Posts Tagged ‘community’

Avoiding flying upside down

11 May, 2011

I’m a big fan of the the West Wing, my wife and I must have watched it from beginning to end at least five times. It probably should come as no surprise then that after some reflection on what is going on at work this quote from the West Wing popped onto my head:

I was telling Josh Lyman about a friend who just got his pilot’s license. He told me the most remarkable thing. He said a new pilot will fly into cloud cover. There’ll be no visibility. And they’ll check their gauges, they’ll look at the artificial horizon, it’ll show them level, but they won’t trust it. So, they’ll make an adjustment and then another and another… He said the number of new pilots who fly out of clouds completely upside-down would knock you out. My office will make arrangements for me to endorse you in the morning. You keep your eyes on the horizon, Mr. President.

Three years ago we set out to create an environment where our members were connected to each other through series of communities of practice. These would enable them to share ideas, collaboratively solve problems and create opportunities to learn from each other. The problem is in recent months I haven’t been thinking about social learning or communities of practice, I’ve been thinking about technology platforms,  social media, marketing and brand exposure and building an audience. As a result while a little progress has been made on the  original goal it is not nearly as much as I expected by now.

How did I end up completely inverted?

Just like the pilots in the West Wing there has been not any single event that caused me to make an abrupt change in direction, instead it has been a series of tiny corrections as key staff left, new staff arrived and priorities shifted. This happens in all businesses all the time and these subtle shifts can be incredibly damaging; unlike when a conscious decision to change direction is made, we often think we’re still heading the direction we were originally. Because each shift is so small and often unrelated to the previous shift we don’t implement the controls that we do when we make a decision to go down a completely different path; simply because we often haven’t realised we are on a different path!

The only constant in any organisation is change, which means trying to achieve a long term goal is going to take persistence and commitment but more importantly it requires the team driving the change to keep their eyes on the horizon and ensure that the subtle shifts which are made to accommodate changing circumstances do not push them off course completely. If they do see this happening, they must stop and make time to question the new direction, the impact it will have on the old objectives, whether or not the original objectives should still be pursued and if they should; how will they be achieved in the new environment.


Oi You Lot! Collaborate Now!!

30 October, 2009

If only community building were so simple! I’ve spent the last couple of months working on the first two of what will hopefully be many online communities for our members. This has proven to be a bit of a  challenge for a few different reasons,  the one I want to talk about now is the concept of collaboration. For me and the other guys in the team at work, collaboration is what we do. We encounter a problem and we either turn around and say “hey waddaya reckon about this” or if we’re not in the same location, we jump onto the wiki or instant messenger (or lately google wave) and throw ideas around. If no one in the team is free we jump on twitter and say “hey tweeps waddaya reckon?”. Collaborating to get stuff done is intrinsic to what we do. Sure if we are on twitter we might not be quite as specific as we would be in the office but we still talk about what is going on with the twitterverse.

The thing is not everyone does it and (amazingly) not everyone wants to do it. For many people they don’t want to collaborate, they don’t want to participate they just want to be fed the info they need. I guess most people fall into this category but I admit to being caught off guard at how disinterested some people are at jumping on the collaboration bandwagon. So what the hell do you do about it? These are my thoughts… time will tell how effective they are.

Find people who ARE collaborators!

Well duh! I know this one is stating the bleeding obvious, but I reckon the best way to help people to learn how to be collaborators is to watch it happening around them. If the group we have at the moment is not loaded up with collaborative types then we should find some to help get the ball rolling.

Start with easy opportunities for collaboration

In one of the communities, my idea was that the community would collectively write a community charter. It didn’t happen. So I re-jigged the approach and organised a few phone hookups to discuss what they thought should go into the charter. During each session we also used a webinar to record notes, which helped to fuel the discussion. These sessions gave me with heaps of insight into the needs and wants of the community. I’ll take that away and turn it in to a draft of a charter, then ask the community to provide feedback. By adopting this approach the community members are commenting on something they have already contributed to which means it isn’t as scary, as hard or as time consuming as starting with a blank page.

Change the environment

This is kinda the same as the last point, if the members are not really jumping onto the online environment to collaborate, give them a chance to chat somewhere else. It could be like that example: a phone hook up, or even better if it is possible, organise an f2f meet up. Something as simple as catching up for a coffee can be enormously beneficial to encouraging collaboration.

