Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why I am Lucky to be a Member of The Community RoundTable

A few months ago my employer arranged a membership for me in The Community Roundtable. I was already familiar with TheCR as thought-leaders in community management (see, for example, The 2011 State of Community Management), but it’s a premium service and I hadn’t gotten the budget for it, so I never had a seat at their table before.

What I expected when I joined the Community Roundtable is a place where community professionals gather and share ideas, but what I have found is far more than that. The key value for me is the leadership and service that Rachel Happe and Jim Storer provide. Community members may come and go, members' level of expertise and experience varies, and members' communities' relevance to my particular situation can be hit-or-miss. So, I may get great, actionable ideas from fellow community members, or I may find what they are sharing doesn’t really apply to me.

But the Community Roundtable’s leaders make all the difference. The Community Roundtable isn’t just a self-service community (although plenty of member-initiative is taking place). The leaders create programming for members at an impressive rate on a wide variety of community-related topics. Every week, it seems, there’s an offering I’m tempted to join. They bring in experts and thought-leaders for intimate presentations and discussions. These are rare opportunities to truly engage not only with the speaker, but because Rachel and Jim are skilled facilitators, there’s always a lively and thought-provoking discussion among the community members and the speaker, as well.

I’ve even learned that it’s not such a bad thing when I miss one of those sessions, because TheCR leaders write up an account of each session afterward. I rarely find it very engaging to sit through a recording of a presentation and discussion I have missed, but to have the key points highlighted and explained and the meaning extracted for me, so I can read and reference them when I am ready? Wow, that’s a great service!

In fact, I’d sum it up by saying valuable programming, content creation and curation by dedicated, experienced and professional community leaders is a key differentiator of The Community RoundTable. I can meet and network with community professionals many places these days, both in person and online, but TheCR provides the best service and leadership that I’ve encountered. That’s why I find The Community Roundtable to be a wonderful complement to my Community BackChannel membership that I’ve been writing about recently. If you’re committed to online community management and can join both, I highly recommend you do so.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Free Means Free... Yes, Really! #cmtybc

So, let me make something perfectly, crystal clear about my last post, Join Us in the Community BackChannel. Membership in the Community BackChannel is free, now and forever. It's not a business, and our charter specifically states that it will not become a business (see paragraph 11).

There's nothing wrong with creating a business to support online community professionals. Heck, it could be a good business to be in, given the projected growth in community management roles! But that's not what we're about in the Community BackChannel. All of us who founded it have successful careers and we're not giving them up. We like our steady paychecks! :-) There's nothing wrong with startup businesses, either, but they aren't for everybody.

The Community BackChannel is strictly a labor of love. We've formed it because we truly want to be part of a community that exists solely to support the people who are advancing the profession of online community management and development. It seemed obvious that such individuals are the very best candidates in the world for creating a fantastic online community, because they "get community" and know what it takes to create a great one.

All we're trying to do with the Community BackChannel is realize that potential. We've formed the community and now we're ready to stay out of the way as the community itself takes form, finds its voice and direction, and emerges as a vital part of the online community eco-system.

So, no-fee means free. Non-profit means we are not in this to make money and won't ever be. And it means lots of opportunities for leadership roles in the Community BackChannel, because we are counting on our members to make the community successful. No fee also means no spoon-feeding and lots of self-service -- remember, we're not quitting our day jobs.

Now, I can see one place where people might get confused about our no-fee, non-profit declaration: our community is hosted within a community that is a business, The BrainYard Community. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch, right? The BrainYard Community has agreed to host the Community BackChannel for free and respect our autonomy. The Community BackChannel is not owned by or controlled by The BrainYard, nor is any of the Community BackChannel's content in any way controlled by The BrainYard.

The Community BackChannel gets a full-featured online community site for free, but our members do have to create an account in The BrainYard Community in order to participate in the Community BackChannel. That's the no-free-lunch part. We'll see some ads in our community site and those pay the rent. Most of all, we'll bring active, engaged community professionals into The BrainYard Community because that's where we are hosted, and that's appealing to The BrainYard Community.

