Friday, December 30, 2011

50 Posts and Articles that Made Me Think in 2011

Inspired by Jane Hart’s Top 100 Articles of 2011, I thought I should put down at least the top 50 that has made me reflect and ponder in the past one year, has changed the way I do things and shaped quite a bit of my work-life decisions. Not all the posts have been written in 2011, but since I either stumbled across them in 2011 or read them with greater appreciation this year, I thought it fair to include these in the list. In the past one year, I have made a career shift or should I say expanded my work portfolio (and I have described the move here), and these posts and articles have been instrumental in helping me make sense of the move and impart some value to the work I do.

I have divided them across five categories for easy reference. From the categories, you will be able to see what has influenced me the most in the past one year. At times, I have also had difficulty in “slotting” an article under a specific category. Many of the articles span groups and are interlinked. I have listed them in some sort of reading order or the way they made sense to me…

Social Business
  1. The future is podular by Dave Gray
  2. Putting Enterprise 2.0 into Context by Andrew McAfee
  3. Factories: the original social businesses by Anne Marie McEwan
  4. The Path to Co-Creating a Social Business: The Early Adoption Phase by Dion Hinchcliffe
  5. Moving Beyond Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement by Dion Hinchcliffe
  6. Seven Lessons Learned on Social Business by Dion Hinchcliffe
  7. Systems Intelligence, Serendipity and Listening for the Better Decisions by Riitta Raesmaa
  8. From social intranets to collaboration ecosystems by Fred Cavazza
  9. What is a social intranet or an intranet 2.0 ? by Bertrand Duperrin
  10. How Digital Business Will Evolve in 2012: 6 Big Ideas by Dion Hinchcliffe
  11. Why social business is different - Part 1: Reusing stored collaboration by Dion Hinchcliffe
  12. Social networks are becoming your personal operating system by Brian Solis
  13. Five Emergent Strategies for Improving Social Business Performance by Dion Hinchcliffe
  14. Open Work: Using Social Software To Make Our Work Visible Again by Dion Hinchcliffe
  15. Why E2.0 and Social Business Initiatives Are Likely to Remain Difficult by Jon Husband

Community Management
  1. Community Management: The Strategic New IT-Enabled Business Capability by Dion Hinchcliffe
  2. Community management: The 'essential' capability of successful Enterprise 2.0 efforts by Dion Hinchcliffe
  3. How to Build an Online Community by Vanessa DiMauro
  4. 11 Social Media Yodas Define Community Management “Passion”by Baochi Nguyen
  5. Who's To Blame For A Failed Community? by Claire Flanagan
  6. Social Software Is Not Enough by Rachel Happe
  7. Community Managers are Human Experience (HX) Professionals by Rachel Happe
  8. Top 15 Ways to Kills an Online Community -- Again by Vanessa DiMauro
  9. Community Managers’ Reading List: 27 Books fromQuiip
  10. Why You Need to Foster Community at Work by Shawn Murphy

Content Strategy and Curation
  1. Capitalizing On Curation: Why The New Curators Are Beating The Old by Drew Neisser
  2. Manifesto For The Content Curator: The Next Big Social Media Job Of The Future? by Rohit Bhargava
  3. Return of the Editor: Why Human Filters are the Future of the Web by  Karyn Campbell
  4. Are curators the missing thing in enterprise 2.0 approaches? by Bertrand Duperrin
  5. The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators by Robert Scoble
  6. Curation in the Enterprise: Actionable information by JP Rangaswami
  7. Curation and the enterprise: part 2 by JP Rangaswami
  8. Curation and amplification will become much more sophisticated in 2012 by Vadim Lavrusik
  9. The Future Of Journalism – By Ross Dawson
  10. ‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web  by Nick Bilton

Complexity and the changing face of 21st C Workplace
  1. Moving Beyond “Work as Usual” in a Complex World by Thierry de Baillon
  2. Why Is Knowledge Sharing Important? A Matter of Survival by Luis Suarez
  3. Essential Skills for 21st Century Survival: Part I: Pattern Recognition by Venessa Miemis
  4. Connected companies, complex systems, and social intranets by Gordon Ross
  5. Diversity, complexity, chaos and working smarter by Harold Jarche
  6. The Satir Change Model by Steven M. Smith
  7. Connecting Agile Business with Social Business by Dion Hinchcliffe
  8. Avoiding Chaos, Losing Serendipity? by Julie Hunt
  9. The Collapse of Complex Business Models by Clay Shirky
  10. The connected company by Dave Gray

Workplace Learning
  1. Social Learning and Exception Handling
  2. Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson
  3. The Five Failures of Workplace Learning Professionals by Will Thalheimer
  4. Social Learning is NOT a new training trend by Jane Hart
  5. Jobs, work and technology by Harold Jarche

There are plenty more but in the interest of keeping the list manageable, I have limited it to 50 articles. I have not included posts around learning and instructional design or elearning —still my first love—and will add a separate post with the links to resources I have found useful.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Content Curation: One More Role for an Enterprise Community Manager

Faced with the tsunami of information, we are all floundering to find our way to content that actually matters. From setting up filters--both of the automated and human variety--to trying to make sense of what we find, we are in a fix, so to speak. Hence, we see the rise of content curators as a breed who will help us to make sense of this world of worldwideweb that has suddenly gone amuck.

