Matt Simpson has a kicker of a post in regards to a scenario that happens to me all the time…which you would expect from someone who deals with enterprise online communities on a daily basis.
The post title says it all, The Manager Who Thought He Could Create a Community.
“I had a meeting today with a manager who thought he could create a community. He was troubled that the community didn’t really work well. It really made him angry.”
“Now, you might ask yourself, how in the world can a man create a community? Aren’t communities made of people? Aren’t they voluntary? Don’t they form when people gather together and interact with one another voluntarily based on something they have in common and actually recognize themselves as members of a persistent group? Yes, of course.
So, I asked the man, how did he do it? He showed me.”
The Manager progressed to create an online space and filled it with member ID’s and appointed someone to facilitate it.
“His major frustration was that the assigned community manager hadn’t taken his role seriously.”
“…we talked a bit about the concept of communities… about voluntary membership and participation… about the self-selecting nature of the membership itself… about the need for leaders to self-select from within the membership and identify their own topics. This is a typical flow of discussion, which, when given enough time and insight, eventually changes a person’s entire outlook… from manager to gardener. Communities form and emerge naturally. They can be encouraged and facilitated; But they can’t be engineered and determined.“
And a magical summary if I’ve ever heard one:
“A man can no more create a community by filling out a form on a webpage than he can make a fruit tree by taping fruit to twigs and twigs to a stump.”
My post, Online communities : Bottom-up requests very much reflects this experience.
Here are some excerpts:
“IF THERE IS a Top-Down *request*, usually by a boss, we inform them that willing a community this way is not effective. Instead you have to workshop with your potential members and from this conversation an appropriate community/s will manifest.”
“Each CoP needs in this order:
1. a substantial enough topic to warrant it’s own space
2. someone who is passionate and has the time to lead it
3. a bunch of members who also have an interest in the topic and will contribute”
“If you have all of these then we will create a CoP as specific as you can (by that I mean a space where people have a shared identity about a topic)
– but I expect each person who wants to lead these CoPs to approach me”
“I noticed some communities in the directory that were created before I was the global lead for the company.
– there was a general community and then another 4 specific communities”
“I rang up the Facilitator of the general community and he told me that he got those 4 specific communities created in the hope to get some people to run them. But it just didn’t happen.”
I also reinforce this point in teams wanting to use CoP tools.
“It’s usually the team lead who wants the community
– so right off the bat we need to know if it’s what the workers want
– and we need to know how to best structure it so the workers naturally participate”
“An idea here for the lead is to put aside control, prescribed structure and convenience of one space, and let the workers suggest community structure/number of communities
– a bottom-up way to structure a top-down request”
“In this approach we get to see if the workers are excited or not (also a good way to surface champions), and they will come up with more natural and usable structures ie. communities designed in a way that will actually be used, as the people on “ground zero” actually designed it to flow with their way of working.”
“Another thing is that if the team lead has appointed a champion, or one has volunteered to facilitate, it’s a very hard job to have influence in a team dynamic.”
Read on for my elaboration on this point.
My post on spidergrams also lists some questions to address when wanting to create an online space for your community:
“1. Do you have a substantial enough topic that warrants it’s own community?
2. Do you have a community leader with passion and time?
3. Do you have passionate key members?
4. Do you have a shared identity on what you want out of the community? eg. topic, learning
5. Have you workshopped your design, topics, tools, etc…
6. Is it about learning and sharing?
7. Is it about coordinating tasks?
8. Is it about communicating to a general visitor audience? More a communication, and crowdsource tool, than a community?”
My post Social computing is messy and so it should be!, attacks the management approach of prescribed places to participate in.
Often management want all conversations on a topic to be in the one space, but this is unnatural, people will participate where they like to hang out, they don’t want to have to go where they are told to speak about that topic. In the end overlapping conversations happening in different areas is better than forcing and motivating it to happen in one area, and often ending up with no-participation at all.
I said something related to this in my post, More thoughts on community structure and creation:
“It’s not about the topic of the community, it’s about the people.”
Lastly, I mention to managers who want to use our CoP tools for their teams or just regular CoPs that, Communities don’t rely on network effects to be successful
Here are some excerpts from some of our help guides:
“Having an online community website doesn’t make a community, it just enhances the community you already have that you may be administering through email, telecons, face to face.”
If you know of others who are interested in the same topic, but you don’t yet communicate as a community, then workshop with these people to see if they all agree to create an online community space to beget the community.”
“An online space is not enough alone, a community needs members and conversations, otherwise it’s a website, rather than a community.
As a result, someone is required to run the community and encourage participation.”
Something that Matt has bought to my attention that I haven’t made clear is as well as communities (topic and members) naturally emerging, so will the leaders who facilitate the community (self-selecting approach).