed attempts by brands trying to kickstart communities. Many remind me of the famous Bette Midler quote “but enough about me… what do YOU think about me”. Many early failures hit the wall simply because they made the simple mistake of being selfish. Brands need to be able to come up with a simple value equation as part of the strategic development process for community that accounts for both their business needs as well as that of the community member. If both parties can’t win, there is really no sense in playing. I offer the examples I gave earlier as proof that this can be done – Lego, Autodesk, Dell and others have been and are successful in their efforts. A few reminders on etiquette for being a good host (and there are many others):

  • Be present and attentive
    Ensure that staff are available to participate, answer questions and respond to feedback.
  • Be engaged
    Actively manage the community, ensuring basic moderation is happening and that there is a regular cadence of content and activity.
  • Be respectful
    Ensure that communications, content and activities are geared towards shared value, vs one-sided discussions about the host organization. Being respectful goes beyond generally being civil and includes the expectation that the community hosts will form relationships with members and support the community over the lang haul.

Brands as Networks
One definition of brand is “the collectively held perceptions about an organization shared amongst its stakeholders”. I find this fascinating because the statement implies that a brand can’t manifest unless it is in a networked environment. Brands need networks in order to exist. Online (and offline) Communities are a living, breathing expression of a brand.

The Net:

  • Online Communities should be a focal point of brands social strategy, and a “center of gravity” for social presence;
  • Brands should not shy away from the role of active community host – it’s not an option, it’s a responsibility
  • To be a good Community host, approach the task with the attitude that *everybody can win* instead of a zero sum game of Brand vs Customers

Thoughts on Managing Your Social Vendor Relationships

Let’s face it – the vendors you rely on for social media & community platforms, services and advice have you outnumbered and surrounded. Between account reps, sales reps, relationship managers, executive success partners and the rest of the cast, most vendors have a veritable army of skilled professionals whose primary purpose is to maximize revenue derived from their relationship with you. I’m not saying that this is all bad (profitable vendors = sustainable vendors, after all) and that these relationships can’t be mutually beneficial. What I am saying is that the sides of the social vendor relationship game aren’t evenly matched. For social executives, it’s time to step up our game and more proactively manage these vendor relationships.

What’s at stake? Ultimately, the long term success of your social programs. Have you ever been through an Online Community platform migration? It sucks –  from a technical perspective, let alone a community management perspective. Ever had to buy an additional social listening package because your primary  did a bad job of  influencer identification? Ever had analysts completely contradict each other on best practices for rolling out a Reputation Management system in back to back briefings? Issues with vendors as isolated incidents are painful and expensive. Issues with some or all of your vendors simultaneously can  kill social programs.

The opportunities at hand are to gain the most value from your vendor relationships ideally by:

  • Gaining access to and influencing product roadmap
  • Guiding the vendor into partnership & integration discussions with other vendors that you use
  • Staying abreast of best practice and useful case studies from other customers of the vendor
  • Understanding if you and the vendor are on paralell or divergent paths long term

SWGD? (So Watcha Gonna Do?)
I offer the following tactics and suggestions in the spirit of SWGD :

1. Host an Annual Social Vendor Summit
Ask your vendors to come onsite for an annual Social Vendor Summit. I hosted one of these at Dell in January of this year, and had all of our community, social media, listening, social CRM, social marketing, analytics and touchpoint partners in for a day of shared briefings. The briefing format was dead-simple-  each vendor had 30 minuts to share 3 slides: 1) An overview of current state and feature usage, 2) Suggestions on how we could improve use and effectiveness of their offering and 3) Anything else they wanted to tell us. They sessions were a great way to get the internal team on the same page and also to spur brainstorming and collaboration amongst the vendor partners.

2. Conduct Quarterly Business Reviews
These reviews are likely common as an internal practice in your organization, so why not expect them of your vendors? Reviewing product roadmap updates, strategy updates, progress on key programs and any interesting new customer examples or case studies is a few hours well spent in the quarter. This is a much deeper and more exclusive dive than the Summit mentioned above, and is really intended to be a frank feedback sharing and strategy session. Are some of your vendors not willing to spend the time to do this? Great segway to my next suggestion…

3. Stay in Touch With Competitive Vendors
Competitive social vendors are likely calling you anyway – make the best of it! I was generally willing to take a call or briefing with a competitive vendor at Dell if I was sure about our internal position on the incumbent vendor (favorable or not) and I would always let the competitive vendor know if there was any chance of them winning the business prior to the briefing.