The scene within an enterprise is not much different. The lifespan of enterprises are declining rapidly. And the only way an enterprise can survive is by being on the cutting edge of their field, by being adaptive and by making the right decisions quickly. This requires a quick access to the hive mind of the enterprise and an ability to connect the dots to make sense of the underlying pattern.
We are all striving for a world where we find exactly what we need, the conversation we want to be a part of and the content that helps us make that breakthrough decision. Arnold Waldstein puts it elegantly:
I’m dreaming hard for a conversational-based reality online. I want to parse my world by conversations, by topic, by trusted connections daily.
How does this tie in with the role of a community manager, you may ask!
Very closely, I would say. An enterprise that has adopted a social business platform and is trying to shape a path for a conversation-based reality, content creation and consumption, and communication via the platform will see a proliferation of content that could range from sales decks to discussion threads on the appropriate technology stack to use on a specific project. This is the proverbial organizational hive mind but someone has to enable the enterprise to make sense of this stream, separate the wheat from the chaff, and connect the dots to reveal the key patterns below. Only then can this knowledge flow become a part of the decision-making process and enable users to take the right decision quickly.

What role can an enterprise community manager play?
In this case, the community manager's role would be akin to that of a museum curator. Curators at museums lay out the best pieces in a manner that:
  1. Catch the viewers attention
  2. Tells a narrative that makes sense to the viewer (e.g., one would not hang a Picasso painting next to seals from Mohenjo Daro)
  3. Gives a sense of the bigger scheme of things
  4. Makes it easy for viewers to "jump" to the sections that interest them
  5. Have enough metadata for viewers to understand the context 
Similarly, the enterprise community manager (or anyone who is playing the role) needs to help community members do one or more of the following:
  1. Find what users need on the platform without getting lost in a maze of content
  2. Surface useful and interesting content that the user may not have had prior knowledge of 
  3. Contribute with ease and know where to place the content they are producing 
Deconstructing each point one by one...
Find what users need on the platform without getting lost in the maze
This will entail a blend of manual and automated work. The automated bit will take care of the filtering and aggregation, but the curation work needs to be done by a human being. J.P. Rangaswami, in his blog The Confused of Calcutta, describes it thus:
When a human curates, she does three things. She selects something (or things) from a larger group. She organises those selections cohesively. And she arranges to present those things in such a way that people find it easy to engage with those things.
This in the context of a social business platform like Jive requires--among other things--consistent tagging, proper aggregation, enabling quick search options, providing guided navigations for frequently accessed pieces, and grouping of similar groups and content in an appropriate manner. Some of these can be achieved via the user interface design and the use of pre-built widgets that allow community managers to pull in content defined with specific tags and categories. This can be made as general or as granular depending on the community's need. The platform allows community managers and group administrators to insert widgets within their groups to facilitate aggregation of specific content type for easy consumption. This can be compared to a museum curator displaying the best pieces and ensuring that sufficient light falls on the pieces so that viewers can spot them with ease. However, the making sense bit still needs to be done manually.

Surface useful and interesting content
This entails listening to the community, being aware of the needs and drivers, and keeping a keen watch on the different contributions and conversations taking place on the platform. One needs to develop a nose for useful content just like an experienced editor develops a sense for what could be breaking news. This skill cannot be automated and requires constant engagement with the community to develop. By surfacing hidden gems, community managers enable users to make those serendipitous discoveries that could lead to breakthrough innovations, more engaged participation and a sense of commitment to the community. The greater the benefit users derive from their membership to the community, the higher will be their involvement and engagement.
One of the ways to surface content of interest can be via newsletters. However, there is a risk here. In a bid to target the entire enterprise via one newsletter, one runs the risk of making the newsletter too generic and thus of no use to anyone. Having a specific target audience in mind enables effective curation. A good curator will seek, sense, synthesise and then share in a manner that adds value to a specific user group. Curation is not just a collection of links and resources--it is a synthesis that reveals the pattern behind the links and list of resources.  And by revealing the patterns, a curator can help an organisation make breakthrough finds.
The key here is to remember that each content piece is a social object around which conversations will evolve, further content will be generated and ideas surface.

