Tag Archives: community

A Community of Practice Is More Than a Website

November 1, 2011

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A community of practice (CoP) is, according to cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession.

Over the last year or so, the term communities of practice has entered the social media buzzword lexicon along with virtual collaboration, engagement, platforms, and Enterprise 2.0. Senior leaders want to establish them, new employees are being told to join them, and middle managers are being told to support them, but what, exactly are they?

Nowhere in the definition above does it mention the words website, wiki, blog, or social network. Nowhere does it say that it has to be virtual or physical or even either/or. There is no reference to the tools that are used to facilitate the communication and collaboration, nor is there a defined set of characteristics that define how a community of practice works or what topics they discuss.

A group of people who share an interest, a craft and/or a profession. Sounds pretty simple, right? Sounds like we might already be members of dozens of communities of practice – at work, at church, at school, etc. It’s just a group of people communicating and collaborating openly around a topic that they all care about. CoPs have existed for as long as people have had a desire to learn from each other.

Whether your organization knows it or not, your company/government agency is already filled with CoPs. Just because all of their communication and collaboration doesn’t happen to occur on your designated SharePoint site doesn’t mean that people aren’t already communicating and collaborating around a shared topic of interest. Whether it’s the group of new hires who coordinate the monthly happy hours or the new parents who get together over lunch to discuss work/life balance, communities of practice are alive and well within most organizations. They just might not be the ones with a unique URL on the Intranet.

Are you creating a community of practice or are you just creating another website? How does your CoP stack up to some of these statements?

  • People voluntarily spend time helping others in a community of practice. People visit a website to download what they need.
  • CoPs focus on adding value to their members. Websites focus on getting new users.
  • The success of a CoP is measured in anecdotes, efficiencies, and employee satisfaction. The success of a website is measured by hits, visits, and referrals.
  • The members of a CoP volunteer their expertise to create new tech features. A website has paid developers who add new features.
  • A CoP is built around conversation. A website is built around content.

Communities of practice have been around for decades, and for decades, they’ve helped countless organizations navigate major changes, increase productivity, cut duplication, and make work more enjoyable. In many cases, the use of social media has enhanced these CoPs by providing more tools and opportunities for people to connect with other people. Unfortunately, social media has also given rise to zombie communities filled with content on blogs, forums, and wikis, but which lack any actual human interaction. What are you building?

For more about Communities of Practice, check out Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press, 2002 by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder.

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Just Because You Run the Same Plays Doesn’t Mean You’ll Get the Same Results

March 23, 2011

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The Packers dominated teams using the Lombardi Sweep, but few teams had the talent to run it as effectively

“That’s easy – even I could do that!”

Really?  Could you?  How many times have you been watching a game and said that about that highlight catch that you saw on Sportscenter?  How many times have you watched Tiger Woods swing a golf club and then try to recreate that yourself? How many times have you yelled at your favorite team to just run that one play because you just know it’ll work?

Guess what – you wouldn’t have made that catch, you can’t golf like Tiger, and your play calling leaves a lot to be desired.

This same thinking unfortunately, also carries over to the business world. Over the course of eight years in the consulting industry, I’ve noticed an increasing number of colleagues, peers, and clients thinking that just because they read/downloaded/heard a white paper, strategy, or presentation, (a play, a swing, or a catch) they too can go out and be a communications or social media expert too. Or, they ask for the detailed step-by-step guide for “using Twitter/Facebook/blogs successfully.” Like the weekend golfer who tries to be Tiger Woods or the YMCA rec league player trying to dunk, the results are similarly predictable. You downloaded that community management strategy that I did for a client two years ago and you’re now using it with your team in a totally different environment with a totally different culture? How’s that working out for you?

