Resist the temptation to just point fingers at your software vendor. The hard work of community management falls on your organization.
I've come across several blogs blaming social software vendors for the failure of their organizations' communities, but it's too easy to blame vendors.
Analysts like Gartner, Forrester, and IDC track this market well and publish reports on vendor strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of what these analysts report, however, they can't possibly know every company's strategy or what problems they're trying to solve with social software tools. The tough work of selecting the right tool for the right organizational goals lies with the organization alone. Don't blame the vendor if you didn't do your homework.
Here are a few things I know for sure:
First, it's critical to define your business case, your business goals, and what problems you need to solve and map those directly to your organization's strategy, culture, and politics. There's no cookie cutter approach or shortcut. It's hard work, yes, but it must be done first.
Second, every subsequent step--whether it's deciding on your software evaluation criteria, gathering data from analysts and experts, evaluating tools, or planning deployment and adoption strategies--must all support the first point.
Third, since you're asking employees or customers to change the way they work (collaborate, co-innovate, interact, share) and the transparency with which they do that work, you must pay careful attention to culture, change management, and community management.
Social software vendors may provide you with advice or strategy toolkits, but the responsibility for success lies solely at the feet of the customer organization to both invest in and execute upon a well thought out social business strategy. And the investment organizations must make isn't a one-time effort; it requires community planning, moderation, monitoring, adjustment, and further investment.
As I suggest above, you can select the best, simplest tool in the marketplace, but if you skip strategic planning and community management, your community will fail.
If you missed Rachel Happe's premier BrainYard column, check out "Social Software Is Not Enough." Rachel's column makes the compelling case for why companies must staff the role of a community manager as the overseer of the community strategy and engagement.
And if you missed the Second Annual Community Manager Appreciation Day on Jan. 24, you missed a wealth of community management resources. Not to worry, Jeremiah Owyang posted a wrap-up rich with links and resources.
During this year's CMAD event, I came across a fantastic infographic by Get Satisfaction called "Inside the Mind of a Community Manager." The graphic highlights 10 key functions of a community manager: pinata, sponge, gardener, cheerleader, traffic cop, concierge, sculptor, spam warrior, empath, and mediavore. While that's a great model to consider, I'll use the rest of this column to provide my own perspective on the key functions of the community manager.
People who join a community may feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the fact that members already know one another. My colleague and fellow BrainYard columnist Jamie Pappas likens a community manager to a party host, someone who not only welcomes new members but also connects them to like-minded members. Why is this important? When new members feel welcomed and can quickly acclimate to the tone, norms, and community dynamics, they will be more likely to return and will engage more often.
Any good gardener must seed, feed, and weed. Great community managers must also have a "green thumb." They must seed the community with compelling content and conversation starters. They must apply the right fertilizer to grow conversations, nurture interactions, and build relationships. And they must also know when to weed extraneous noise from the community or prune content so that it stays fresh and relevant.
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