I am back again after being away for more than 3 months. I have been somewhat lazy but I also deliberately stayed away from posting as I tried to consolidate and synthesise all that I was learning. I have been playing the role of an enterprise community manager for some time now—6 months to be precise—and thought it would be a good idea to jot down my learnings from the past few months.
This post is directed towards new community managers, who have recently donned the mantle of community management and are perhaps finding that there are more things to do than one had thought of. I have had my successes and failures, stumbled and cursed myself at the end of the day for not having predicted a question or a reaction, stayed up at night reading all possible books on community management from the classic Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger to Jono Bacon’s The Art of the Community—only to realize that no amount of reading will teach me what my living, breathing community will.
I can’t remember where I read it, but this is the quote that inspires me: To solve tough problems, have tough problems. And believe me, in a geeky, hard core technology driven organisation filled with hyper active, questioning geeks like ThoughtWorks, community management is no mean task. It can be exhausting but also exhilarating; challenging yet rewarding; sheer hard work but also a huge amount of fun.
Here are some of learnings crystallized over the past few months.
First tenet (and many have said this before me): It’s about the people.
It’s not about the platform; it’s not about technology; and it’s absolutely definitely not about the community manager. It’s about the people who are the heart and soul of the community.
Second tenet: A community manager is an enabler, a facilitator, a guide.
Our job is to ensure we are there for our community, for our users. We need to be a combination of a 24x7 help desk, a consultant, a trouble-shooter, a listening ear, a bridge, and occasionally a shoulder to cry on.
Third tenet: Be clear and precise in your communication.
Clarity, objectivity and having one’s facts right will go a long way in establishing credibility. Whether engaged in oral communication or drafting a written one for the communities’ consumption—read and re-read for verbosity, ambiguity and obfuscation and remove these. Yes, I just used the word. Basically, never obfuscate. In short be simple, to the point and clear.
Fourth tenet: Be empathetic.
No matter how strongly we feel about the social platform, how firmly we believe in the absolute goodness of social engagement, and how strongly we feel that everyone should just “get it”, put yourself in your community member’s shoes and tread the path they are treading. Ask questions, observe usage patterns and offer help. Being judgmental is a “no no”.
Fifth tenet: Keep your ego at home.
There’s no place for ego in this role. We can’t afford to put ourselves first if we want to be half-way good and trusted community managers.
Sixth tenet: Seed the bright spots and successes.
In the initial days of the launch of a social business platform, most community management effort will be focused on initiating and managing change. And this is the time when a huge amount of frustration can also set in. It often feels like you are taking one step forward only to fall back by three. However, one thing I have learned is that looking for what is not working can be overwhelming, daunting and scary. However, if we can think differently and see what is working, we can replicate the bright spots. Analysing what is working, why some users are engaged and participative, what their usage patterns are like, what imbibes a sense of belonging in them can help us to come up with a “matrix for success.” Replicating this matrix can be a step toward facilitating quicker change.
I am still thinking about the last point and will write more about it in a later post.