In the 1960s, the Green Bay Packers repeatedly ran the “Lombardi Sweep” with great success. With Vince Lombardi coaching and Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, and Jerry Kramer running the play, it became virtually unstoppable. Seeing this success, other teams started to incorporate the play into their playbooks although none were able to duplicate the success the Packers had with it. Running the Lombardi Sweep with four Hall-of-Famers had predictably different results than when you’re running it with a bunch of guys off the street! The actual play wasn’t some proprietary, secret play – it’s actually a pretty simple play to run that many teams already had in their playbook. Despite the widespread availability of the play and game tapes of the play being run to perfection, no one was ever able to consistently duplicate the results that those Packer teams had. Because they had one thing the other teams didn’t – Hall of Fame talent running the play.

The current world of social media isn’t all that different. All it takes is a simple Google search and you’ll easily find millions of blog posts, white papers, presentations, and case studies on social media best practices. You too can use the same tactics used by Zappo’s! You can create an Enterprise Social Computing Strategy just like Intel!  Unfortunately, just like your repeated attempts to dunk like Blake Griffin, your ability to emulate the successes by these companies will likely leave you frustrated and in pain. Do you have the talent to implement something like that? Do you have the right people on staff to help you?

Remember this the next time you read a white paper or listen to a presentation about social media or community management and think to yourself, “hey, I could do that!” There’s a reason people recruit, hire, and pay experienced community managers and social media specialists to do these things – because these things are hard to do. Stop looking for the quick fix, magic bullet strategy/play/framework/model/methodology/secret sauce to social media – it doesn’t exist. Instead of trying to copy another team’s success, focus on recruiting, hiring, and developing your own talent and matching up your strategies to fit. After all, you may never dunk like Blake Griffin, but you might be able to shoot the three better than him.

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The Many Roles of an Internal Community Manager

March 9, 2011

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When someone in the communications industry refers to a “community manager,” they are usually referring to someone that can manage the online relationships for a particular brand, using tools like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. However, over the last few years, a new Community Manager role has emerged – the internal Community Manager, responsible for increasing and maintaining user adoption for social media tools behind the organizational firewall. With the growing ubiquity of Enterprise 2.0 software, vendors and clients alike have come to realize that these communities don’t just magically appear. Along with this realization has come greater demand for people to handle things like user adoption, marketing, and community management – we’re witnessing the rise of the internal community manager.

It's a living

The Internal Community Manager wears many hats

While these positions may sound like the perfect job for the social media evangelist in your organization – moderate forums, write blog posts, garden the wiki, give briefings about social media, develop user adoption strategies, answer user questions, monitor and analyze user activity – the internal community manager actually wears many other hats, some of which aren’t nearly as fun and exciting, and many of which aren’t going to be high on the wish list of potential candidates. Let’s take a look at the many hats of the internal community manager:

