Minimum viable community

I was invited by James Cattell the other day to accompany him to a meeting to talk about what the best community software platforms are.

I think we rather disappointed the people we talked to, in that neither of us could recommend a particular system.

Instead we both advocated, in effect, a minimum viable community. Start with the simplest, lowest common denominator technology available. Something you know that everyone has access to, and they are used to using.

When people start bumping against the limitations of the technology, they might start suggesting new ways of doing things. This is the time to start thinking about what else could be done – when there is a user demand within your community.

The point is that picking a technology winner too early will put off some of your users – whether because they don’t like what you’ve chosen, or they aren’t comfortable with it, or because it doesn’t work for them.

Concentrate on getting members for your community and get them engaged, and when they start to want to do new things, let them guide you.

If you’re interested in building and managing online communities, you might like to sign up for my free upcoming webinar on the subject!

Tips for running a LinkedIn group

linkedin-logoI’ve just started a LinkedIn group on the topic of digital skills in the workplace. You are very welcome to join.

I have to admit – I’ve not done much with LinkedIn groups before, and while much of it is pretty intuitive to anyone who has used similar features on other networks, I’ve had to learn a fair bit too.

Here’s some handy hints that might save you some bother if you have a go at setting up your own LinkedIn group in the future.

Sharing files

You can’t post documents – so you need to upload to Dropbox, Box or SkyDrive and link to them.

Likewise, if you want to collaborate on a document, you’ll need to use Google Doc or something similar.

You can only send one announcement email a week

So make it a good one – perhaps summarising the last 7 days activity and getting people excited about what’s to come. This is also a good way of bringing discussions to people’s attention that might otherwise have got lost in the flow of the group.

Be careful who you let in

There are armies of people who seem to attempt to join every single LinkedIn grow going for no apparent reason. My advice is to make your group invite only, and if you don’t recognise someone who applies to join, have a quick look at their profile.

If it isn’t immediately obvious why they would have an interest in your group, you can either just ignore them, or if you are feeling nice, ping them a message asking why they want to join your group.

Build a sense of exclusivity

Linked to the above, because there are a lot of groups on LinkedIn, you need to make yours stand out a bit. I did this by making my group a closed one, that you can only access if you are a member.

Practice in private

Have a private group that only you know about so that you can practice how the features work with minimal embarrassment. Not everything in LinkedIn works the way you’d expect it to, so having a sandbox you can play around in is a good idea!

Curate the stream

LinkedIn groups are effectively streams of content. It does some work for you in listing stuff on the main page in order of relevance and interest. However, bits will get lost unless you do some curation.

As mentioned above, one way of doing this is to use the weekly email announcement feature. However, I think it is probably worth having somewhere separate where the really good stuff can be listed on a web page somewhere – particularly for new members who need to catch up.

Edit the email templates

A key thing to do to make the community welcoming and a bit more personal is to edit the messages that get sent out to prospective members when they first apply to join.

A few of the groups I am a member of don’t do this, and it does make you feel like the group isn’t particularly actively managed or facilitated, so it can be off putting.

Remember – this is about community management

So even though the medium we are using is LinkedIn, everything else still applies – welcome new members, reply to people’s posts, seed conversations, promote the group in other channels, and so on. Go read Feverbee, and do what it tells you.

Have you any further tips for running a successful LinkedIn group?

Great resources for online community building

At the weekend I got my copy of Rich Millington‘s new book, Buzzing Communities, through the post. It’s excellent and provides everything you need to know about building successful online communities.

Thinking seriously about community building is something that I think digital engagement efforts in government and beyond are lacking a lot of the time. In many ways, I think it is the secret sauce that will take online engagement to the next level.

One of the key parts of this is a platform-agnostic mindset. Whether your efforts at building a community work or not is unlikely going to be down to your decisions on technology (unless your decisions are really bad of course). Instead, community management is a set of skills with which you start a small community and build it up by encouraging activity, fostering conversations and meeting the needs of members.

No matter whether your chosen medium is a forum, a blog, a Facebook page or even just a Twitter feed, you can use community management techniques to foster engagement and encourage people to stay involved.

So, I thoroughly recommend Rich’s book. While you’re at it, here are some free bits he has made available too:

The Community Roundtable

I hadn’t come across this before, but the Community Roundtable looks like quite a useful resource. It describes itself as

a virtual table where social media and community practitioners gather to meet, discuss challenges, celebrate successes, and hear from experts.

…which sounds rather fun.

Two things on the site caught my eye this afternoon. First is the community maturity model, an attempt to craft some standards around the role of community management. I tend to eschew things like this as unnecessarily complicating something that ought to be really simple – but there’s always value in sharing ideas, as long as it isn’t in a prescriptive way.

Here’s the model, anyhow (click for a bigger one):

The second thing is ‘The State of Community Management‘ report, which is full of good practice and whatnot. Well worth a download (warning: you have to give up some personal info to get the report).

Community management is a skill required within any team using social tools, whether within an organisation or as part of some external engagement activity. It might not necessarily be a job in itself, but the simple art of making people comfortable and welcome, and encouraging activity and participation is one that is vital for success.

Any time I post about community management, I have to urge people to subscribe to Rich Millington’s blog. Also, read Jono’s book (disclosure – that’s an Amazon affiliate link, and I might make a few pence if you buy anything having clicked it).

The importance of community management

One of the great arguments in favour of employing social web tools is the fact that they are pretty quick, and usually cheap, to put together. However, that’s not taking into account the other costs, one of which is managing the community created by such sites.

This entails a number of things: welcoming new people, seeding some discussions, encouraging people to get involved. At the bare minimum it should consist of moderating content, getting rid of the rude, the crude and the jibberish. You simply have to allow for time to do this. Otherwise you end up with problems like those that Jamie Oliver, everyone’s favourite fat-tongued foodie, seems to be having.

Does this sort of thing actually present anyone in a good light?!