The iceberg of community management
It’s workplanning season again! Among recent discussions I’ve been involved in is defining standard approaches and key performance indicators for communities of practice. I’ve also been looking at “standard” terms of reference for hiring facilitators for online discussions.
It got me thinking how managing a community of practice involves a lot of invisible things, as well as the more visible obvious things that usually turn up in job descriptions and performance measures. Like an iceberg there is more beneath the surface than above it. Etienne Wenger, one of the “fathers” of the idea of communities of practice likes to describe the role of a community facilitator as that of a “social artist” i.e. that the skill of being a good community manager goes beyond those things which can be done mechanically into those things which are a real skill and hard to easily describe and replicate, but which come from experience and from the personality of the person themselves.
So what does a community manager do exactly? A few examples of the visible and not so visible.
- manages the technology platform or space where the interaction takes place
- manages community membership – approves requests to join, removes unsubscribers
- approves (or post-moderates) content
- produces discussion summaries
- produces newsletters on community activity and news
- monitors and reports on activity in the community – i.e. the key performance indicators
- creates and manages formal e-discussions
The partly visible
- welcomes new members
- publicizes the community both through formal communications, but also through informal communication, personal contacts, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise
- provides technical support and encouragement in using the platform
- cross posts and shares material with other communities and pulls from them to enrich the discussion
- reminds members and refers back to previous discussions and content
The mostly invisible
- creates a welcoming environment by setting the tone of the community, and encouraging participation, helps create the community “identity”
- gets to know the community and its members including who is in the community, what they know, what they want and what the group dynamics are and uses this to help manage the discussions
- encourages/cajoles/hassles those with knowledge to get them to contribute what they know and if necessary hand-holds them through the process
- fights “censorship” and control whether from senior management, community members or “experts” while keeping the content appropriate and of high quality
- advocates for the community and its members with senior management including for resources, attention and personal support
- calms down disagreements and turns them into productive difference, or “stirs up” useful debate to surface differences and avoid group-think
- ensures the conversation stays on track, is productive and is relevant and useful to the community members and encourages it to be put into practice and for that experience to be fed back into the community
- manages the community “back-channel” by communicating with members using e-mail, phone, face to face interaction etc.
- scans the horizon and spots and takes advantage of opportunities to advance the work of the community and its members, and keeps abreast of relevant developments within the topic of the community
- advocates with technology providers for technology improvements and bug fixes
- tidies up after people (manages the taxonomy and tags content, removes duplicate postings, fixes broken links)
So when thinking about hiring a community manager, and assessing how well they are doing their job, it’s good to look at the full range of tasks they actually perform, not just the obvious ones. It’s also important to note that some of these (such as writing a discussion summary) can be easily described and tested, but others (such as creating a welcoming environment) are less easy to describe and may be as much to do with the personality and competencies of the person as they are with visibly tangible knowledge. Just as communities of practice serve as a means to encourage the creating and sharing of tacit knowledge (rather than explicit codified knowledge or documents) – the skill of good facilitation has a strong tacit component.