  • Referee – When someone posts a link to a political article and the conversation is starts to devolve into partisan name-calling and vitriol, guess who gets to be the one to steer the conversation back toward professionalism and healthy debate? Oh yeah, and you can’t use your admin privileges (the nuclear option) to just “lock” or delete the conversation either because then you’re not community manager, you’re big brother.
  • Ombudsman – When the community starts complaining about the speed, reliability, or accessibility of the platform, you need to be the one to bring up those concerns with the developers and push to get these issues fixed. If a new feature is riddled with bugs, you can’t just toe the company line and say it’s great – you have to be able to offer your honest, unbiased opinion. After all, you’re the advocate for the community, not a mouthpiece for the development team.
  • Party Promoter – Know that guy passing out flyers outside the club you walked past earlier today? Yeah, that’s going to be you. You’ll be handing out flyers, sending emails, giving briefings – anything you can do to get people to come by and check out your community.
  • Comedian - You can’t take the ‘social’ out of social media. There has to be someone there who can show the rest of the community how to have a little fun, and the community manager has to be comfortable using humor in a professional environment (no, those are not mutually exclusive).
  • Teacher – Ever try to teach someone to change their golf swing after they’ve been doing it the same way for 20 years? Get ready for a lot more of that feeling. It’s very much like trying to teach someone to use a wiki for collaboration instead of using email. Get used to people copying and pasting the content off the wiki and into a Word document, turning on track changes, and then sending you the marked-up Word document for you to “take a look at” before uploading to the wiki.
  • Inspirational Leader – You will not have enough hours in the day to do everything you want. You cannot possibly garden the wiki, write your blog posts, moderate all of the forums, stay active on Yammer, run your metrics reports and do everything else a community manager is asked to do by yourself. You’re going to need to identify others in the community to help you, and oh by the way, you’ll need to get them to buy into your approach and do the work but you won’t have any actual authority and they’ll all have other jobs too.  Good luck!
  • Help Desk – When the WYSIWYG editor on the blogs isn’t working right, guess who the users are going to call? The answer isn’t the help(less) desk. It’s you. You’re going to receive emails, Yams, phone calls, and IMs from everyone asking for your help because you’re the person they see most often and using the platform. Who are they going to trust to get them an answer – the person they see using the platform every day or some faceless/nameless guy behind a distro list email?
  • Psychiatrist – When that executive starts a blog and no one reads it or comments on it, you have to be ready to go into full out touchy-feely mode and help reassure him/her, manage their expectations, give them some tips and tricks, and build their self-esteem back up so that they will continue being active. For someone who was able to live off their title for so long, getting out there and having to prove oneself with their content again can be a tricky proposition.
  • Troublemaker - Work conversations can get pretty boring – a community filled with blog posts about your revisions to the TPS reports aren’t exactly going to elicit a lot of conversation. You will have to be the one who can start start and manage difficult conversations with the community. Guess who gets the write the blog post criticizing the new expense reporting policy?
  • Cheerleader – When community members use the platform in the right way and/or contributes something really valuable, you need to be the first one to share it as far and wide as possible. You need to be the person putting that community member’s face on the front page and tell everyone else what he did and how others can be like him. You need to be the one cheering people on to give them the positive reinforcement they need.
  • Project Manager – These communities don’t build themselves. You’re going to be responsible for creating and delivering all kinds of reports, briefings, fact sheets, and metrics and you’re going to need a plan for how to meet those deadlines and still engage with the community itself.
  • Writer - Every community platform has some sort of front page along with some static “About this community” type of content. You need to be able to write that content in a way that’s professional yet informal enough that people will still read it.
  • Janitor - When you open up your local shared drive, you’re likely to see 47 different version of the same document, hopefully, with one of those containing a big FINAL in the filename. The old version are good to keep around just in case, but all they’re really doing is cluttering up the folder and making it difficult to find anything. The same thing happens in an online community. People post things in the wrong forums, they accidentally publish half-written blog posts, they upload documents without tagging them, etc. You get to go in and clean up these messes!

Wow – when you spell all out like that, maybe being an internal community manager isn’t such a great position after all. Seems like it’s a lot more difficult than simply blogging, managing user accounts, and coordinating change requests! Before you grab that one guy on your team who has some extra time on his hands and volunteer him for your new community management role, you might want to think about these other hats he’s going to have to wear and really ask yourself if Johnny, your social media intern, is really the right man for the job or if you should hire an experienced community manager.

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I Started a Blog But No One Cared

January 8, 2010

91 Comments

 

Image Courtesy of Flickr user cogdogblog

As many of you know, here at Booz Allen, we’ve got an internal suite of social media tools available on our Intranet – hello.bah.com. While it’s garnered a lot of publicity, won awards, and really changed the way we think about virtual collaboration here, I get asked this question and others like it (e.g., why isn’t anyone asking questions? How do I get people to read the blog? Why isn’t anyone editing the wiki pages?) at least once a week.

