Why would I want to look at that?

22 June, 2009

Part three in my ‘Getting an online community off the ground’ series. Today I’ll chat about bringing people in the door. (Officially this is still linked to the last topic, People but in the interests of keeping things short I split them)

We have figured out why we want to build a community, we have figured out who the awesome people in the community will be, next on the agenda is to figure out  how we get them to join and then stay in the community.

My best bet is pick up the phone and call the people I really want to have involved. Richard Millgton recently blogged on this topic with some suggestions along the same lines, his key message was if  you are send out mass invites you are sending out spam.

I’d have to agree with him there, I tried using a  mail out last year to kick off a community and it is fair to say it didn’t go brilliantly.

My experiment was reasonably targeted, I sent an email to all delegates registered for selected sessions at one of our conferences. Each email went out to between 100 and 300 people, the email talked up the opportunities to discuss the topics covered by the session and ask questions of the presenter before or after the event.

Even though quite a few people responded to the email and logged in, they were greeted by an empty room, as a result it never got off the ground. Looking back I see that I would have been better to use this strategy once the community had been up and running for a while.

When the community is in it’s start up phase,  we need to find the people who we really want to have involved, these are people who fall into the second group described on Tuesday, they must be motivated and importantly they must have time to put into the community.  Find these people, give them a call and have a chat; explain the goals of the community and let them know that we value their insight. Repeat this process with the top 20 – 30 people and we’ll be on our way to getting our community off the ground.


Who are the ‘right’ kind of people?

16 June, 2009

Part two in my ‘Getting an online community off the ground’ series. Today I’ll look at People.

Yesterday I discussed identifying the purpose for an online community. This is a vital step that will prove to be extraordinarily helpful when it comes to finding the right people to get the community up and running.

But who are the right people?

On the surface the answer to this question is pretty simple, probably something like:

“I want to engage anyone who has an interest in X and Y”

Just like yesterday’s example of a description of a community’s purpose, this  answer is very broad, as a result it will not be much of a help when it comes to building a community, the answer we’ll want to come up with is something along the lines of

“I want to engage with a group of people with a passion for X and Y, people who are looking for others with a common interest to chat with.”

On first glance these two statements may appear to be similar, but there are important differences. The first statement describes the  group of people that are interested in a topic but are not necessarily committed to it and may or may not put any time into it. We would probably target this broader group once the community has been up and running for a while. Many of these people will become great community members but the strike rate will to be low.  If we take a quick look at the 90 – 9 – 1 rule that I blogged about last year,  only 1 out of every hundred site visitors will likely become active contributors, 9 will occasionally comment if something really grabs their attention and 90 will have a look around but keep to themselves.

The second statement describes the group that are the top 1%. These  people are already talking about the topic, they are highly engaged and are looking for new places to talk. If we can manage to bring a bunch of these people together and give them some interesting stuff to do or talk about, we’ll have gone a long way to getting the community up and running.

The next question is how we bring them together, I’ll discuss that in the my next post tomorrow!


Getting an online community off the ground

15 June, 2009

It has been very quiet here around here for the few couple of months, but I am back from a very nice break honeymooning with my lovely wife and am looking forward to getting some more thoughts written down!

This year  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and writing and talking about what we can do to encourage the development of great online communities. I thought I would kick things off again with some of my thoughts, these are the ideas that I’m in the process of trying to implement, I will blog about how they actually pan out over the next few months.

I have read about a bazillion articles and blog posts recently (my favourites have been, this great video from Patrick Lambe,  this article from Keith De La Rue, lots of bits and pieces from Richard Millington’s blog and some stuff from the Ant’s Eye View team)  the collective wisdom (mixed in with my own experiences) seems to suggest that there are a few ingredients that any community will need to succeed:

  • Common Purpose
  • People
  • Content
  • Events

Today I’ll chat about Common Purpose.

