In this installment I’m going to discuss community management. I think it touches upon one of the most important elements of Enterprise 2.0 – the social human.
I attended Connie Bensen’s workshop on community management. You can find workshop tweets via Twitter Search in case you want to see what attendees said during the workshop. You can also find blogs with published session notes. Connie is the Chief Community Manager at Techrigy. If you are at all interested in Social Media, you should be aware of Connie’s work in the field. Moreover, I’ll plug Techrigy’s SM2 product — a brand monitoring service that I use to monitor my “personal brand”. Connie shares many resources on her blog and on slideshare. I’ll note that I found Connie’s soft-spoken approach to be a welcome change from the sometimes pushy voice heard in the social media crowd.
The workshop addressed the social context of the business relationship that brands can/should have with their customers. In a purely automated and transactional world, we would not connect to brands on an emotional level, and would not expect them to connect to us. The reality is that people are not transaction processing automata. We have emotional connections with other people and we express feelings about our commercial experiences. This means that companies can choose to tap into that social/emotional connection and leverage this for business purposes. One way companies start to get “social” is to hire someone who has the skills and mandate to represent the relationship between the company and it’s community. Yes companies have communities — they might not realize this. Connie shared examples of companies who discovered they had communities and found value in reaching out to them. She shared tips from the excellent book “Groundswell” along with her insight tapping into her many professional experiences in this area. In all — a worthwhile workshop.
Tapping the social nature of business relationships is an essential part of Enterprise 2.0. However I think we could benefit from some occasional clarity when we talk about the topic. There are so many different ways that companies can think about this. In some cases they may hire a community manager — which is in effect someone who works in a Marketing department, and performs a role akin to PR, but perhaps in reverse. Some companies, like InsideView, Radian6, and Savo, are leveraging the social nature of their customers to improve sales effectiveness. Others, like Helpstream, leverage social behaviors to improve customer support. Still others, like Awareness, Communispace, and Leverage provide some form of managed communities for customers. Not only are these solutions very different from each other — they address very different needs. The common tie is that these typically focus on the relationship between a company and people who are not employees.
I also attended a session about a very different kind of community management — one that is much closer to my own experiences. It was the “Lessons learned from internal communities” panel moderated by Peter Kim (also a Forrester Alum). That panel (tweeted here) featured three examples of internal community management. Internal communities contain members who are employees of a company. They are paid and can be fired. The panelists touched upon many issues and gave excellent advice.
My post-conference thought is that it helps to get clarity on the different types of communities we talk about in the E2.0 context. Otherwise we’ll apply the term too broadly.
- It’s not enough to say that a collection of people who share a common interest is a community. In fact, I’d argue that it’s not correct to say this either. I believe that a person has to self-identify as being a member of a community. I’m a member of many communities — and each need to have some form of leadership. Being one of many customers of a brand does not make me a community member. So having a community manager provide me community services does not sound right if I’m just a customer. Teams are not communities either. Team members share a commitment to a shared goal. That’s a much stronger tie than being a community member. So we need to be a bit more precise on these terms in order to make sure that we all share a common understanding.
- Social capital and relevance are common notions in all communities. Whereas many organizations place high emphasis on title and role, communities have a tendency to place a higher emphasis on social status. Internal communities blend these notions together. External communities, less so. Your community status depends on your social relevance. This is largely related to your online identity (what people find when they find you), your contributions (what you share and give), your reputation (measured by what other say about you), and your persona (largely measured by how you react to others publicly). So there is much in common among different forms of communities — at least at the level of the social economics.
- A scary thought came to mind — imagine a company that decided to go “community” all the way. They set up external communities for lead customer insights, sales enablement community software to manage the prospects, support communities for existing customers, ideation communities with their B2B partners, co-worker communities, etc. Taken to the extreme, this company would have a huge information technology architecture problem. Why? because these communities would create silos of information. Can this be addressed? Yes. But it’s something we need to plan for. Each community creates information assets that have to be managed. Just saying that you need to think about this too.
Many people identify with an ethnic, cultural, religious, or social community of some form or another. Social computing honors us as social humans by providing a channel to engage others. Some of us prefer to use digital words, music, pictures, stories to connect with others. Some prefer the live and in-person experience. The e2conf personally gave me both, and much to think about as this relates to workplace communities.