Ok so that’s my thoughts. They are all pretty much following the conventional wisdom. So waddaya reckon?


Charting a course to community awesomeness!

27 August, 2009

I’m cheating on my blog posts again! But I wrote this for one of my recently kicked off online communities and thought it might be worth posting. What do you think? Am I on the right track? I will be very interested to see how the community members respond.


I have been saying from the beginning of this project that one our key objectives for the community leadership group will be the development of a community charter. The charter will be vital to the community’s success. It is your (the community leaders) opportunity to agree on what you want this community to be. You will make this community into the thriving place that can create opportunities and provide support to yourself or other members. The thing is, this will only happen if you make it happen.

Some questions to think about:
• What is that you think this community stands for?
• Why is it here?
• When we promote it why would people want to join it?
• What can we bring to the community?
• What do you expect your fellow members to bring to the community?
• Most importantly what can you bring to the community?

Now you’ve have think about that let’s look at what this charter will actually look like. The great thing is that every community is unique so every charter will be unique, but I have a couple of thoughts to get us started. First I reckon we must keep it short; we don’t need anything that rambles on for pages and pages (like this post does!). I propose the following three sections.

Community Purpose

An example might be “to provide an environment for North Melbourne supporters to discus the horror of 2009 and how awesome 2010 will be”

The community will…

“Hear North supporters concerns about our list and provide constructive criticism for players that perhaps might seek new opportunities at another club next year”

“Help to generate opportunities for North supporters to car pool to games (and then donate the money to the club to set up a fund to lure Garry Ablett and Lance Franklin to Arden St)””

The community members will….

“Not be too harsh on players who have under performed”
“Will be supportive of other members and provide constructive advice”

Ok so clearly I have been a bit silly with my examples, but I hope you get the idea. Under each section we use bullet points to outline why the community exists, how the community will aim to support or provide value to its members and how the community’s members will provide value to the community.

So what is next?

There is a new tab at the top of the screen called Charter. It simply has the words “Community Purpose” on the page.

I would like as many of you as possible to click on edit on that page and add a bullet point describing what you believe the community’s purpose is.

Editing is anonymous so no one else will know what you have added. Please don’t remove anyone else’s points, just add to them. Don’t be afraid, all ideas are valid, the more ideas we have the better the result.

If you want to comment on this to tell me that the whole thing is a stupid idea, suggest another section of the charter or anything else feel free to comment under this post.

Next week we’ll work on the next section and keep refining over the coming weeks till the leadership group as a whole agree that the charter represents what we all believe this community is about.

Getting them talking

25 June, 2009

Part four in my ‘Getting an online community off the ground’ series. Today I’ll chat about Content.

Over the last week or so, I have blogged about finding great people to join your community, then having a chat with them to encourage them to join the community. In many ways getting them into the community is the easy bit; often people, if encouraged will sign up to an online community, the trick is getting them to come back a few times a week.

The people we have targeted to form the core of the community know their stuff and are eager to participate so we’d best make use of them! The community is all about the members so we can get them to do some of the planning. Ask them to debate the core purpose of the community, ask them to agree on the community’s rules of engagement. This can be confronting, at this point we are releasing some control, we’re no longer producing a product for the market to simply consume, we are letting the consumers shape the direction. While it is scary it will be helpful for a couple of reasons, firstly it will give those core people that you want to hang around something to talk about which is critical to keeping their attention. Secondly it will help them to develop a sense of ownership over the community. Finally it will give us an important insight into the needs of the people we are trying to engage.

It is great to hand the keys over to the community but  it is really important to stay involved in the discussion, this is our community and while we are working to help the community members we are not going to be able to meet the needs of everybody. Get involved in the conversation, talk about the motivations for creating the community and listen to the responses of the community members. If a suggestion can not be implemented, explain why and try to work with the community members to come up with an alternative approach. This is important work, it is laying the foundations that the community will be built upon so we need to get it right.

Throughout this process the most important thing we can do is listen, this will help us to understand the needs of the community, which will help us to identify the content that will bring people back. Understanding the content the community members are interested in will influence, the links we post, which discussion topics or members are featured and what events we run.

