Posts Tagged ‘Community Management’

I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.

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Brenda Rick Smith

Brenda Rick Smith

Note from Jeff: One of the smartest things a manager can do is hire great people and then get out of their way. With that in mind, I am thrilled to have Brenda Rick Smith as a new colleague on my team at Humana to serve with me as a community manager for our enterprise social network, Buzz. To say that I am thrilled to have her is an understatement. Her expertise, work ethic, communication skills, insights and humor make her a great addition to an already fantastic team. It is, therefore, with joy and gratitude that I am pleased to share this space for a guest post from her on what she learned in her first month with us at Humana. You’ll want to follow Brenda on Twitter at @brendaricksmith.

Here’s Brenda…

On March 2, 2015, I started my dream job. I became a community manager for Buzz, the social network for Humana employees, under the leadership of Jeff Ross.

Here are three things I’ve learned in my first few weeks on the job:

People crave community. There’s no getting around it – humans are social creatures. We are built to seek the comfort, wisdom, joy, drama and myriad other things that come from interacting with our fellow human beings.

Buzz has hundreds of groups covering just about every conceivable topic and interest. People pop in to ask questions (Should I upgrade to the new chat/conference software? How do I set up an email persona?), solve problems (Why is my pedometer not recording my steps properly?), get advice (What kind of wearable fitness tracker should I buy?), share victories (Here’s a before and after picture of me. I lost 100 lbs!) and seek support (Do we have a support group for coping with sickle cell anemia?)

I love watching people connect with each other. Buzzers freely offer advice and help. They are quick to praise and celebrate. For each message and comment, a need is met. For some, it’s the need to be heard and validated, and for others, it’s the need to be helpful. For everyone, these connections are a reminder that we aren’t left all on our own, but we can depend on each other.

Never underestimate the power of good documentation. When I arrived, Jeff presented to me a document that detailed daily, weekly and occasional tasks. With that document in hand, I could quickly master the basics of my job. When I had a question, I could refer back to the document and get it answered.

That simple document empowered me. I didn’t have to be dependent of Jeff for every single bit of information. It reduced the number of awkward “Wait…tell me how I’m supposed to do this again?” conversations we had to have. It set me up to have early successes, too. I felt good about myself and my new role when I was able to come in on day two and actually perform some meaningful work, thanks to the documentation.

Because I didn’t have to struggle with learning all these new basic processes, I’ve been able to get my feet on the ground and tackle other bigger projects pretty quickly. My mental resources haven’t been drained by these basic tasks.

The lesson here for leaders is simple: as much as possible, document what it is that you do. Jeff launched Buzz, and has grown and managed it solo for five years. I’m sure it’s been tempting for him to put off documenting his regular tasks because it takes so much time – a resource that’s been in short supply for him. But by taking the time to document what he was doing, he made it possible to share his load. That’s an investment that will pay off for Jeff, for me, and for Buzz in the long run.

Community takes courage. My first few days on the job, I was surprised at just how much I saw people sharing. Why would people share so much – personally and professionally – on an enterprise social network? I quickly came to the conclusion that people share so much because they trust their colleagues, and they trust this organization. They feel safe.

It also takes courage and maturity for an organization to truly embrace community. Associates might say things that are uncomfortable to hear. They might voice truths unartfully. They might even voice untruths.

But the reality is those things are going to get said anyway, whether it is in an online community, in an email, or in a water cooler conversation. Isn’t it better to have those conversations in the open, where others can benefit from the discussion?

It speaks volumes to me that Humana is willing to provide this type of platform for engagement, and that so many Humana associates embrace it.

I’m delighted to be part of this team and this organization. And most of all, I’m thrilled to play a small part in shaping a 42,000-member community.

ShiftInDirectionIt is with pleasure and a healthy amount of reservation that I announce a change in my career focus at work. For the past several years I have been primarily focused on growing and managing our company’s enterprise social network (ESN). This has been a tremendous joy for me and one that I will continue to lead for a while to come. To have the opportunity to play a part in changing the way a Fortune 100 company communicates internally has been a wonderful challenge. We’ve made a lot of progress, but still have a long way to go. Big ships don’t turn around quickly.

Along the way, we’ve seen a growing interest in the potential of online communities outside the company. Several lines of business within the organization recognize the potential of online communities for their constituencies. This value is not just from the standpoint of how the business might benefit, but because of the value of community and relationships in helping achieve the community members’ own goals related to health, well-being and other aspects of life.

It is because of this growing trend toward online communities and the need for effective community management of such communities that I am happy to see my role recently expand to include consulting with lines of business and managing our current and growing team of community managers. In a nutshell, my focus now shifts from internal social networking to building online communities of all types, providing the most effective community management and business results possible.

Community management has long been a tremendous passion, of course, in my role as community manager of our ESN. This shift will allow me to dive deeper into the profession not just for myself but for those people I supervise and others with whom I consult. It is a welcome enhancement to my role.

One of the things I appreciate about my company is the opportunity to reinvent oneself from time to time. Being an employee isn’t just about doing what makes the employee happy, though. It is about matching the right person to a role in such a way that the person is effective and fulfilled while also providing the greatest possible benefit to the company. I might have been quite content continuing in my ESN focus for a long while to come, but I think I can do more for my company in coming years in this new capacity. It’s not about me in a company of 50,000+ employees; it’s about what is best for the business and the customers we serve.

Coming weeks and months will reveal more about what this change means, including ownership and leadership of the weekly Twitter #ESNchat I founded a year ago. I will soon hand that off to an excellent professional organization equipped to take to it to new level of effectiveness. You’ll hear more in coming weeks about that.