The first thing that needs to be considered when creating an online community, is why you  are doing it. No doubt there is a general objective that goes along the lines of ‘get people talking about our product’ or ‘reduce calls to our help desk’ or in my case, ‘help people to get better connected to other professionals to help them be more effective at their jobs.’

These are a great starting point but we need to drill deeper if we’re going to be successful. From what I have experienced and read in order for a community to really take off, we need to either tap into a person’s passion or provide a real tangible benefit.

If the community is designed to promote discussion around a product, for example running shoes, then there is a good chance the community will be driven by passion, it will be a place for runners to share their experiences of something they really care about. If the community is aiming to become a professional network, to improve effectiveness and increase access to information, it is quite possible if not likely that your audience are not going to be passionate about the topic but are simply looking to make their job easier.

This changes how we go about attracting people, the community must not just provide community members with a space to talk about something they love, it must prove to be invaluable. It must provide information and people that community members can not easily get to anywhere else. It must be so full of smart people sharing insight and resources that it becomes a central work tool. If it is anything less it will be relegated to the ‘I should get around to looking at that’ pile, otherwise known as a ‘nice to have’.

That is a big ask, particularly if you are looking to build a community around a very broad topic.  I’ll use the example of a community for Taxation professionals to talk about how broad is not necessarily good. Our objective could be:

“To help Taxation professionals get better connected to other professionals to provide easier access to the knowledge and experience of others”

This seems pretty clear, lets get people who work in tax to talk to each other. There are loads of people who work in tax so it should be easy to attract enough of them to create interesting discussion that results in valuable insight being shared…right?

If we look a little deeper the water becomes quite muddied. Tax is a very broad area, even at a high level personal tax and business tax are very different areas, if we delve into either of those we’ll will see many more disparate topics. This presents a challenge for community builders as what is interesting and valuable to a personal tax professional is probably of little interest to a business tax professional.

The lesson here, is take the topic area and drill down. Choose a specific niche and identify a need that the community will address. Aim to have an objective that is as specific as possible:

“To help personal income tax professionals, connect and discuss recent changes to federal tax legislation” – (I don’t know anything about tax so that might not make any sense, but you get the drift!)

This level of detail will set the expectations from the beginning, it will help with recruitment of the right people and will help to ensure that discussions do in fact prove to be useful and valuable.

Next  – Recruiting the right people.

Melbourne Community Manager Roundtable

19 March, 2009

Last Friday I got into the office did a few bits and pieces then headed off towards Footscray to check out Lonely Planet’s funky HQ and more specifically to participate in the first Melbourne Community Manager Roundtable.

Lonely Planet’s Community manager Venessa Peach decided that she’d had enough of all the cool conferences and meet ups being on the other side of the world or the country and decided to bring one to little old Melbourne. When I heard about the idea I thought awesome! At the moment I’m in planning and research mode for a number of online community projects at the moment so chatting a bunch of people who have already got their communities up and running seemed like it would be a great opportunity…It was!

The day was a free flowing conversation around many issues of community management ranging from dealing with moderators who have passed their used by date, community / community member life-cycles and even a chat about the technology hosting online communities. I wont go into details about the conversation as Venessa has done an awesome job of capturing that on her blog, instead I’ll just jot down a few of my thoughts.

Online communities can be crazy places, Community managers are faced with all sorts of stuff appearing on their sites that should not be appearing on websites anywhere let alone next to your logo!(think threats, abusive posts,  posting of people’s personal details). Coming up with a standard rule about what content to allow and what to block is pretty much impossible to define. In the room on Friday we had people all kinds of networks ranging from ours which is a professional network for people in Finance and Accounting  to parenting networks to virtual worlds for teens just to pick three. Each of those environments have their own unique line that defines acceptable and unacceptable. What is not acceptable in one might be perfectly normal in another, the key message is get to know your community, build a good relationship with your community leaders, figure out what works for them AND what works for you. You, after all are hosting the party.