It's a win-win, as the Community BackChannel gets a great online home for no fee and The BrainYard gets a jump-start on building a big community of their own by having our members as part of it.

Hope that clears up any confusion. If not, or you have more questions, please let me know in the comments and I'll be happy to explain further.

If all of this appeals to you, please check us out at and if you're as excited about this as we are, apply to join us. You can also follow us on Twitter at @cmtybc. I hope to see you on the journey!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Join Us in the Community BackChannel

If you've ever been part of an active, healthy community online, you know what a valuable experience it can be. If you've ever led or managed an online community, you know what a challenging and rewarding experience that can be. What if there were an online community where anyone working in or interested in community management and development could find supportive peers, expert advice and a wide array of educational and professional resources? It seems natural, even obvious, that community management professionals should be able to form an exemplary community of their own.

And now we have: The Community BackChannel officially launched on May 1, 2011. The Community BackChannel is a community of peers focused on the management and development of online communities. It's a no-fee, non-profit private group founded by four community management professionals: Claire Flanagan, Ted Hopton, Megan Murray and Jamie Pappas. Our mission is
to advance the art and practice of community building by gathering active and engaged people together in a vibrant, trusting, no-sales-zone where we can learn from each other and from the experience of participating in a model community of our own.

If you're interested in joining our more than twenty charter members, then check out our full vision and mission, and see whether you qualify for membership. We'd love to hear from you! And you can hear from us on Twitter @cmtybc.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hiring Community Manager in Shanghai, China

We're hiring a Community Manager in Shanghai, China. It's a great opportunity, as UBM (United Business Media) is growing rapidly in China, and the new community manager will play an important role in helping us achieve our objectives there, through growing and developing our internal online comminity.

If you're interested or know anyone who might be, please see the job posting:

Although this is a blatantly commercial message, it's also a great indicator of the health of our online community, as we need to expand our management team to meet the demands of our business in China. And we know very well that without a community manager in place, it's unlikely our online community will be successful there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Social Business Software as a Tool for Joe Employee

To take Ted's previous post to the opposite end of things, I've been really encouraged by the number of people who are learning to use our platform as a way to get feedback on ideas before they implement.

My example is a new employee who has been with the company about 2 months now. She's been active since she got here, but it was mostly just "playing" initially. Today, she posted a discussion about a project she's working on. Then, she referenced that discussion post in her status update to drive additional traffic (which worked to bring me in). Within three hours, she's got feedback from three people across two other divisions of the company.

Before we had a social business solution, the only people she could have gotten information from would have been in her own division, or people outside of the company she might have networked with. And since the project she is working on is a new thing for her division, probably no one there had even as much experience as she did. So she would not have had any internal resources to draw from.

Contrast this with now, when she can quickly get feedback from others who have experience. People she doesn't even necessarily know exist. Not only that, but their experience is going to be diverse, and therefore really rich. To top things off, all of those people also get to benefit from reading and interacting with each others posts.

What a great way to facilitate learning interactions within an organization, and empower individuals to be more successful in their careers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Social Business Software as Levers for the CEO

I've found myself using this expression to describe our community several times recently: it's like a machine that our CEO can reach into and pull on levers to make things happen within our organization.

Of course, it's much more than *just* that, but I have enjoyed watching as our CEO becomes increasingly adept at "leveraging" this technology. A couple of examples...

The CEO wrote a blog post about our mobile strategy and plans, citing some successful examples. He linked to a group in our community that's all about mobile, and suggested that everyone working on mobile should list what their projects are, so we can coordinate across the enterprise, share ideas and best practices, and learn from each other.

Presto! A document was created in that mobile group and people added their initiatives to it. Someone else started listing contractors and platforms, along with impressions of and experience with them. Someone else started listing upcoming meetings with outside companies, and others chimed in and asked to join those meetings. Requests were made to see demos of some of these projects and questions were asked about re-using code. The document has grown into an invaluable resource for everyone across the company who is working on or thinking about anything mobile.