4. Understand & Influence Product Roadmap
Your social vendors with product roadmaps should be more than willing to share fairly long-term (at least 18 mos) roadmaps with you. They will be caveated to the Nth degree and be bookended by safe harbor statements… but they should be shareable. You should feel empowered to have a discussion about the planned features and you should generally feel like your priorities are taken into account. If not, this should be a huge red flag (and see previous point re: Competitors).

5. Build Your Peer Network
It is critical to have a network of peers in similar positions to compare notes with and to seek advice from. Analysts are great for general snapshots of the social landscape and directional advice, but being able to have a conversation with a peer sitting in *your* seat in another organization is invaluable. Your social vendors will likely have conferences and events that will offer great networking opportunities. Vendors can also make intros for you. There are also many great networking organizations like The Community Roundtable and SocialMedia.org. To put a fine point on it: build your network before you need it.

6. Get Personal
Along the lines of building a peer network, get to know the key players working for your vendors as well. Invest the time in building one to one relationships outside of the conference room. Personal relationships often make the difference  in getting a heads up on a feature change, getting a feature request into a release or getting a little extra help with a configuration.

The Net-net: a little extra effort put into elevating your relationships with your key social vendors to a *true* partnership will likely pay back valuable dividends in the form of better platforms, more effective social programs and higher return  on your social investments.

Do you agree that spending more time managing your social vendor relationships could create value? Do you have additional suggestions on why and how to manage these relationships? I’d love to hear your thoughts and any stories or suggestions you could share.

Presentation: Developing the Next Generation of IdeaStorm

These are my slides from the Intranet Reloaded Conference in Berlin on April 17th. My presentation was on the evolution of Dell’s IdeaStorm open innovation community.

Serendipity: A Key Theme for 2012

Serendipity sure seems to be a key theme for me in 2012. First, I was on a panel at SxSWi with a few very smart folks titled “Get Lucky: Create Serendipity to Spur Innovation” – Panel organizer Rawn Shah posted a great recap post here: Serendipity and Innovation at SXSW .

This week, I’ll be having a conversation with Thor Muller about Permeable Organizations and the role of permeability in harnessing serendipity to create value. Thor just put the finishing touches on his upcoming book about serendipity with Lane Becker titled “Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business“.
In Tuesday’s session we will be discussing:
- How to find and develop brand evangelists
- How to uncover hidden customer needs to drive innovation
- How to meet the needs of different business stakeholders, while leaving room for serendipity
- What it means to have a successful community in a sales-driven/product-driven or customer-centric culture
- How to design effective programs that serve different community goals
I also plan to grill Thor about the book :)
The session is on April 3rd at 11am PDT – this is a free event, and you can register here:
How to Succeed as a Permeable Organization
I hope you can join us!

Announcing “Community Secret Sauce”: a Panel Discussion Feb 1st in SF

Join me next Wednesday, February 1st, in San Francisco for the “Community Secret Sauce” panel discussion. The event is part of the #OCTribe  meetup series that Susan Tenby hosts, and these events are always a fun and informative time.

Joining me will be Thor Muller from Get Satisfaction, Rachel Luxemburg from Adobe and Gail Ann Williams from Salon.com & The Well. We will each be sharing “Secret Sauce” examples for online community success. The first part of the discussion will be panel-based, then we will shift gears and solicit the best secret sauce ingredients from the participants in the session. Our goal is to walk away from the evening with a nice list of ingredients for Community Managers and Strategists to use in their day to day practice.

More details on the #OCTribe Meetup site: RSVP here (Registration Required).

Reflections on Community Manager Appreciation Day

Today was the third annual Community Manager’s Appreciation Day, or #CMAD. The intention of #CMAD is to raise awareness about the role of the Community Manager, and to recognize the hard working women and men who support this role for their organizations. Jeremiah Owyang originally proposed the idea for #CMAD, and has been very active in evangelizing and supporting it since launching 3 years ago.

I was had the privilege of joining Connie Bensen, a colleague on the Dell Community team, for a fantastic Google+ hangout today to talk about the evolving role of the Community Managers. the following folks participated and the video follows below:

+Bill Johnston, Director of Global Online Community, Dell;  <that’s me :)
+Jeremiah Owyang, Partner, Altimeter;
+Connie Bensen, Sr. Manager Community, Dell;
+Lionel Menchaca, Chief Blogger, Dell;
+Amy Muller, Chief Community Officer & Co-Founder, Get Satisfaction;
+Mark Harrison, Community Manager, Google Earth & SketchUp;
+Patrick O’Keefe, Author of Managing Online Forums / iFroggy Networks;
+Jim Storer, Principal/Founder of The Community Roundtable; and
+Vanessa DiMauro, CEO, Leader Networks.

