Friday, December 16, 2011

The Six Hats of a Community Manager

In my previous post, I wrote about the tenets of communitymanagement based on my learnings from the past 6 months. In this post, I want to talk about the different hats that we need to don as community managers. This was well put in the diagram by Andy Wibbels which you can see in this post called Inside the Mind of a Community Manager.It graphically represents a number of things a community manager needs to be aware of in her/his role.

In my post, I want to explore all the "hats" a community manager needs to wear to execute her role. The premise of this post is that when an organisation makes a conscious effort to move towards a more social way of doing business, it usually begins with the introduction of an enterprise collaboration platform. Employees, who have been using emails and, perhaps, mailing lists and google groups till then as their mode of communication and collaboration, are now expected to use the collaboration platform for their day to day business. This shift calls for some intense community management and community building, and the post focuses on the different roles a community manager needs to play during this time.

The hat of a Change Agent
When an organization moves to a different mode of communication, it calls for a huge amount of change management. What we are asking for is a behaviour change. Conceptually, the change may appear to be a very simple one--move from emails to a more open mode of communication on a collaboration platform. However, living in the inbox is a deep-rooted habit for most 21st century workers. And to be honest, email is the most frictionless, asynchronous mode of communication today. Why then will people bother to make the shift?

As change agents, we have to make two things very simple for them -- the act of making the shift and the reason behind the shift. Let's take Amazon as an example. I end up buying books on my Kindle not only because I want those books but also because Amazon makes it incredibly simple for me to buy them. It has changed my reading and buying habits tremendously. And I have changed without appearing to have made any conscious effort to do so.

Similarly, we have to remove obstacles from the path of change. We have to be obsessed with making the shift to the new collaboration platform easy. This of course is easier said than done. There will be umpteenth obstacles beyond the control of a community manager ranging from the constraints posed by the platform itself to enterprise security policies that impact how users access the platform. Make a platform difficult to access--this means anything more than two clicks--and users will exit. Moreover, the steps needed to be taken to make the shift have to be crystal clear including what the expected outcome will be. Dan and Chip Heath says in Switch, "What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity." Ambiguity will doom any change effort. And they will go back to the default behavior--in this case email. While emails may be a sub-optimal medium of collaboration, human beings will default to known behavior in the absence of clear and easy path to change.

The hat of a Trainer
All new platforms-- no matter how intuitive it may seem--require some training. This can be in the form of simple how-to documents, screencasts, videos, webex sessions, and anything else that you can think of. What is important to remember perhaps is that designing and creating these training materials is not enough. We need to ensure they reach the users. This could mean creating a Training/Help Center on the platform that can be a one-stop shop for users. Reaching out to users proactively to find out if they need help is also recommended. Keeping the training materials crisp and to the point is critical. Mapping the training to typical use cases is also important. Providing generic, platform related information is not too useful. Instead, the training material needs to focus on what are the typical ways users are likely to interact on the platform and why would they need to do so. Shaping the guidelines, screencasts and videos around these use cases can help onboard users quickly to the platform.

The hat of a Content Curator
As people begin to access the platform, get comfortable with the functionalities and features, what comes next is a proliferation of content. At least in an organisation like ThoughtWorks, that is the trend. With the proliferation comes chaos. The activity stream turns into an overwhelming flood and people lose control of their information flow. It is the job of the community manager to go through this flood, pick out content of interest and value for the community and aggregate that in a manner that makes consumption easy. Each platform will have its own functionalities and features that allow a community manager to curate and aggregate. Jive SBS--the platform we use--has certain useful widgets that let us do so. However, the curation part is manual. Moreover, to be a trustworthy and respected content curator, it is important to know the interests, needs and passions of the community. This requires constant engagement with the community, listening to the community and having an eye for detail. I will write more about what makes for a good content curator in a later post.

The hat of a Connector
Collaboration platforms are all about connections--between contet and people, between expertise and need, between skill-sets and projects, between people and people. As community managers, we need to set in place a system that enables findability and accessibility. This could mean anything from inculcating practices like tagging for searchability, helping users to fill out their profiles for findabilty, to manually connecting the nodes. Since community managers have a bird's eye view of their community, they are often best placed to spot a need and a corresponding solution--be it for a certain expertise, content or skillset. The role of a connector is crucial in creating business value for the organisation and is a skill all community managers need to hone.

The hat of a Brand Ambassador 
Needless to say, we need to be cheerleaders for our community. There is no replacement for enthusiasm and passion. Marketing the platform--albeit subtly--is one of the tasks of a community manager. Telling stories of successful use cases, collecting examples of how collaboration is positively impacting workflow, business and innovation and narrating these stories-- all help in branding the community as well as in getting the skeptics on-board. It is important to find the evangelists and believers and encourage them to share their stories.

The hat of a Consultant
This is perhaps the most frequently donned hat and covers a gamut of skills including needs analysis, solution designing, influencing, facilitating, and negotiating. This calls for a post by itself but I will touch upon the key points here. Typically, in an organisation/enterprise, a single community of all employees will not be an effective means of collaboration. They will split into teams and groups driven by many factors from functional areas and interests to roles and projects. These teams will form their own communities with their specific and unique goals and objectives. It's our job to help the teams articulate their objectives and enable them to design their community experience in a manner that supports their objectives. It also entails sharing best practices around collaboration--where collaboration implies fruitful comings together to achieve common objectives. 
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