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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  1. Really excellent post, Sahana! I work as sort of a hybrid internal-external community manager (an unusual role!), but as the learning professional's role evolves there's a huge opportunity for learning folks to focus on curation and you've created a great guide.

  2. Thank you for your encouraging words, Kelly. The deeper I delve, into community management, the more I feel that the role of curation in the context of an enterprise is going to be huge. Enabling users to find what matters at the point of need will be business crucial.

  3. Your references to the conversational aspect of community management reminds me of one of my favorite short essays, Kevin Marks' 2008 blog post on Tummlers, Geishas, Animateurs and Chief Conversation Officers help us listen.


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