Community leaders (formal or informal) have an enormous influence over the tone and type of activity that goes on within the community. You need to work closely with your community leaders to make sure that the community develops in the direction that works for everyone. It can be tempting to say ‘the community is about the members so let them decide’.  The risk with this approach is that the members will steer it in a direction that works for them but does not work for you. For example it is very easy for a community to develop cliques that can be intimidating for new members. The community leaders might be having a great time but new people don’t hang around as they can not get into the ‘in’ crowd. For you, that is a problem.

A final point that stuck with me was the importance of keeping moderators fresh. If you make a member who is an active participant and leader within the community a moderator they may not stay as interested as they once were. Everyone gets to a point where a community they are a part of is not as relevant to them as it was when they joined. It is important to recognise when a moderator / leader’s interest in the community is waning and to come up with a plan to move them out of the moderation role. This can be a tricky process and needs to handled with extreme care.

The day was filled with so many interesting conversations it is difficult to get it all into one reasonably short blog post, I’m very much looking forward to the next meeting and continuing the facinating discussion!

Mick’s 5 steps to twitter bliss for newbies

17 March, 2009

My mate Paul (@pbeacham) and my brother Ben (@bjleyden) just joined twitter – if you weren’t already convinced that fact alone should be enough to tell you twitter has gone mainstream! 😉

Seeing as twitter can be a little hard to navigate when getting started I decided to send them an email with some tips… it got kinda long.  – Here it is.

1. Add a bio and Pic (does not have to be of you, but put something in)

People won’t follow you back if they don’t know who you are.
If they don’t follow you back they don’t see your tweets,
If they don’t see your tweets they don’t reply to your tweets
If they don’t reply to your tweets, you don’t get any conversation.

2. Conversation is what it is all about!

If you just watch other people’s tweets Twitter is bloody boring, who the hell cares what a random person thinks about public transport in Perth.

A tweet on it’s own is not SUPER interesting, what could be interesting is the conversation that can flow from it, very quickly you could have 3 or 4 people talking about public transport systems, what is good around the world, what sucks and why they suck.

Sure, that conversation is not going to change your world but it is one of thousands of micro-conversations you could have. The interesting part is the enormous amount you can learn from participating in these conversations.

3. Find people who are interested in what you are interested in

You need to find people who are interested in the stuff you are into. To do that start with http://search.twitter.com. Type in a word or phrase and it will return all tweets that include that phrase.

You can then click on the person who tweeted the phrase and see what else they have said. If you think they seem interesting, click follow.

Another good way to find new followers is go to twitter.com > Settings  > Notices > then change @ replies to show all. That will allow you to see who the people you follow are talking to, it is a good way to find new followers. (this option has since been removed :-()

The great thing about  twitter is if you decide they are not to your taste just visit their twitter page (twitter.com/username) and click on the follow button again, this time it will say “do you want to remove” then say yes and they are gone from your life for ever.

I’d also add, that I don’t think the twitter ‘superstars’ (Stephen Fry, Kevin Rudd, Barak Obama,) are that interesting. Try to find normal folks who are up for a chat. Why feed some famous persons ego?

4. Say Hi to people you follow.

Many people get so many new followers (and spam followers) they might have a quick glance at your profile but will most likely ignore you. Unless that is, you make contact with them! If you follow someone just @ or DM them and say something like

“@interestingperson – Hi just started following, nice to meet you, enjoyed u’r blog post about ferret racing”

They will the notice you mostly say hi back, often follow you back and the conversation has begun.

5. Stick with it!

The first few weeks of twittering will be slow, uninteresting and you will spend a lot of time thinking “this is stupid, why am I wasting my time”.

But if you stick with it, follow people and reply to people you will start to see what the fuss is all about.

Finally open dabr.co.uk in the browser on your phone. It is a fully featured version for mobile and is awesome. Heaps better than most twitter apps…

I want a free car!

