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

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Community Managers and the Art of Facilitating Communities Effectively

Gran Canaria - Artenara with Roque Nublo in the HorizonContinuing further on the topic of online communities and community building, and just as my last blog post touched based on how to build an engaging community, today I thought I would go ahead and talk a little bit more about one of the most relevant and important community roles out there, which, in most cases, is a big unknown for most knowledge workers out there, specially seeing how that role seems to have morphed into something completely different than what it was first envisioned for back in the day. Of course, I am talking about the role of the Community Manager, or Community Facilitator, which has been my preferred term from the beginning. Who else out there nowadays doesn’t consider themselves a community manager, right?

The truth is that everyone is, indeed, a community facilitator / manager nowadays, as you saw in a recent blog entry where I referenced Gautam’s comments along these very same lines. So I thought I would develop further on this topic, specially since, earlier on today, I bumped into a couple of rather relevant and interesting links very much connected to this topic that I am sure you would enjoy quite a bit. The first one is coming from my good friend, Gautam Ghosh, once again, who earlier on tweeted a link to a blog post that he put together in September 2010 and which, despite the months gone by already, it’s just as valid today, if not more!, than ever before. Have a look into “5 Skills for Online Community Managers” and find out what some of the community facilitator traits would be like, according to him…

As a teaser, here you have got the listing of the five of them, next to a couple of quick comments from my side, based on my own experience as a community facilitator, and from where I will prompt you to go and check out his blog entry to read the full description of what each trait would mean eventually:

  1. Depth of knowledge in the subject of the community: That’s right! Very very helpful, although I don’t consider it really an essential trait to have (I was once involved with an internal community building program for nearly three years where I was not very much familiar with the subject matter of the communities, but I surely knew the people behind it!). Either way, the more familiar the community facilitator is with the subject matter that drives the community, the better! And if that community facilitator knows the organisation, business, corporate culture, etc. that supports and sponsors that community, or communities, all the better!
  2. Passion about sharing knowledge: There is very little that I can probably add about this one. Have you ever seen a community facilitator that’s not passionate about the subject matter of the community? About the people belonging to the community? I am sure you haven’t, and if you have, that community is probably on its way to go rather dormant or die altogether! Passion drives everything, even community facilitators! Without it you are getting half the value!
  3. Comfort with asking for help: This, to me, is one of the most important traits from every single community facilitator out there, what Harvard Business Review’s Management Tip of the Day calls “Admitting when you don’t know“; basically, admitting, not just to yourself, but to everyone out there!, that you do not know everything, nor are you expected to, and that it’s ok to go out there, even outside of the community and ask for help, whenever you can’t help answer a particular question. HBR’s Management Tips couldn’t have put it better in these few words: “Acknowledge your own limitations so others can do the same. And when you need it, ask for help and be open to learning“.

  4. Comfort with Technologies: Another important trait, for sure, one that I have always called being capable of “walking the talk; indeed, if you, as a community facilitator, would want your community members to get the most out of their community tooling, they are going to need a leading example; someone who can show them, who can educate them, who can explain what are the options and how to make the best choices within that community tooling. And that someone is going to be you, walking the talk
  5. The ability to showcase results and tell the story: This one is probably one the toughest traits to achieve and one that community facilitators tend to master over time with practice and lots of learning from the community. But perhaps the most important aspect from this one is to work effectively with their own communities in showcasing those results and share that anecdotal evidence, versus trying to figure it all out by themselves …

Pretty tough job that one of the community facilitator / manager, don’t you think? Well, thank goodness we have got a whole bunch of different, relevant and rather helpful resources out to there to make the job a bit easier on us all. Let’s go with the second resource then that I think you would find also a pretty good, and entertaining!, read. It was shared yesterday through a tweet by my good friend Cordelia Krooss and while reading through it, I just couldn’t help thinking how scarily accurate it was describing the various characteristics from internal community facilitators coming up with “The 13 hats of an internal community manager“. This fine article was put together by Steve Radick, Lead Associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, and if you are an internal community facilitator, or if you are heavily involved with internal community building programs, it’s one of those reads I would strongly encourage you all, community leaders, to read through and then confirm back in the comments how each and everyone of those 13 hats would eventually describe you and your role pretty accurately. Perhaps even too accurately.

I found out for myself how each and everyone of them are rather descriptive of my day to day workload as an internal community builder and I am certain they would be for you, too! If not, take a look at this teaser, where I have taken the liberty of quoting over here each and everyone of them, but read their full description over at Steve’s piece; it will be worth every word! His sense of humour, permeating throughout the article itself as well, would make you smile, if not laugh altogether big time! Here we go with the list of 13 hats:

  1. Referee
  2. Ombudsman
  3. Party promoter
  4. Comedian
  5. Teacher
  6. Inspirational leader
  7. Help desk
  8. Psychiatrist
  9. Troublemaker
  10. Cheerleader
  11. Project Manager
  12. Writer
  13. Janitor

I am not going to describe all of those traits myself over here, since Steve has done a fabulous job altogether at it, but I can imagine how by going through that list you can sense what each of them would be about and, most importantly, how you can relate to each and everyone of them more in detail. I surely couldn’t single out any of them at this point that I wouldn’t relate to it, confirming, once again, how the job of community facilitators is not as easy as some people think it is by posting something on Facebook, or send the odd tweet, or sending across the odd friending request, or share whatever the internal status update . That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg in constant movement throughout the organisation extending not just internally, but also externally.