Next up – Events!

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!

More on measuring

10 February, 2009

I’m in the process of writing plans, speaking to stakeholders and setting my performance targets. Every year this is a difficult process, I’m trying to balance between setting myself challenging targets for the year and setting myself impossible targets for the year.

My primary objective for the year is to implement and grow online communities that provide value to the user and our organisation, these communities will focus on facilitating knowledge sharing and networking .

On the surface this  is a simple enough objective, the tricky part is how to measure the value.

Now we head in the murky waters of perception, how on earth do you define the value of an interaction? Here are a couple of the considerations floating around in my head.

  • If a user interacts with a community are they: A. providing value to the community? and B. obtaining value from the exchange?
  • If a user regularly visits the community but does not participate, do they obtain value?
  • If users come to the community to ask questions what proportion of questions must be answered and what time frame must they be answered in for the community to be valuable?

As you can see none of these questions can be answered unless you are speaking to the user. I am very keen to speak to users to hear stories and anecdotes, but the the first target is to scope and define the community projects, that means investigating needs, speaking with stakeholders and defining objectives, until that work is done it’s hard to define what  success will look like my performance targets.

The commonly held wisdom is that the only way you will measure the success or otherwise of a social project is to have crystal clear objectives. This is something I will have for every project this year but I’ve not managed to define anything yet.

I need some sort of measure of how a community is going that we can track throughout its life. To achieve this I propose a ‘Community Health Check’, this will by no means be an exhaustive measure of success or value obtained from a community but it could provide an insight into how the community is travelling. It should also give a high-level overview that can help to feed further research into the community.

I suggest ten (or so) questions, that are on a rating scale of 1- 10, the questions would be divided into three groups: usability, type of use and value obtained. Here are the first few questions I’ve come up with:


How easy / difficult it was to access the community site?


How easy / difficult was it to find what you were interested in on the community site?


Type of use

How many times have you accessed the community in the last month?


How many questions / discussions have you started in the community in the last month?


How many questions / discussions have you responded to in the community in the last month?



In general terms rate how valuable you believe the community has been to you or your business


How many questions have you found answers to in the community in the last month?


How useful has the information you have found in the community been to your work?


That’s a start, please keep in mind that this is my first pass at this and it will evolve over the coming months.

So now, what do you think? What is missing? Do you think this will this actually be useful?

A quick update to get caught up…

2 October, 2008

I’ve had some sort of virus for the last couple of weeks… I gave in and slept for a couple of days earlier this week and seem to be a bit better (yay!). I’ve got a few things to blog about so I’ll try and get caught up over the next day or so.

Our conference community.

Adoption has been reasonable, we’re still just over a week away from the conference and we have around 80 members. I’m pretty happy with that, it is not huge but it is a good start. The problem is there is not a lot of interaction going on, a lot of people have poked their heads in but are not really saying anything. We’ve got several presenters who are going to run groups and try to kick off some discussions in there, unfortunately due to ‘the virus’ we’re a little behind in getting them all set up. Hopefully it won’t have too much of an impact. I’ll be watching with interest over the next couple of weeks as we get into the conference.

A step into the unknown…

19 September, 2008

A little while a go I hit the publish button on the Conference social network we have been working on for the last 6 months. Exciting yet scary stuff!

To be honest I have no idea how this is going to pan out. We’ve got a pretty good promotional plan, we have  engagement with the conference program and we have several presenters lined up to participate in the network. Still I wonder if it will work. Our audience is pretty conservative mostly accounting and finance types, I get the feeling that will mean they will come in and have a look but probably won’t participate very much. Our corporate blogs are a classic example, while the traffic on this blog is approximately 10% of the average traffic of our two main corporate blogs, I average a comment about every second or third post, where our corporate blogs average a comment  about every 5 – 6 posts.

I would put that down to the fact that most of the comments here tend to come from people who I either know or have interacted with via their own blogs or twitter, but I think there may also be something in the demographic, most of the people who read this at least have an interest in social media. That would seem to make them more likely to fill the ‘critic’ role, than an accountant or finance manager that is in their mid 30’s to mid 50’s (the bulk of our customer base).

It will be very interesting indeed to see if they embrace the concept. I’ll keep posting regularly about how it is going and what we are learning.

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