E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Community Management Fundamentals – Where Do I Start?

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MoganIf you have been reading this blog for a while now, you would know how there have been a good number of topics I have been covering over the course of the years and still going strong. All of them coming pretty close to my heart as part of that passion I seem to share for each and everyone of them. Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Learning, Social Computing within the Enterprise, Productivity, Work Life Integration, etc. etc. Well, there is one more out there that I have always felt very passionate about as well, but which, lately, I have been neglecting it inadvertently and haven’t had a chance to blog more about it. So today I am putting a remedy to that and will start sharing the odd blog post from now onwards on what I strongly believe it’s one of the major drivers of social software tools adoption, both inside and outside of the firewall. Yes, of course, I am talking about (online) communities and community building. But where should I start? There is just so much information and resources available out there, right? Well, how about some Community Management Fundamentals?

I have been involved with online communities and online community building, in general, for over a decade, ever since I first bumped into one of my favourite people, Nancy White, and her gold-mine Web site Full Circle Associates, and from there onwards I entered the world of online facilitation, which is one of my preferred terms when talking about managing online communities, having been involved already with Etienne Wenger‘s coined Communities of Practice, et al, as part of my involvement with traditional Knowledge Management programs, for a while already. Back in the day, of course. The interesting thing is that despite the tumultuous disruption of social networking within the corporate world, there is one trend that not only hasn’t gone dormant, on the contrary, is now buzzing more than ever before: Welcome to the wonderful world of community building!

Yes, indeed, online communities are hot! They have been for a couple of years already. In fact, I would claim they have always been hot; it’s just that for a good number of years they didn’t enjoy the attention, nor the support and sponsorship by the business that a good number of them enjoy today, which has been an interesting trend to watch how they have gone from an scenario where they were clearly the underdogs from every business into the major drivers of attention, sponsorship and leadership they enjoy nowadays from most companies out there. Community managers anyone?

The interesting thing though is that we seem to keep coming back and forth in cycles around the topic of online communities. There are times where the demand for wanting to know more about how they operate, how they are built, facilitated, supported, lead, managed, etc. etc. is just so high that one cannot longer neglect them or divert the conversations elsewhere. Time and time again there is a chance that relatively new online facilitators (Again, my preferred term for community managers) keep asking the same questions that seasoned community builders (Another one of my preferred terms for community leaders) bumped into back in the day, say, 10 to 20 years ago. The good thing about it, and as opposed to say, 10 or 15 years ago, is that nowadays there are plenty of resources, guidance, good practices, know-how, experiences, lessons learned around community building that one perhaps finds it too hard to keep up with. But that’s a good thing, in my opinion. Better to have multiple, valid resources than none of them, or a very limited amount of them, don’t you think? That’s one of the great things that better community tooling, as well as social software tools, have managed to change over the course of time.

One of those fundamental resources on online communities, whether internal or external, is that wonderful peer network of Community Managers and Social Media Practitioners known as The Community Roundtable, whom, over the course of the last couple of years, they have been producing a substantial amount of great content, made available out there, for all online community facilitators to enjoy and reuse. If you would remember, a few months back, over at IBM’s CommunityBuilders community, we had the great pleasure and true honour of having with us both Rachel Happe as well as Jim Storer, co-founders of TheCR, present on the topic “The State of Community Management 2010“. So when I first bumped into “Community Management Fundamentals“, over at Slideshare, a few days back, I just couldn’t help but find the time to put together this blog post and share such a wonderful resource, once again.

Community Management Fundamentals” is one of those slide decks that people who are new to the art of managing and facilitating online communities would find tremendously helpful and rather insightful! It covers all of the key aspects involved with community facilitation: first, define what is a community, and, most importantly, what it is not! (When you go through the slides you will know what I mean with this one!); then moving into some basic definitions of what a community is and how it behaves organically, how it differs from other online groupings, followed afterwards by a good bunch of slides on how to build healthy, mature, productive and self-sustainable online communities, covering responsibilities, common tasks, traits (i.e. skills and attributes) of what would make a good community facilitator, etc. etc.

