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Mr. Popularity and Your Enterprise 2.0 Community

August 22, 2011

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Let’s do an experiment. Take five minutes and do a quick search of your organization’s blogs, microblogs, wikis, and forums that are available behind your firewall – and then let me know what the most popular topics are. Do they involve “social media,” “Web 2.0,” “new media,” “mobile,” “enterprise 2.0,” or “collaboration?”

Now, take a look at who is posting and commenting on these topics. Are these the same people who also have the most overall comments, posts, edits, and connections? If so, Mr. Popularity may be taking over your community and the worst part of it all? He may actually think he’s helping you.

Starting and maintaining a vibrant online community behind an organizational firewall is already fraught with challenges – integrating it into the workflow, securing funding, scaling across the organization, developing policies and guidelines, creating rewards structures, identifying active champions – and now I’m here to tell you that those very active champions who are so critical to the early growth of your community may also be the cause of its downfall.

You see, while these active champions are responsible for seeding a majority of the content, answering questions, posting content, editing pages, and creating topics, they can also skew the content to suit their own agenda and create a chilling effect on opposing viewpoints and topics. This makes your communities far more social media and technology-oriented than your organization really is. In the early days of your online community, this may be of little concern to you – content is being created, new members are joining, and discussions are happening. This creates a vibrant community for those employees interested in social media and technology, but unfortunately, further dissuades those interested in other topics from joining. Mr. Popularity, once an ally, now becomes a challenge to be overcome.

I’ve actually experienced the pros and the cons of being Mr. Popularity on our  own hello.bah.com community a few years ago. I was one of the first community managers and was a very visible and active champion for the platform. I became known as the guy who could get conversations started, who could help increase traffic to a post, and who would be willing to give an opinion when no one else would. Our internal communications staff was even pitching me to get me to share official corporate messages because I had built up a decent sized following on my blog. This worked out great in the beginning – I was able to help drive some additional traffic to the platform, increase user adoption, and create a ton of new content that was shared across the firm. The double-edged sword of being Mr. Popularity hit me right in the face though when I got the following email (excerpted below):

“When I ducked into our VP’s blog, I noted you had already jumped in with what appears to be a standard, or getting there, pat on the back and tutorial…  Are you becoming too intrusive beyond cheerleading?  The speed at which you’ve already entered the room is giving me the thought that you are becoming Master Control from the movie Tron. I can’t recall reading anyone’s blog that I can’t remember seeing you there in the first couple of replies.  You write extensive replies very quickly that to me verge on being somewhat inhibiting for others, like me, to weigh in so as to not repeat a point.”

Wow! And here I thought I was being helpful! I thought by commenting on everything I could get to, I could help build and reinforce the collaborative culture we were trying to create. And at first, that’s exactly what I was doing. Little did I know that as the community grew beyond the early adopters, my hyper-activity that was a boon at the start was now becoming a detriment. Instead of a community manager, was I becoming a community bully?

To find out if your Mr. Popularity is negatively impacting your community, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does Mr. Popularity know that he/she is having a negative impact? These active champions probably don’t even know that they’re causing harm. Quite the contrary – they probably believe that they’re helping. Like the email I received above, reach out to them and have a discussion with them about their contributions and show them areas where instead of helping create conversation, they may have inadvertently stopped it.
  2. Who are your most active contributors beyond social media and technology? The best way to lessen the influence of Mr. Popularity is to identify people in other business areas who are willing and able to post and discuss content areas like HR, Legal, and Operations.
  3. What is your role in the community? Do a bit of self-reflection – maybe you are Mr. Popularity. Talk to your colleagues and find out what they really think of your online presence. Do you come across as overbearing? Too focused on one topic? Closed off to other opinions? Publicly, you may be receiving all kinds of positive reinforcement. But what are people saying among themselves that they aren’t sharing publicly?
  4. What other possible reasons exist for the gluttony of social media/tech-related topics? Are community members discouraged from discussing operations? Has the Director of HR banned his staff from participating? Having a few individuals who are hyper-active on your online community and skewing the conversations toward their interests is like having two good quarterbacks and not being able to decide which one to start. It’s usually a good problem to have, and despite some of the challenges identified in this post, they are still likely helping more than they’re hurting your community.

Mr. Popularity isn’t necessarily a detriment to your community. Quite the contrary – they’re likely some of your most valuable members. But, left unchecked, they do have the potential to take over the community – its members, its content, and its discussion. The key is in channeling their energy and enthusiasm and focus it on helping grow the community as a whole, to include topics other than social media and technology.

*This post originally appeared on my AIIM Enterprise 2.0 Community blog.

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