24 February, 2009

I was reading one of my favourite motoring blogs, Car Advice yesterday, and stumbled upon this item. It seems I can find interesting Social Media stories even when I am trying to read about something completely different!

Anyway the story is that Ford is kicking off a new promotion for the US launch of the Fiesta. They are going to be selecting 100 people, giving them a new Fiesta for 6 months and asking them to blog and video their experiences with it. Here is a grab from the website:

as a driver, you’ll receive monthly secret assignments from Ford Mission Control that will take you to places you’ve never been, to meet people you’ve never met, and to experiences you’ll never forget. And you’ll bring your friends and followers along for the ride.

It’ll be interesting to watch how it goes…

Growing an Enterprise 2.0

23 February, 2009

Alex Manchester from Step2 designs asked an interesting question on twitter the other day:

“If you have time, I’d love your input: what was the first thing you did to get social media/enterprise 2.0 going in your organisation?”

My response related to our use of wikis and Yammer over the last 12 months, here is the more detailed version.


We started out experimenting with ‘2.0’ tools last year. Our primary motivation was (and still is) to help our customers get better connected to each other. We have a customer base of around 120,000 people who are located all over the world. Our team was created to get our customers connected to each other, to help them to share their knowledge and experience. (I am coming to how we came to do stuff behind the firewall).

One of the first projects we launched last year was a Good Practice Guide. This is a wiki based knowledge base of tools, templates and other examples of good practice. This as a project in its own right has been growing steadily and now has around 2800 users. In order to get the Good Practice Guide up and running we needed to procure a wiki system. The wiki went live with the GPG in Aug of last year.

It quickly became clear that we were not using the wiki at anywhere near its capacity, to maximise our ROI, we decided to experiment with a wiki for the Knowledge Exchange team (4 staff). We used it for documenting team meeting agendas, noting project details and recording processes as we created them.

Word of this tool spread throughout the second half of last year and we received a several requests from other business units to have their own wikis. We worked through the concepts with a couple of the teams to identify what their objectives were and how they were going to use it. Currently we have 6 wiki spaces for different business units, these are growing slowly as managers and staff figure out how the wiki fits in with the way they work. As the platform owners Knowledge Exchange has also developed a range of tools to help staff get their wikis up and running successfully. While it is still early days, I’m quite confident that by the end of the year wikis will be an embedded tool in the work practice of a range of different areas of the business.


We adopted Yammer in late October, we started off with 5 users and in the first couple of months struggled to find a place for it in our range of communication tools. The biggest problem was that we would just forget to open it, so someone would post something then no one would see it.

In mid Dec of last year we invited a handful of staff from all around the business to try Yammer. Since then the Yammer community has grown to include 55 Members based in 3 different states, 10 of which have more than 20 posts and 6 business unit specific groups. Over the last 4 weeks the daily average is around 10 posts a day. We are now regularly seeing examples of staff members asking and answering questions ranging from “who do I speak to in department X” to “I’m trying to figure out how to define the value provided by an online community, what do you think it is?”.

Again Yammer use is still in the growth phase but the most pleasing thing is it is spreading virally, staff members from different areas of the business are telling other staff members and every day new people are being added and new groups are being created.

As a team we are only in the first stages of our Enterprise 2.0 journey but we seeing some very positive signs, it will certainly be interesting to see where we are 12 months from now.

The Webinar Question

20 February, 2009

I’ve sat in on a bunch of webinars lately, generally they get some slides on the screen and conduct a kind of interview. User interaction is tpically limited to the occasional poll or the ability to ask a question using the chat window. I don’t ever find these overly useful, sometimes you get some good tips and tid-bits that prove to be helpful, but they never really hit the mark as a learning experiance.

So yesterday I had my first chance to run a webinar of my own. Admitedly it was only with 6 participants and they were all staff but it was nice to try the technology out, and see if I could go close to making a webinar as good as a training session.

