First, let me apologize for not contributing to this blog for quite some time.
One reason is that -- well -- it all was going pretty well. Another reason is that I got very engaged in other unrelated pursuits.
But -- we're back -- and we now are encountering new kinds of problems as we move outside the firewall.
Just To Bring You Up To Date
This blog is all about establishing social media proficiency at a large technology company (EMC).
Our overall game plan was to establish internal proficiency, and then go marching outside the firewall with strength, skills and passion.
At least for us, this sort of game plan is working well.
About 90 days ago, we set up a dedicated organization (actually expanding the charter of an existing organization) to funnel through all the diverse external community requests we'd be getting.
Our interests in doing so are pretty obvious:
- We wanted shared infrastructure for all the usual cost and control reasons
- We wanted a consistent, user-centric experience across a multitude of different community engagements
- We wanted to help and coach people on exactly how you go about building an external community, because that's not exactly a skill that's easy to find.
The results were pretty well expected:
- dozens and dozens of initiatives came our way, in all shapes, sizes and varieties, forcing a bit of prioritization by perceived business value. This can be hard when you tell some passionate community organizer that -- well -- you're on the standby list, so to speak.
- a complete overwhelming of the resources we had assigned to do the work. Everyone involved is very good and very effective on the central team, but we're talking about a serious mismatch here -- even when we prioritize by business value.
And we've encountered our first painful conceptual problem that's holding us back.
Thinking About Communities
We've had about a dozen conversations along the same lines.
Here's what WE want. Here's how WE'RE going to organize things. Here's how WE'RE going to manage our community.
I think you get the pattern -- people are strongly biasing in terms of thinking about THEIR needs, rather than the COMMUNITY'S needs.
And we're losing all sorts of time trying to re-orient people properly.
It's All About Shared Interests, Isn't It?
So, we're developing a little informal methodology as we go along. Start by talking about why you -- the internal person -- wants to do this community. Great. All the usual things show up -- no surprise.
And then we go a bit further.
We ask: what are the hot, burning topics that you want to talk about? And who's going to lead the conversation? This steers the discussion nicely away from people who think in terms of a Web 1.0 content repository as "community".
So they give us a list of their hot topics that they think they're really interested in. And, in many cases, people who are able to lead the conversation, mostly because they've been doing so on the internal platform.
And then we go for the big one.
What do you think other people are interested in? You know, the ones that aren't employees of the company?
What are *their* hot burning topics?
Some of these are rather sensitive topics that the internal groups don't want to address. Better reconcile yourself with this sooner than later folks, or don't even bother starting.
Sometimes the answer is "hey, we get asked such and such, but we really don't have a good answer, so we probably don't want to focus on this".
You can see the picture, can't you? People are having trouble coming to grips with the harsh reality is that community success is based on doing what the community wants, and much less so than what the organizer wants to talk about.
But, in some cases, they're open to this brave new world with less control (but far more passionate engagement). But they're not quite sure how to start.
So we take a different tack -- any group of people outside the company who'd be willing to work with you on building this community? If the answer is "yes", a clear solution presents itself -- build a community to discussion building the community -- a meta-community?
This Is A Big Problem
Because we're faced with two unattractive choices.
Choice #1 is we let these poorly conceived communities get out into the wild, and let many of them fail. We're just uncomfortable with that on several levels. Sure, a few failures are OK, but designing for failure is just unappealing.
Choice #2 is spend an inordinate amount of time working with people to fully understand the dynamics of the proposition, and fundamentally change their thinking.
We're pursuing the second course, naturally. But it's going to be a longer slog than I originally hoped.
I can only hold out hope that -- before long -- "community thinking" becomes part of tribal knowledge at my company, and we'll have to do a whole lot less of this sort of stuff.