See what I mean? Reach in, pull the lever, and make things happen.

Another example I noticed recently was a comment the CEO made in a group in our community, in which he both praised the efforts reported there and lamented that we didn't have a comprehensive or coordinated effort across the entire company to make sure we were neither missing opportunities nor wasting resources on redundant efforts.

Within an hour another very senior executive commented there that this was, indeed, something we should look at. Poof! A document appeared in the group and people from all over began listing what they are doing in this area. The document has grown every day for the past week and suddenly the overall picture is becoming clear. With this view, we can assess how to most effectively move forward.

Once again, he reached into the machine -- our online community -- and pulled a lever, making things happen almost instantly, almost magically.

Now, how would this have been accomplished in the past? I suspect he would have had to contact his direct reports and explained what he wanted. They in turn would have contacted their direct reports and/or anyone they could think of working on these things and made a request to assemble information. These requests would have worked their way down the management ladder until they (hopefully, but far from certainly) reached the people who had the information. Hopefully the whisper-down-the-lane effect would not have distorted the request, and so the information would then begin getting fed back up the ladder, where it would eventually be fed in pieces back to the CEO, where his assistant would have the task of attempting to assemble it. And he would then have a static snapshot to look at with no ready or efficient way to ask questions, make comments, or act on it, besides repeating the down-the-ladder communication process.

Tell me our new way, using our online community in social business software, isn't much better than that.

I could cite other examples, but I think you get the idea. We've gone way beyond having the CEO simply posting in his blog. He's figuring out whole new ways to manage our global enterprise that were never possible before. I wonder what he will think of next...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Community Management Zen: Pebbles and the Ripple Effect

My colleague, Tracy Maurer, just said something in an email that's inspired this short blog post. I wrote:
Sometimes it's one little positive experience that can turn a complainer into a fan of our online community :-)
Tracy replied:
And sometimes also turns their complainer friends into fans as well. Or at least take their complaining down a notch.
When you throw a tiny pebble into a pond it makes ripples that can carry out to the very edges. When you create one positive community experience for an individual, it can similarly have ripple effects that reach farther than you will ever know.

We're building community one person at a time, even one action at a time. It may seem futile at times, but keep the ripple effect in mind. Each little win spreads out in its own way. We're slowly creating waves of change.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking Jive Software to the Woodshed

I'd like to clarify a public statement I made last week about taking Jive Software to the woodshed over their day-long outage last week. Here's how it came about.

Last Friday began badly for me. I checked my Blackberry while still in bed before 6am ET and found that our internal community hosted by Jive Software had been offline for at least an hour, and since there was no communication from Jive it appeared that they had not detected the problem.

Still in bed, I opened my iPad and entered a Priority 1 case with Jive support that voiced my displeasure: "Site down for more than an Hour - where is Jive?" Then while I waited for a response I hopped over to Facebook and resisted the urge to call Jive out publicly, as I had no facts about the situation. I simply posted as my Facebook status:
Ted Hopton does not like bad news when he first checks his Blackberry in the morning. #badstart
It did not occur to me that I was at that moment helping a friend and fellow Jive customer realize that the outage was widespread, as I assumed only my site was affected. You can read that story here: Managing Expectations – The value of Transparency

After half an hour of dealing with email and checking out the news online there was STILL no response from Jive. Feeling pretty testy, I posted a reply to my own P1 support case further expressing my frustration, pointing out that all I need is a short response assuring me that they are working on the issue. It's a very lonely feeling to have a major technology failure on your hands and not be able to rouse the support team responsible for fixing it.

Only after I escalated the issue through executive channels did I learn that Jive had a massive failure at their data center and we were not the only customers affected. That news changed everything, and Jive needed to get it out to all affected customers MUCH faster. I no longer needed to worry that my issue was not getting attention. I knew then that the issue was getting all the attention Jive could possibly give it.