An interesting section of the presentation is that one of tackling the various risks of not having community facilitation / management in place, which is quite an interesting set of observations, because in most cases I have always believed that online communities have been there all along, whether more or less visible, whether more or less dormant / active, whether more or less engaged, there is always this tendency from us, social human beings, to gather around and share our knowledge and experiences in groups on a particular topic or common interest. Perhaps what has been missing all along is that business sponsorship and leadership towards those online communities, which is something that has definitely been changing quite drastically over the last couple of years.

However, the rather interesting and very enlightening part of both Megan Smith‘s and Rachel Happe‘s presentation is that section dedicated entirely towards sharing a whole bunch of superb tips on how to build a thriving community, which is really fascinating, because whether you are new to the whole concept of community building or whether you are one of those seasoned online community facilitators, you will always find something new in there that would help you in your day to day job! Just brilliant!

Just as much as concluding the slides by sharing along the Community Maturity Model they have been talking about for a little while now. Worth while a look, if you haven’t seen it just yet. If you are looking for new ideas, I bet that single slide will keep you busy for some time!

Thus, without much further ado, I thought I would leave things as is for today, already piling up a whole bunch of ideas I will be blogging about over the course of time on community building, mainly on experiences I have developed over the course of the years, but, mostly, as well, based on other interesting relevant topics I keep bumping on online facilitation. For now, here is the embedded code of this wonderful resource put together by Rachel and Megan, so you can start playing it right away:


(Oh, by the way, in case you may be wondering … one other rather inspiring and amazing resource available out there for online community facilitators / managers / leaders / community builders is the Twitter hash tag #cmgr, where a whole bunch of folks keep sharing on a daily basis plenty of golden nuggets to keep you busy for a while, including, numerous job offers and vacancies, just in case you are on the move … Highly recommended, to say the least!)

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  1. Luis – what a pleasant surprise this morning to see someone like you promote our work! It is immensely gratifying because we respect your perspective so much (and we love Nancy White too – she is an amazing resource in this space). One of our goals is to provide value to both our customers AND the wider network of people interested in online communities. It always means a lot to get recognition for our work. Thank you!

    1. Hi Rachel! Thanks a bunch for dropping by and for the kind feedback comments! It’s my pleasure to promote the really good work you guys are doing at the Community Roundtable; it’s folks like you, Nancy, Etienne, John Smith, and a rather long etc. of folks who make it really worth while engaging in online communities and get the best out of community members!

      I really look forward to learning plenty more from the stuff you guys are doing and surely look forward to that “State of Community Management 2011”, where I am sure we will have a bunch of surprises and ah-ha! moments! Keep up the great work! 🙂

  2. These are truly exciting times, Luis. It would seem there are similarities in our relative journeys over the last number of years.

    I began lurking in online communities back in 1998, and was actively participating in discussions/events by 2001. By 2004/5, I had started my own community, while moderating, administrating, and leading others. This activity often resulted in disciplinary action “up to and including termination.”

    Today, I’ve given away that first community I built, stepped down or retired from leadership roles in others in order to focus on building a new kind of community; an evolution if you will.

    Where my community pursuits once resulted in repercussions “up to and including termination,” today, they place me squarely on a knowledge management team for a 50,000+ employee organization, developing community and promoting meaning behind the firewall.

    I am looking forward to following along with this series of articles. The planet is digitally shrinking. We who believe in the power of multi-cultural, online communities to educate, activate, and empower individuals toward greater good are FINALLY in a position to get some of these ideas past the bean counters.


    1. Hi Brian! Finally, having a chance to respond to this thread! hehe Thanks a bunch for the feedback comments and for the information details. Yes, indeed, it looks like we are both coming along from a common background; funny how social networks work around getting people together with similar affinities without them not even knowing it! Truly amazing! Surely looking forward to sharing further insights on what I have learned on online facilitation and online communities over the course of the years. Think it’s going to be an exciting time, specially, now that communities are hotter than ever, right?

      Funny to see how online communities seem to be coming back in circles of attention time and time again; just like they were by the late 90s! And look now! Back again! Looking forward to it, once again! 🙂

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