These aren’t trivial questions – people take the time to create a blog post or add content to a wiki because of the promise of emergent collaboration. They hear stories about people getting entire white papers written by people they don’t even know because it was posted to an open wiki; they see blog posts with dozens of comments that lead to new initiatives; they read forum threads dozens of pages long with input from people across the organization and they want to realize those benefits too. Against everything they’ve learned over the years, they post some content to this open and transparent platform with the hopes that people will flock to it, adding comments, having discussions, linking to additional resources, and interacting with their information. When that collaboration and interaction doesn’t happen, they quickly get turned off and will either A) assume they did something wrong and not go back or B) believe that they’ve been sold a lot of snake oil and this social media stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

As you might imagine, neither of these conclusions bode well for the long-term health of a virtual community behind the firewall. So, what do I tell these folks when they ask me why no one is reading their forum posts, commenting on their blogs, or editing their wiki pages?  I start by sending them these eight bullets -

  • Write interesting content. You’d be surprised at some of the mind-numbingly boring stuff government consultants blog about. Realistically, out of the 20,000+ people at the firm, how many of them are really going to be interested in your jargon and acronym-filled blog post about the latest developments in IT Service Management? Write something that more than the 20 people on your team will be interested in if you’re looking to get greater engagement.
  • Email is still king. Despite all its successes to date, hello.bah.com isn’t a daily, in the workflow destination for most of our staff. They see the potential of it, and use it occasionally, but visiting the hello homepage to check out the latest blog posts and wiki changes isn’t exactly at the top of mind for most people yet. Post your blog entry, wiki content, forum thread, etc. and then send out an email with a link to it.
  • Cross-promote. Include the link to your content in your team newsletters, meeting agendas/minutes, email signatures, briefings, Yammer messages, and any other communications vehicles you use. Just because you’re the boss/team lead/project manager doesn’t mean people have automatically subscribed to everything you do and are waiting with bated breath for your next post. When our senior VP started blogging internally, we sent out a mass email with each post that included a link to the post, a short blurb on what it was about, and directions for how to subscribe for future posts. We did this for the first five posts or so until people were aware that the blog was out there.
  • The world doesn’t revolve around you. Don’t just post and then whine about people not commenting on your content. Ask yourself if you’ve gone out and commented on anyone else’s blogs. No? Then why are you surprised that no one is commenting on yours. Go find other posts and wiki pages related to your topic and engage there. Include links back to your content as “additional information you might find useful.”
  • Give people an action. Why are you posting in the first place? Do you want to get people’s opinions on some new initiative? Do you want cross-team collaboration on a white paper? Are you asking your team if they have questions about the new reorganization? Be clear about what you want from your readers.
  • Tell them what’s in it for them. Tell me what benefit I get from taking time out of my day to click over to your blog/wiki page/forum and read it. Will I get an opportunity to influence future policy? Will this be the new location where all of our meeting agendas and minutes will be kept? Is creating my profile required for my performance assessment? Will I get to get answers directly from a VP instead of some anonymous email address? Don’t just tell me that it’s there and to click the link because that’s not enough. Entice me. Whet my appetite for what I’m going to get for my time.
  • Do some internal “pitching.” I’ve had colleagues reach out to me and ask me if I’d blog about their programs on my blog. People have asked me to go out to Yammer and link back to their wiki pages. I’ve received internal emails from people pitching me on their project and asking me to “get my team to engage with their content.” This isn’t because I’m some subject matter expert, it’s because I happen to have a popular internal blog and my readers and friends tend to read what I write and click over to things I link to. Find people like me and make them aware of your content and ask them to get involved. No one wants to be the first person to respond – they want to see that other people have read it and commented on it too.  Aren’t you more likely to read a blog post that has 20 comments than one that has none?
  • Lastly, be a community manager.  When the comments on our VP’s blog all started to skew toward the “thanks for posting – great job” variety, the value of those comments went way down (our VPs don’t need any more self-esteem:).  That’s when I started to post some more contradictory/controversial comments and posts.  I wanted to model the behavior that people could/should take when participating in that online community. Other people needed to see how to interact in this new environment.
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