The Second Leg Of The Social Business Stool - InformationWeek
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Rachel Happe
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The Second Leg Of The Social Business Stool

Few people may actually hold the title "community manager," but more people need to understand the discipline.

In my last column, I introduced the three main elements of a social business strategy -- process, management, and technology -- and focused on what it means to socialize a business process. The second leg is adapting management techniques to this new information environment.

Social-business processes require access to online communities in order to solicit ideas, get feedback, identify risks, and share results. Those communities' operating dynamics are very different from what most organizations are used to because

-- participation is voluntary and can be encouraged but not forced, particularly in the case of customer and marketing communities;

-- leadership and power structures emerge rather than get assigned; and

-- influence is created by sharing information rather than hoarding it.

Enter community management, the discipline of ensuring productive online communities. Good managers already have the basic skills required for community management -- they understand human behavior and business -- but they need to adapt to an environment where assignments and demands aren't particularly effective and are often counterproductive. Rigid management approaches must be replaced with a fluid approach that centers on encouragement, orchestration of social pressure, and promotion or exposure.

Open source communities are a great place to watch these principles in action. There, leaders don't dole out assignments; programmers work on problems they find to be the most interesting. Once projects are finished, code is peer reviewed, tested, and improved. The leader's job in this environment is to check in "approved" patches so that there's no confusion over what is ready for use and what is in progress. This workflow can apply to any project work.

Community management takes more time than traditional management, but the payoff, when it's done successfully, is higher productivity because people are pursuing the work they're most interested in, selecting how they participate, and opportunistically solving problems. It's the transition from a parental perspective of management to a partnership model. In this environment, the leader's job is to maintain the boundaries around what is productive for the organization, monitor the gaps, encourage individuals to fill gaps, and facilitate the integration.

Key elements of community management include leading through persuasion and influence; recognizing opportunities to nurture potential; understanding the behaviors that lead to outcomes; knowing the levers that change behaviors; negotiating and resolving conflicts; and understanding how social dynamics change based on the size of the community.

The best community leaders tend to be senior managers, directors, and VPs with a firm grasp of their organizations' culture, priorities, and limitations. They understand the internal relationships to make change happen, and they're fluent in social tools and methodologies.

As social-business initiatives grow, these leaders head up teams of community managers -- some focused on relationships (for example, engagement managers, client success managers), some on content or programming (product documentation specialists, IT knowledge management experts, marketing program managers, newsletter managers), some on analytics and measurement (business analysts, social media analysts, IT analysts), some on technology (IT managers, collaboration specialists), and others on strategy or innovation (social-business strategists, directors of innovation, VPs).

Few people may actually hold the title "community manager," but more people need to understand the discipline.

Rachel Happe (@rhappe) is a co-founder and principal at the Community Roundtable, a peer network for social media, community, and social business leaders. You can reach her at or 617-271-4574.

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