Saturday, November 22, 2014

Role of Community Management in Workplace Learning Today

When I read Rachel Happe’s (@rhappe) post, The Emerging Career Path of Community Professionals, I was reminded of my older posts on community management and the skills required. I wrote about the tenets of community management based on my experience. In this post, I want to highlight the importance of community management as a discipline that can enable organizations to take on the challenges and complexities of the future of work.

Organizations investing in enterprise social platforms (IMHO, more and more organizations are doing it and will continue to do so) require community managers who can facilitate activities on the platform. This requires anyone playing the role to wear multiple hats. In my post, I want to explore some of the "hats" a community manager needs to wear to execute her role. The premise of this post is that when an organization makes a conscious effort to bring in social collaboration and support their formal learning endeavors with more informal and collaborative sharing, it usually begins with the introduction of an enterprise collaboration platform. 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
Just because an enterprise collaboration platform is in place doesn’t mean that everyone will take to it like duck takes to water. The natural adoption curve will set with some being early adopters and others trailing behind. However, the enthusiasm of the even the early adopters will rapidly wane if the platform doesn’t offer engaging content and meaningful conversations. This of course is easier said than done and requires well thought out change management plans.
As shown in the diagram, change management includes onboarding users onto the platform, enabling them to use it with ease and supporting them throughout. Onboarding typically covers conducting training, socializing the platform and defining different ways of contribution. Defining clear guidelines and directives go a long way toward user adoption. The table below summarizes some of the ways that users can contribute.

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. As community managers, 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.

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. 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.

The hat of a Trainer
All new platforms-- no matter how intuitive it may seem--require some training as mentioned above. This can be in the form of simple how-to documents, screencasts, videos, webex sessions, and any other form that works. 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 makes adoption easier. 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
Good content is one of the key pull factors behind why people would choose to engage on the platform. As people begin to access the platform, they expect to see meaningful content – these could be short capsules of learning, curated articles, links to interesting resources, discussions on the forum, blogs and micro-content from other users, and so on. It is the job of the community manager to ensure that the content is appropriately tagged and curated and thus findable. Each platform will have its own functionalities and features that allow a community manager to curate and aggregate. However, 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. It also means enlisting the help of community ambassadors who are likely to be experts regarding the interests of that community.

The bottom line is to never launch an empty platform. It must be populated with meaningful content prior to launch.

Here are some practical tips to make a community engaging for its users.
The hat of a Connector
Collaboration platforms are all about connections--between content and people, between expertise and need, between skill-sets and projects, between people and people. As community managers, it is important 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 organization 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 organization/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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