In short, it wasn’t as good. But it wasn’t too bad either. There are a few things that I reckon are worth keeping in mind if you are about in embark upon training via webainar.

Open the webinar client 1.5 – 2hrs before the session, just leave it open. We use Elluminate internally which I used last week so I was pretty confident that it would open straight away. It turns out I used Elluminate 9 last week and I was using Elluminate 8 yesterday. Elluminate 9 is installed on the PC and works fine but Elluminate 8 wouldn’t work. That meant 20 mins before the session I was forced to change computers and use my 12″ iBook that has a broken VGA out port. In the end it worked ok and I was very glad I logged in a long way ahead of the start of the session.

Have two screens, it might be that I don’t know how to use the tool properly but it is really helpful to have one screen showing what you are sharing (PPT, Applications etc) and one screen for you notes and the ‘preview’ window that shows you what the participants can see. This is vital for two reasons, it means you don’t ask “can you see x” every five mins it also will alert you if your connection drops (as mine did a couple of times).

Run through your session a couple of times to make sure it flows and you know what you are jumping to next. The rules here are the same as face to face training. Think ‘the 5 P’s’  – Perfect Preperation Prevents Pretty (there is another word that can fit in there but we shouldn’t use it in polite company! :-)) Poor Performance.

Use the tool A LOT before you run your first real session, know what every button on the screen does. It will make running the session much simpler.

Be interactive, (I didn’t do a good job of this one) conducting a poll at the beginning of the session is not being interactive, unless the speaker is incredibly compelling people will tune out.

There are too many distractions,  people will have your webinar open in one window, then in others have a combination of email, twitter, facebook, RSS reader, their favourite news paper, YouTube a, a half written report etc. You are competing against all of that stuff for their attention so don’t ever think that your dulcet tones and your funky powerpoint will be enough to keep them focused.

Finally if you don’t have too many people, encourage questions. If a participant misses something and feels they can’t ask a question they are far more likely to close the window and give up.

Many of the techniques used in running successful face to face training sessions can be applied in a webinar, the difference is getting it right much more important. There are very few people  that will get up and walk out in the middle of a face to face session but if you’re online people will close the window.

Doh! I forgot…

11 February, 2009

Last week my blog turned 1! Yay!(but I forgot.. doh!)

It’s been a pretty awesome experience, I started out terrified of writing an idea or a thought down and sharing it with the world, I’ve always been a very confident public speaker but public writing kinda scared me. So much so that when I started my current job I told Helen that I had a blog but she had to promise not to tell anyone else that it existed!

I’ve sice gotten over that and my blog has evolved into a great place to take notes, throw around ideas, work through problems and engage in interesting conversations. In the past year I have managed 71 posts and people have been kind enough to add 126 comments – Thanks guys.

A very special thanks to these folks who have come back and commented throughout the year, your ideas and perspectives have made for a fantastic discussion.

Michael Axelsen

Andrew Mitchell

Helen Mitchell

Mary Abraham (Yep, Mary I am stealing your idea here!)

Janet Cleary (Janet actually was the first person to ever comment on my old Vox based blog)

Stuart French

Michelle Martin

Katheryn Greenhill

Looking forward to more idea throwing in 2009!

BTW: If you have not read any of these blogs check them out cause they’re all awesome! 🙂

One more thing: Don’t forget to give to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal or Give blood if you can.

Victorian Bushfire Crisis

10 February, 2009

There is enough discussion about this topic going on around the interwebs about this topics at the moment. But in case you had not heard horrific brushfires ripped through Melbourne’s rural fringe on the weekend, over 150 people were killed and over 1000 due to the unprecedented speed of the fire. You can read reports at local news papers The Age and The Australian.

Lots of people need help now, if you can please give some money to the Red Cross bushfire appeal or book a time to visit your local blood bank and donate blod. Donating blood is great but it is best to wait a few days as they have been flooded with donors in the last 48 hours and will need supplies topped up regularly in the next few weeks and months.

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