Contribute with ease
The idea of a social business platform is to facilitate participation and conversation. This implies making it completely friction-less and free-form. However, that is not all. It also implies enabling users to know exactly where on the platform can they "place" their contribution. Any confusion here can dramatically reduce contribution. Simple guidelines and a few do's and don'ts are good to start with. The community manager needs to reach out a helping hand and move the content piece to the right container if need be. This kind of hygiene check goes a long way in keeping the platform user-friendly and the content findable. 
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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Seventh Hat of a Community Manager: UX Design

"Nothing important should ever be more than two clicks away", said Steve Krug in his classic Don't Make Me Think! This is an excellent thumb rule for designers--and as I got into my role of a community manager--I learned the value of this rule for community managers as well. I have recently blogged about The Six Hats of a Community Manager, and here is the seventh one.

Does a community manager need to become an UX expert?
This doesn't of course mean that we become UX designers by virtue of being community managers. That might be stretching it too far. After all, UX designers come with years of experience, expertise in a specific area, and knowledge of their subjects. Nevertheless, a community manager needs to understand the basic tenets of good usability.

An online community hosted using a social platform is as much about usability as it is about collaboration and communication. A confusing interface, a sub-optimal navigation and a search that doesn't yield the expected results--are all surefire ways of losing and alienating potential community members. I will elaborate on this theme in the post.

Just as we are attracted to well-designed localities where it is easy to locate and reach the frequently accessed places like the grocery store, the pharmacy, schools and parks, the bus depot and the railway station, similarly an online community needs to offer the same comforting and pleasant user experience to keep members coming back. Shaping the user experience will also depend on the kinds of users the community targets. Oftentimes, an out-of-the-box implementation of the platform one is going to use to host the community may not work. It needs customisation to meet the requirements of the business and the users.

What does a community manager has to do with this? Isn't that the designers' and the developers' job?
The designers and the developers will help to "design" and customize the platform; the vision and the requirements need to come from the community manager. S/he is the one who knows what the long- term goal of the community is going to be.

A community manager's tasks start long before the community is born. It starts from the time an organisation decides to move towards a more social way of doing business. It starts long before s/he is designated the community manager. Anyone who is going to be responsible for the launch and ultimate use of the platform, i.e., a potential community manager, needs to think about shaping user experience. Launching a platform and expecting users to participate and start contributing is wishful thinking just as assuming users will keep coming back to a platform with poor usability is.

This can mean sitting with the web design team, figuring out what the original platform offers and what are the tweaks required to make it user-friendly for the organisation. It is important to delineate all possible use cases and user types and explore how they are likely to interact with the platform.

It is important also to remeber that all employees of an organization are not going to form one large, massive group. They will segregate and form smaller communities around functional areas, roles, projects, perhaps locations and regional offices, capability areas, and even hobbies and interests. Any user of the platform will most likely be part of at least more than one smaller community. And given that an organization's social platform is going to be their knowledge sharing and collaboration hub, it is important to identify the key actions a user will perform on the platform. S/he will consume content and also contribute; participate and sometimes lurk; sometimes search and, at times, browse. Keeping in mind this gamut of actions a user is likely to take, it is crucial to shape the user experience to be as seamless as possible.

It is useful to pinpoint what are at least the top five actions a user is likey to perform, and here is a suggestive list: 
  1. Find and participate in communities relevant to them
  2. Find specific content at the point of need
  3. Locate experts at the point of need
  4. Participate in different forums
  5. Follow other users 

If the navigation and the design of the platform makes it difficult for them to do any one or more of the tasks mentioned--we are going to "drain their reservoir of goodwill" and they are unlikely to become loyal community members.

Make the first experience memorable
The first page a user typically lands on is the site's Home Page. Make this a pleasant, non-head-scratching experience. Some thumb rules to consider with respect to the Home Page (based on my experience and may differ from community to community) in no particular order:
1. The Home page should clearly tell the users what are the key actions they can take on the platform and make them easy to perform.
2. Whatever is clickable should look clickable.
3. The search box must be prominent, and it is best to avoid putting any search criteria like, "use only lower case". This adds a layer of friction.
4. The navigation bar must absolutely be self explanatory; the users should not have to think what clicking on any of those links/tabs/buttons will do. It is best to use convention even if it seems boring.
5. The fonts and color scheme need to take into consideration users of varying ages.
6. The Home button needs to pop out; it is the North Star for the users.
7. There needs to be a clear sense of hierarchy so that users know what are the key actions to take as opposed to "good to do" stuff.
8. Provide visual cues to help users navigate.
9. Have clear directives for first time users. This can be something as simple as a prominent "First time users" link leading to a video or screen cast on how to navigate around the platform.
10. Allow users to provide feedback easily, perhaps via an easily accessible feedback link from the Home page. This tells users we are open to listening to them and are willing to improve.

It's time to wrap up this post. Community management goes beyond curating content, welcoming users and facilitating discussions. It is also about enabling frictionless access to collaboration for members of your community. Frictionless can be achieved in multiple ways--by making the environment welcoming, by guiding members to the right groups and content, by enabling easy access to the collaboration platform and making the site design intuitive and easily navigable.

I would love to hear your views on this. How important is it for community managers to grasp the basics of usability? 

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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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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Six Tenets of Community Management: Learnings

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. 

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Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...