Based on the G+ hangout, and subsequent conversations, I was encouraged by a number of things today:

  • The global community of community managers is alive and well. I saw hundreds of CM’s participating in the #CMAD hashtag via twitter and on Google+, and had Community Managers from all over the world reach out today.
  • The spirit of the day was generous and inclusive, with lots of shouts out to CMs all over the world.
  • The day surfaced a lot of great questions that the industry is struggling with, including where and how the Community Manager role (and related team roles) should evolve, how community management changes by online touchpoint, and how to deal with burnout in a very high-touch and sometimes emotional role.

My key hopes for next year (#CMAD 2013):

  •  That there is a more integrated approach to Community-building, as part of most organization’s social business efforts. Specifically, I hope that Community Management is seen as a role, as well as an intention (to form and nurture a network of relationships).
  • That we (as a community) will have developed mature social team structures, with specific roles and resources, robust enough to support a range organization types.
  • That we will see rich and diverse educational opportunities for Community Managers (and other social team members), coupled with mentoring opportunities.

As someone who has championed the value of Online Community building for most of my career (at least the last 12 years of it), I am very proud of where we are as an industry… but I also feel that we have much work ahead to fully realize the opportunities that online communities present to our respective organizations and stakeholders. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all every day, including Community Managers Appreciate Day 2013.

Using Unconference in the Enterprise – Manifesting Social Business

My theory on Unconferences (and other participant-driven events) is pretty simple: put smart and passionate people in a room to talk about a common cause with some light facilitation and good things generally happen. Along with all the great knowledge-sharing and network-building that typically happens, an Unconference can be one of the key catalysts for the culture change needed to evolve to a more social business:  a day of suspended organizational hierarchy, authentic communication (no PPTs), collaboration, learning and relationship development.

I’ve been a huge believer in participant-driven events since I started hosting Online Community Roundtables in the summer of 1995, and I was first  introduced to the concept of an Unconference by Jim Cashel of Forum One a couple of years later. I went on to work for Jim and host a series of Unconferences about Social Media and Online Community. When I came to work at Dell, I saw an opportunity to do an Unconference series as a compliment to our social media training and strategy development efforts.

At Dell, we’ve hosted 5 SMaC Talk Unconference events globally, with locations including Dell HQ in Round Rock, TX, Bangalore, Xiamen and London over the last 18 months, with thousands of Dell employees representing most departments and all levels in the organization participating. Michael Dell even came to close our very first Unconference event – we are clearly invested in the format as an organization.

When I facilitate the events, I promise participants two key things:
1. They will leave the event with a long list of new ideas to put into practice immediatly, and
2. They will leave the event with an extended network of practitioners to collaborate with, learn from and gain support from in their day to day efforts.

Agenda Wall from Dell's Summer 2011 Unconference in Round Rock, TX

So, what is an Unconference?
An Unconference is a participant-driven event, where the attendees actually create the agenda. The methodology to create and facilitate an Unconference is drawn from Open Space Technology – a methodology first developed by Harrison Owen and subsequently shaped by the global community of facilitators.

An Unconference (or Open Space event) differs radically from a traditional conference in a number of different ways, including:

  • Attendees are responsible for creating the agenda
  • Speakers and sessions are not pre-programmed (although they do relate to the Unconferences theme)
  • The agenda is malleable – sessions can be suggested or changed throughout the day
  • After the agenda is set, the day is self guided – attendees are personally responsibility for getting the most out of the day

So, how does this Unconference thing work? The intention of the Open Space format is to remove the constraints and restrictions of “normal” conferences and to allow maximum creative thinking.

One of the most amazing parts of the day is the topic selection process. At the start of the morning, any attendee who wishes can come forward, announce a topic, and claim one of the ~50+ open slots on the grid.

Attendees announce session topics

Announcing topics - image courtesy of Forum One

The agenda begins to form

Image courtesy Forum One

Within about 35-40 minutes the grid fills up with topics

Image courtesy Forum One

Once all the topics are announced, we begin the Unconference sessions. The agenda grid plays the role of gathering place and ideamarketplace throughout the day, as attendees come back to the agenda to check for any updates, changes, or new sessions.

How can Unconference be used in the Enterprise?
Unconferences tend to be very effective when there is a large group of knowledgeable people struggling with a complex problem set. Although we’ve primarily used Unconferences for discussions of social media and social business, other likely topics in a large enterprise could be Sustainability, Change Management, Product Development or Brand re-engineering / relaunch.

The Net: An Unconference (using Open Space Technology) can be a great tool for your organization, bringing together diverse groups of people to collaborate and network around common organisational goals. Participants will leave the event with new ideas, new energy, new connections and shared vision and purpose.

Further Reading:

Open Space Technology - By Harrison Owen

OpenSpaceWorld – A community about Open Space Technology