Sometimes you need a community manager. Sometimes a manager is enough…

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Among the the fundamental and trendy issues about enterprise 2.0, it’s impossible not to mention this one : what does making a community work and live takes ? According to many enterprises, that’s what make their “enterprise 2.0” projects succeed or fail. As short and simple it is, this question brings two strategic issues about which going astray is easy for people who always choose the easiest way or are abused by those who tell them they only have to jump on the bandwagon while things have to be meticulously prepared prior to anything.

First, we’re talking about making a community live, animating, emceeing it. Whatever the verb we us it, the purpose is clear : bringing life and energy to something that don’t have it. And when one try to answer objectively “why is there no life in the community”, in 90% case the answer is : people are not interested, they have no interest, it does not make any sense for sense. So the purpose of emceeing is make people understand that the community matters and to “put some oxygen into the bowl”, hoping one or two fished will start dancing. If not, the only solution is to change members and bring people for whom it really makes sense. This is difficult for many reasons : companies want to mobilize people they identified rather than those who would really like to be involved, so building a community that is not built upon the org-chart or (worse) that is made of exernal people is conceptually impossible.

Second, we’re taling about communities. Communities are places where practices, knowledge, informaiton are exchanged and has not to be confused with workgroups which are operational entities. A human entity can be both at the same time, but most of times, inside organizations, it’s one or the other. Groups know that they have to do, to deliver, and that’s why they exist. Groups exist because they have operational purposes. Communities exchange to learn, groups exchange to execute (even if there a learning dimension in the background routine). The group is a manager’s reponsability, the manager being responsible for objective’s achievement. Communties can be handled by external people who is an expert, a skilled communicator while groups only react to hierarchical hierarchy (even if expertise matters in the background).

Do you guess where I’m driving at ?

In concrete terms, we have to dinstinguish management (help to achieve, to deliver something, have a global vision, favor interactions between members, facilitate exchanges to carry on and find solutions) from animation (try to make people react). We also have top distinguish communities (discuss about something that’s not in people’s job description : “innovate together”, “think about what sustainable development means for us”) and groups (manage projects, “implement such idea”, “buid our sustainable development policy”…). The work of a community may also be used to provide a group with objectives, projects (by the way,if it doesn’t it’s useless).

Of course, nobody thinks about animate a “real” community as a project team, a department, a service. On the other and the opposite is often true.

That’s when one try to animate a team the same we he would do with people who don’t know each other, to mobilize them on a subject that’s not theirs that everything gets complicated and that we hear the usual “it’s pointless”, “it does not work”..

That’s sensible : a community, regardless of its animator’s skills, needs its member’s will to live. The animator stimulates, brings life, but if nobody wants to follow him and if it’s impossible to change its composition, nothing will happen. Groups are built upon the professional obligation to achieve something, whether employees like it or not. So it’s easy to understand that if communities need animation, groups need management.

Did you ever think of asking a trainee (or a full time emplyee) to keybord random names and numbers in a CRM or an ERP, to ask your staff to use these datas when they want, and try to see what’s the result ? Of course you didn’t because it’s obvious that you won’t achieve any business goal this way. Doing so is obviously a waste of time. It means putting informations into a system regardless of what the purpose of the system is. But we can see such things in social media impementations, maybe because the link between social interactions and the productive nature of businesses is not quite understood by many people.

The cause of the problem is known : the final goal which is the origin of the project has been forgotten and the tool has become its own purpose. So the tool has to be “fed” regardless of the value that can be generated through its content, regardless of the outcome. It’s easy to guess it leads nowhere. Or to hangovers that will make organizations throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Project teams, operational teams don’t need oxygen in the bowl, neither a comic nor a camp counselor. They only need their manager to do their manager’s job. Community managers are important too, but in another context, for other needs. Confusing both leads to nowhere.

Putting community management everywhere in order to prevent from thinking  about management is the best way not to improve anything, it can even makes things worse.

Notice : in the chart I made for this post, the difference beteween “team groups” that are in the first columns and communities that are in the third one is obvious. Each ones has its purpose, its engagement rules, its success factors.