At work our communities are taking off, but not without their hiccups.
I’m part of a team that is resurrecting a previous “build it and they will come” approach.
We have a great team, and our leaders are eager users of the community, which is an essential.
At the moment, we keep getting lots of new community requests, the viral approach is really happening. There has been no rollout, only word of mouth, actually the team has done no promotion at all, if anything we are still quiet as we are trying to write up all the How-To Guides.
This has been a small issue, as it’s time consuming helping out Facilitators of existing communities and creating new communties. It’s a bit of a catch22, because if they had the guides they would need less help from me.
So what’s happening, in the interim, is I’m emailing back and forth with so many communities, and having the exact same conversation.
As Community Coordinator, being a community inclined person, I decided to create a Facilitators Community.
Firstly in each community I created a forum called “CoP - Suggestions and Feedback”, this is for community members to discuss setting up, roles, maintaining, growth, etc…I am not subscribed to these forums.
These forums are a good start to get new communities using the very tools to build their communities, it just makes sense.
If a Facilitator does not have the know-how to answer a question raised in their forums, then they can raise it in the forums in the Facilitators community. My hope is that other Facilitators will have an answer before I do, so I plan to wait just a little before answering myself.
I forgot to mention, after I approve a new community request I set up a private forum between me and the new Facilitator in the Facilitator CoP. We have some dialogue before and after setting up their community, this makes sure that the Facilitator is familiar with the tools even before they have their own community. It’s also a way to have ongoing conversations of a more specific matter rather than using email. If the question is general, then it’s to be in the general forums as other Facilitators may learn and share their insight.
Prior to these private forums I was having back and forth email communication with about 10 community facilitators at a time. It was stressing me keeping track of the chain of all these various conversations. On top of that I was involved in conversations that the soon to be community members were having…it was like I was on 10 email lists and more.
I allievated this frustration by asking a soon to be Facilitator to not include me in their conversations, and rather represent their teams views in a private forum with me.
Now I have lots of private forums (one for each community), and the thread is all in one place for each. My next job is to go to the 30 or so existing communities and open a private forum for each.
Another benefit here is that once someone finds out what it means to be a Facilitator, they usually pass it on to one of their key team players, someone who has more time to run a community. I then add that person to the forum and they can see the discussion so far I’ve had with the previous Facilitator.
Not to mention, if I move on one day, my replacement will have an equivalent of what would be my email archive, but it will be super neat.
The Facilitators community is a place for Facilitators to come together, share and learn.
NOTE: This post is a bit pre-mature in a way, but I thought I’d dump my experience before it’s no longer fresh.
Today, in the Facilitators Community I set up a:
Community news blog (only I write to this)
- keep facilitators abreast with the latest releases and features
Community Tips (Group blog)
- everyone can share there know-how, experiences and success stories
- I plan to post tips like use a “subscribe to this blog” in your blog post signature, how to post by email (I’ll be like the Pro-Blogger blog)
Learning Communities (My Personal blog)
- these are more theory and methods type posts
I already have one Facilitator who has created his own blog, to blog about his experience in creating his community…I was impressed.
We also have forums where Facilitators can come together and ask questions to other Facilitators. We hope that this self organising technique will enable Facilitators to feed off each other, and discover a way to run their communities better. I guess it’s a type of learning university, where the students or practioners are teaching and learning off each other.
The key to the success of our communities is in the Facilitators and their key members, it’s my job to train up these guys to know just as much about communities as I do. They don’t need to go do a course, and they wouldn’t anyway as they are engineers, marketers, web designers, etc
The reason for this is they know their communities best, I can’t possibly oversee and make sure they are all thriving, I don’t have time to garden them all, etc…
So by training the trainer I hope that the expertise spreads, but I know this wouldn’t be enough. The Facilitators community is going to be the best way to learn, and the best way to share contexts and stories, each participant enrichens each others experience…a kind of self organising intelligence.
I just came across a perfect quote in Ken Thompson’s Bioteams blog that suits this scenario perfectly:
“1) Each role in a social network should be defined not in terms of its outputs or objectives but instead in terms of the transformations (and instantiations) it makes to the other roles in the system.”
