Website Goals and Community Management

It seems that everyone is implementing a Enterprise 2.0/Social Business/Social Media tool inside the enterprise these days. Generally these tools are being implemented to enable better collaboration across the organization or, to be cynical, to be hip to the latest IT trend because of Gen-Y’s entrance into the work force. In the time honored tradition of the “If you build it they will come” IT attitude, IT departments are implementing tools without considering how users will interact with them. Probably for more than any other technology, collaboration tools should focus on the established goals for use. You cannot simply deploy a tool and expect people to start using it; you must work to facilitate collaboration.

What got me thinking about this topic of facilitating collaboration was a conference call I had with a client in the field of education. Though we worked with them to build a site based on social collaboration, it was evident that they did not understand that they needed to facilitate collaboration. First, they truly believed that the flow of information was a top down approach, where information was one-directional, flowing from faculty to students. They also believed that tracking the most active users was useless because, based on their belief, the faculty would always be the most active. This top down approach does not help to foster collaboration because true collaboration happens when people cross organizational boundaries to connect with people who bring different perspectives to a problem. Underneath this desire to push information down was the client’s sense that they owned and controlled information and their fear of losing that control.

In an attempt to turn the client’s focus from pushing data down to users to empowering users to collaborate within and across their organization, we went back to the goals that were set when creating the new collaboration platform. Two goals that we focused on during the meeting were: 1) keeping past students engaged at the organization, and 2) finding experts across organizational boundaries. Both of these goals required an environment where students and alumni were generators of content and not just faculty and staff.

As we re-focused on these two goals, the conversation moved from pushing information to students and alumni to finding ways for faculty and staff to work with students and alumni to publish content. It was clear that the alumni would need to feel a connection to the website to keep coming back. Part of the connection students would have to the site would be the ability to post comments and content on the site. The client felt that as students and alumni became more engaged there would be a snowball effect with their activity influencing others and generating new ideas and connections between people. They also saw that these student and alumni posts would play an integral part in finding experts. Profiles of users on the site might state that they were experts on particular topics, but other users would need to see proof of the expertise before trusting the information posted. Seeing these expert user posts and comments on the site would help to facilitate this trust. This would then create new personal connections between the students of the different associated schools, which also happened to be a goal of the system. By the end of the meeting, the client realized that they needed to work to promote student-led content. The client walked away from the meeting thinking about:

  1. how to identify thought leaders before graduation and encourage their participation in the community.
  2. how to use metrics, such as most active users, to find the thought leaders in the community.
  3. how to train and motivate faculty to promote online participation.

With a new understanding of how collaboration should work in their community, the client was now ready build a plan of action. And though community management is going to be different for every organization, a clear focus on the goals set when implementing a collaboration tool helps to reorient stakeholders away from themselves and on to the end users of the system.