In fact, despite the huge, terrible and inexcusable impact this outage had on me and everyone in my company, my emotions actually shifted somewhat on the spectrum from fury toward sympathy. My thoughts were more along the lines of, "Boy, they really screwed up! This is going to hurt." I felt sorry for them. And with good reason, as the outage lasted all day, giving Jive a big ol' black eye.

So when I ended up being interviewed by Information Week magazine (I was not selected randomly -- IW is part of my company, so the editors knew from my update emails to all employees that the problem was widespread), I was no longer mad at Jive. Disappointed would be a better word.

I'm not sure exactly what I actually said when the reporter called. Maybe I carelessly joked about taking Jive to the woodshed, but what I meant to say was that I WON'T have to take Jive to the woodshed over this incident because it has affected so many customers that Jive will take it extremely seriously and will take whatever steps needed to ensure it doesn't happen again.

For the record, it is my view that Jive completely dropped the ball several ways on Friday:
1) the failure of the failover system was inexcusable;
2) the failure to communicate quickly and proactively with all customers affected was unprofessional;
3) the failure to use social media to get in front of the public view of the situation was an opportunity that a vendor of social media software should not have missed.

Hardware failures can happen, so that's infuriating but understandable. Once Jive finally set up the Webex session for all customers to keep updated on what they were doing to resolve the issue, as well as to let us ask any questions we had in a common place where we could see all of the questions and answers, the information flow was effective and efficient. There was another minor glitch, in that I did not receive some email updates from Jive until Saturday and Sunday (I don't know why they were delayed).

But I also received phone calls from my Jive account manager and support team leader during the day to apologize and make sure I knew everything they were doing, and then again after the site was restored, to make sure I was satisfied that all was finally well.

I love Jive's technology. We're having tremendous success with it and reaping great benefits from using it. I hate it when it lets us down, as software is bound to do from time to time, especially cutting-edge software like Jive's. We have come to depend on Jive as a critical partner in running our business, so Friday was a bad day, but as long as it results in significant improvements then the memory of it will fade. I'm counting on Jive to learn and grow from this experience, so no woodshed's needed this time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Brief Checklist for Humble Community Management

I recently re-assessed the way I was managing one of my communities and changed direction as a result. Since the community consisted of participants in my Community Development 101 - Internal course, I shared with them my thinking about a key part of community management:
  • change course when it makes sense to do so
  • admit your mistakes when you make them
  • recognize when the way you wanted things to work isn't working
  • listen to community members -- and think beyond what they are saying to what may be behind what they are saying
  • be creative in approaching situations and don't be afraid to try new ways of doing things
  • circle back to the top of this list and repeat...
Let's call it a Checklist for Humble Community Management.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Carrots or Sticks?

It's a well-worn image: using a carrot or a stick to get people to do something. I know there is a ton of research on motivation and I'm not going to cite any of it. This is about my experience being a member of and manager of online communities.

Quite simply, are carrots and sticks equally effective in encouraging community members' participation and engagement?

My answer is simple and definitive: no, sticks rarely work well and carrots are the best way to go. Making people participate doesn't build community. Sure, requiring people to participate in particular exercises can be a good way to get them to try the technology out or get over their initial reluctance to contribute, but it's not a sustainable strategy. Healthy communities consist of members who want to be part of them.

It's a mistake to mandate quotas or activity levels for community members as a condition of membership. Think about it: one of the beautiful things about communities is the ability to participate when you want, how you want, when you have something to contribute. Ban the infrequent contributor and you've lost the opportunity to learn from her when she actually has something to say.

Is there a cost to having "lurking" members? (I hate that term, BTW, since the point of creating content is for people to benefit from it by consuming it.) No. Increasing the number of community members increases the odds that someone will have an insight or an answer at any given moment (remember how probability works from Statistics 101).

Encourage people to participate. Reward and praise them for participating. Most of all, continually explain the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) to them so they realize that contributing isn't some charitable act. It's part of what makes the community valuable for everyone in it, including themselves. For a great example of how to convey this message passionately, see my earlier post: My CEO Rocks. Admit It, You're Jealous!

Carrots rule, no question about it.