“2) Collectively the role interactions should create a positive feedback loop in the sense that each role is fully defined in terms of its interactions with other roles.”
Some brief Lessons Learned
I’ve already mentioned this one
- don’t underestimate the viral approach
- make sure you can handle the demand otherwise you get bad user experiences (that’s the absolute last thing you want)
- so make sure you have learning guides
Don’t be seduced by the viral approach in another way
- people like the idea of communities, something new and social
- this can be very novel
- that’s why we have a request form
- we don’t want to scare them, but we want to stress it’s a living thing you will have (it can be like that dog you get for christmas and then neglect due to lack of interest, it’s health and wellbeing suffers)
People want a solution
- they are keen to try…that’s why we need to hook them in with design and training up Facilitators
- I tell them it’s like the document repository but with conversations
- now alot of the talent and know-how in your email that’s currently distributed can be retained in one spot
- cross community people can visit and share insights
So a new Facilitator doesn’t freak-out when 50 people start asking them how do you do this and that
- the idea is to get the Facilitator and a handful of key members to really get to know the tool, and what their role really is, so they are prepared for the onslaugh of member demands
- otherwise they will be asking me, which is not an empowering enough a model
Besides the design, the Facilitator and champions are the most key components for success
Don’t be fooled, this requires a full-time team for it to work
- and it’s not only about technical stuff and processes, it’s about teaching Facilitators to be community leaders, it’s about learning, there is a real element of humanistic studies
We encourage public communities as part of organisational communication bottlenecks is that you aren’t in the loop across business units
- if we don’t give some teams private spaces then they will use email (they may have stuff to discuss that is not for all eyes, and figure forums and blogs are easier than email in the long run)
- these teams can have an additonal public facing community that’s a communications and repository space more than anything…they can post the relevant stuff from the private community to their public blog, and also have a public forum for discussion
We have blogs, forums, mail archives and Q&A.
This is way too much, so in the new template I’m suggesting to go just with blogs and forums
- if people have to think to long about what the right tool is for their content, they will just use email…blog or forum is an easy choice
BLOG vs FORUM
This is a big one.
Just off the top of my head…
Blogs can replace broadcast emails (news, announcements), but they can also be to share work in progress, status, ideas, reviews, etc…you can have blogs by region, topic, personal…blog can also be multi-authored
- people can leave comments, but a blog post doesn’t always have to be discussed, just as journal/new articles or diaries are not always discussed
- some people can become known as guru’s or subject matter experts, they become known for their blog
Forums are places for discussion, and it’s a group ownership
- a forum topic is not for musing or news like a blog post, it’s made for the intention to get back some discussion and answers
- think of a forums as pubs in a city, and forum topics/replies as groups of people in the pub
Next time, don’t use email lists:
- if you feel an email chain discussion coming on (use FORUMS)
- if you need to broadcast an announcement, or keep a log of your experience (use BLOGS)
At the moment each community has a folder for forums, documents, and blogs
But some people want to make rooms where they can have a combination of tools
- at the homepage level they have made a folder called “Task Rooms”
- in that folder can be a folder called “Task A”
- in this folder is a blog, forum and document folder
- sometimes they are making these rooms private so the homepage isn’t polluted with content that just 2 people are working on
- problem is a task room is a folder with objects in it, there isn’t a mini homepage
- we are envious of Google Sites that enables you to create dashboards from various community objects
- maybe wikis can help in the future
We have RSS for blogs, but it’s just summary feeds
I can’t see people using IE7, they want one dashboard, and that’s Outlook
- for starters they have to go to the actual sites to leave a reply
- lucky for us we can post content and replies via Outlook
My hope is that our communities become infectious…if a commuity member joins a team that still works using just email, I hope for that person to not put up with that as it’s going backwards and enlighten new people to social productivity.
I agree with Stewart Mader that the dynamics of an organisation will different to the web, where there will be more contributors, as you will have people telling others to re-purpose that email, as we don’t work like that anymore. This social influence and discipline will change the 90-9-1 participation ratio.