My dear friend Claire Flanagan comes to confirm that very same thing with one of the most interesting reads to date on the topic of community building and community facilitators, not only because of her wonderful insights, as usual, but also because of the good amount of rather helpful, essential, if you ask me, resources that she has linked to, including the fantastic reads put together, back in the day, by the one and only, Dion Hinchicliffe, under “The Next Generation Enterprise: An Emerging Focus on Social Business Processes and Relationships” or the fabulous  “Community management: The ‘essential’ capability of successful Enterprise 2.0 efforts” (With the rather well know jack of all trades), along with the Communities Manifesto by Stan Garfield (Which I still consider an essential reading for everyone heavily involved, or rather interested, in community building, in general), amongst several other resources worth while reading, including the Community Roundtable group that I have talked about over here a couple of times already … Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo & Roque Bentayga Seen from Artenara

All of those, along with the indispensable “Online Community Toolkit” that Nancy White has put together over the course of the years will surely become our new bible for all of those community facilitators, whether seasoned or just getting started, who are getting more and more involved with their communities as time goes by. As you can see from this article, and the various resources I have linked to throughout, the role of a community facilitator, manager, leader, whatever term you would want to use, is not an easy job. Back in the day it didn’t have perhaps the right level of attention, nor involvement from the business side. Hopefully, that’s all changing for the better, re-gaining back that respected reputation it once had and as more and more helpful resources emerge on this very same topic we can all make it much easier upon ourselves (Remember, we are all community builders) and realise how the role of community manager is much more of a full time job than whatever we may have realised in the past.

The good thing is that we are not alone. Our various communities fully understand that, and, much more importantly, our businesses, too, which is why both their leadership and sponsorship on nurturing such roles will be a key, huge success factor for the well being, maturity and sustainability of a community. Any community. And that’s about time, too.

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  1. For more concepts and names relating to community facilitation and management, I highly recommend Kevin Marks’ post from a few years ago: Here Comes Everybody – Tummlers, Geishas, Animateurs and Chief Conversation Officers help us listen.

    The idea you shared from HBR to Acknowledge your own limitations so others can do the same really resonates. I’m reminded of Marianne Williamson’s inspiring (and often misattributed) quote:

    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

    I would say a corollary to Williamson’s wisdom is that as we allow light to shine on our vulnerabilities and shadows (e.g., limitations about which we may feel embarrassed), we also unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

    Finally, if this comment hasn’t already gone on too long, and the following isn’t too far afield, I was recently reviewing my notes from Howard Schultz’ first book, “Pour Your Heart Into It”, where he shares some related wisdom regarding the empowering effects of vulnerability and openness:

    “Today, with hindsight, I’m convinced that speaking frankly [during the disappointing holiday season of 1995] was the right course of action. The head of a company can’t, and shouldn’t, always be the cheerleader. He has to be willing to let his people see the weaknesses and the pain, as long as they understand them in the context of the company’s greater accomplishments.
    When the chips are down, it’s wrong to give the rah-rah Knute Rockne speech. People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is, and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.
    A lot of managers find it hard to admit their fears to those who depend on their decisions. But I believe that if you level with your employees in hard times, they will trust you more when you say things are going well.”

    1. Hi Joe! Goodness! What a wonderful comment! Many many thanks for sharing it along! Lots of food for thought in there, for sure! Glad you mentioned Kevin’s blog post, which I think is this one (Not sure why the link did not work, but hope it’s the right one)… Agree with the sentiment on lacking the word in English for what would be considered an online facilitator, although in the larger sense of the concept I still think it pretty much covers it rather nicely. Looking into the concept of facilitating “something” to happen, where that “something” are conversations…

      Glad you mentioned those other references on the “power to let go” and embrace uncertainty, which I think permeates quite nicely with the whole feedback you shared above of embracing our strengths and weaknesses / limitations and let others help out accordingly. I think you are spot on with those annotations and surely glad you added them into this blog post!

      Fantastic! Thanks again for dropping by and for the superb commentary! Greatly appreciated!

    1. Doh! What was I thinking?!?! I guess at the time I put together the blog post my brain was thinking faster than my hands altogether! LOL!!

      Thanks, John! I have now amended the blog post and changed it to the correct name: the one and only, Claire Flanagan

      Thanks for the heads up and for dropping by!

  2. Those community leader skills are solid. And I agree, the last one is often the most difficult. At least, it’s been so in my digital travels. Methinks the trick is beginning with the end in mind. (How original, right?)

    Lately, I’ve been trying to think in terms of the ROI of community. Not the financial returns, because I’m not particularly interested in them to be quite honest, but the returns for the community members. If the community provides value/meaning for members, there will be more members participating in the community, which, as those of us who have spent a lot of time in such communities can attest, results in higher performing individuals.

    I’m thinking that translates into the financial ROI the bean counters are after. The trick is figuring out those meaningful metrics. I mean, there’s so much more to it than number of members/posts/replies/shares/etc..

    Also, I really enjoyed John’s comment. A successful musician once told me, “We are all amazing creatures – especially when we think we are.” Sooth.

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