So, as we progress along, we still aren't forming "vibrant communities" around business-oriented topics as well as I'd like.
That's for a variety of reasons, but one big one stands out -- it's hard work.
And bridging this gap is turning out to be important.
A Lot Can Get Done On Social Software -- Even Without Communities
Even if we used our social productivity software for simply ad-hoc discussions, debates, information-sharing, etc. -- and didn't have well-formed communities -- it'd still be a good thing, and worth every penny.
But one of our original premises was that communities -- groups of active participants contributing to a greater goal -- was at the heart of achieving substantial business value around this 2.0 stuff.
More and more, we've got topics that span our stovepipes (er, cylinders of excellence), and we need to get more and more people involved.
Getting them involved doesn't just mean reading some stuff we've pushed to you, it means being a part of the conversation, helping out, etc.
Our Experience So Far
Some communities naturally formed. For whatever reasons, we had the right ingredients at hand: a passionate topic, someone who was willing to lead and put in the effort, and willing contributors and participants.
Others stalled. Maybe it wasn't the right (passionate) topic. Or the person who volunteered to lead didn't put in enough effort, or know what to do. Or, perhaps, no one really cared outside of a small group.
Since this is all a learning experience, we're watching, and trying to figure out as much as we can.
We've learned that the persona of the community manager is essential. This person has to be (a) passionate and somewhat knowledgeable of the topic at hand, (b) put in consistent effort for a sustained period of time, and (c) have the type of personality and style that makes other people want to engage, and not push them away.
I, for example, am a lousy community builder. No matter how hard I try, I don't have the sort of personality that gets average folks wanting to participate and engage, even though I meet the first two criteria pretty well.
Gently put, I'm a bit intense for most peoples' tastes ...
Taking an informal survey around EMC, we've got a lot of great people, but not a lot of people who meet all three criteria. And that's gonna be a problem -- especially the "engaging" part.
A related challenge is the delayed or uncertain gratification. We're asking prospective community builders to (a) learn a new set of tools, (b) slave away for hours over many weeks at populating content, (c) use their social capital to invite their friends and colleagues to participate -- and maybe getting nothing in return.
That's a hard ask of people, no?
And Then There's The Win-Win Challenge
Many potential topics and communities are what I'd call asymmetrical -- there's an imbalance in the producer/consumer relationship.
Put differently, for lots of different topics, people are comfortable just leeching off of whatever's out there, and don't really feel the need to contribute, discuss, share, etc. As a result, the "community" tends to be a 1.0-ish content site, with not much collaboration or discussion going on.
But when you do get the win-win scenario going, the results can be astounding.
Here at EMC, we're a bit obsessed with competition. And, if you think about it, good competitive information is like assembling pieces of a puzzle. Sure, you can get a lot from a centralized resource, but as everyone learns a piece of new information about what this competitor or that competitor is doing, saying, etc. -- assembling the pieces creates far more value.
As a result, this community (actually, a cluster of communities) has a situation where people are contributing freely what they know, what they've heard, what they think, etc. to the broader community -- because I think they see the rewards of doing so.
No need to get people to contribute to this one ... now, how do we expand this idea to other areas?
An Alternative View
Maybe we're trying to encourage something that doesn't want to be encouraged.
Maybe the reality of the situation is that people will self-organize into communities when they want to, and not before.
I hope not. My desire is that -- over time -- we can become more proficient at targeting high-value potential communities, and causing them to form with more precision and regularity.
I'm beginning to think that the solution lies more along HR lines than anything else -- how do you teach people to lead teams and groups that span their day-to-day charter?
And -- come to think of it -- we don't do so well at that either ;-)