Sep 14, 2010

5 Skills for Online Community Managers

This image is an example of a blocking cluster...Image via Wikipedia
Online communities about which I have blogged often - are virtual places where people who share similar interests congregate and share information and connect with each other. They are distinct from "social networks" which are the relationships that you have with people you know or you get to know.

To think about it - online communities are like "Pages" on facebook (like this blog's page on Facebook, or the HR Professional's community) while a social network is what you see when you log into your Facebook account.

I first came across online communities long back. In 1999, I joined Satyam Computer Services and was soon part of the Knowledge Management team. One of the terms in vogue in KM circles around the world those days was "Communities of Practice", and we had created some communities using rudimentary bulletin board technology. These were organised around specific technologies which were the subject matter around which people would post queries and reply to others' questions.

Over the years I came across many other examples of such communities - both within organizations - like Hewlett Packard - and externally like Howard Rheingold's Brainstorms community or plain email listservs.

I have created some communities and have been sometimes an active and sometimes a passive  member of various communities.

Based on my understanding - here's what competencies the person managing the community needs to have:

  1. Depth of knowledge in the subject of the community - This is what I'd put in the top of the list. Knowledge of the subject would make him/her credible and that would be the main asset to seed and grow the community.
  2. Passion about sharing knowledge - A community may have lots of different objectives - but the primary behaviour that makes it successful is a small group of people incredibly passionate about sharing their knowledge with others. In the core of this group and probably the initiator and instigator in chief has to be the community manager.
  3. Comfort with asking for help - As a community grows the conversations will get more and more complex and sometimes even the dedicated group may be at a loss. This is when the community manager (or someone else too) needs to go out of the community - find an expert, and bring them into the community to join the conversation. 
  4. Comfort with technologies - Let's face it, online and virtual communities reside in cyberspace (whether within the company or externally) and knowledge of the tools and latest development in that space would be expected by the person who manages the community. If the community runs on a self-developed platform then relationship with the tech group that developed it is critical. If it runs on an white label platform like Jive or Lithium - then connections with the vendors' troubleshooters is important. The last thing you'd want is the community to be offline
  5. The ability to showcase results and tell the story - For hard headed business folks online communities can seem to be very fluffy and a drain on resources, so an ability to showcase examples and results is important. It ensures the "mainstream" organization seeing real business value.
So those are the 5 skills that I think a community manager should have.

What do you think? Would you like to add any more?
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