One final note… I don’t believe much in coincidences. Some of you are aware that I occasionally spend a week of quiet solitude and reflection at a monastery in Kentucky. My last such week was in early July. I came away from that week feeling like I was ready for a change, although I didn’t really know what that change might look like. So I do not consider it a coincidence that the very first day back to work after that retreat was the day my manager approached me about this possible role change. After a few days of pondering it, I was ready to make it happen. That is, in fact, the second time in five years that a desire for a role change has taken flight the very day I returned to work following my “Monk Week” retreat of Bible study, prayer, listening and reflection. That is not a coincidence.

I am grateful for new opportunities, for an employer who allows and encourages them, for a superb manager whom I greatly respect, and for good people to work with who make each day a pleasure.

Onward and upward…

12TipsForSuccessfulESNI recently had the opportunity to present a session at the J. Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Philadelphia. The session was about building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) – an internal social network used by employees within a business. This has been my profession and passion for the past 4+ years, so I was pleased to talk about it and hear from others’ experiences as well.

The time for that presentation was limited to about 35 minutes of me talking plus time for discussion. I had more I would like to have said given the time to do so, therefore I am writing a blog series on the topic where I’ll have the chance to say more about each of the tips.

One of the nice things about preparing presentations for others is that it forces the presenter to gather thoughts that might not previously have been organized. Such was the case for me in this topic. I wanted those present in the session to have as many specific takeaways as possible, so I pondered my four years as the community manager of our company’s ESN and came up with my top 12 pieces of advice for others to help them have a successful ESN. The tips apply to those just thinking about having an ESN at work as well as companies who may already be several years into the effort. I’ll take them one at a time here. The tips come from having done some things well and from learning some things the hard way. I’m happy to share both.

Here we go! My first piece of advice is:

Have a full-time community manager from the start.

As a community manager, I am unashamedly biased on this point. I am convinced that someone needs to live and breathe and own the overall experience of a company’s ESN. A passionate, qualified community manager is that make-or-break person for the enterprise. I’m not overstating anything when I say that this tip may be the most important of all 12 I’ll share. That’s why I’m starting with it.

I know it isn’t always easy to convince businesses that a full-time person should be or can be devoted to the effort from the beginning. I understand the nature of resource constraints. I wasn’t allowed to be full-time as our company’s ESN community manager until three years and ten months into the effort. That’s crazy for a Fortune 100 business, but that was the case. I asked for it for nearly three years before it finally came to pass. Along the way I had to do double and triple duty as a SharePoint consultant and community manager/moderator for our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ external social properties. It was only as our enterprise social media team expanded that I was able to gradually pass on those tasks to others before finally being devoted solely to our ESN as of March 2014.

Tip1ForSuccessfulESNDid we grow without me being full-time? Yes. We did so well, in fact, that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing our story at conferences, via webinars and interviews for articles, books and industry research reports. But I know that we went from A to M in four years where we could have gone from A to Z if I’d been allowed to work full-time doing what I knew needed to be done to be the best we could be.

Community managers wear too many hats to let any of them gather dust unused in the closet. There are constant needs around advocacy, growing awareness and adoption, moderating content, training, consulting with leaders and business areas, analytics, reporting, support, planning, troubleshooting, connecting people, answering questions, working with vendors, partnering with other enterprise stakeholders, editorial content planning, preparation of user resources, being a participating member in the community, establishing relationships, governance, continuous efforts to improve the platform and user experience, and other things that most people never see and have no idea community managers spend their days doing. That’s a lot! It takes full-time attention to do all of the above and to run on all cylinders.

You may eventually be successful in your ESN efforts without a full-time community manager, but if you want to be successful sooner, if you want to mature your company’s efforts earlier, if you want to see the greatest return on your investment sooner rather than later, then you’ll have at least one full-time community manager from the beginning, even before the community exists.

Some suggest you should have one for each 10,000 users, so don’t assume that only one will suffice forever. With 34,000 users on my company’s ESN, I should probably have two additional full-time people working with me to do all that I envision for our ESN. I assure you I could easily put them to work doing meaningful work for the business.

If you’d like some research numbers that show the correlation of community maturity and value to those communities with full-time community managers, then I suggest you read the excellent State of Community Management report from The Community Roundtable released in April 2014. They have been doing this report annually for several years now and it just keeps getting better as the field matures and as there are more communities and community managers to survey in the research process.

So there you have my first and most important piece of advice – Have a full-time community manager from the start. Stay tuned for the remaining tips.

Construction SiteAs online communities continue to grow in number and usage, the professional role of community manager is also growing in prominence as a valued position that can, frankly, make or break a community. Of course, I’m biased from my perch as a community manager for the past 3.5 years for my company’s enterprise social network and a few external communities. Still, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in my role is the necessity of having the right person at the helm who understands communities – especially online communities – and who has the passion, training, knowledge, judgment and evolving experience to know what needs to be done, and who has the leeway to act accordingly.

Others have written great articles about the many hats community managers wear, the mind of the community manager, and qualities effective community managers must have. There are a host of phenomenal online resources related to community management such as Rich Millington’s Feverbee.com, Tim McDonald’s My Community Manager and others. In this post I want to make a simple point that will be self-evident to other community managers but not always so obvious to others.

First, a little background…

Our Enterprise Social Media Team at work has had a couple of open positions for a few months for various social media roles, one of which is for a community manager. We have no shortage of people applying for the roles. In fact, back in the spring of this year when we posted for an open position we had over 200 applicants. However, the number of people worth talking with and interviewing from among those applicants was in the single digits. Why? Nearly everyone thought that because they used social media to some extent in their personal lives, they were therefore qualified to be a community manager.

Let me state this as clearly as I know how: The fact that you use social media personally does not qualify you to be a community manager.

Billions of people on earth use social media. There are not billions of qualified community managers out there. Anyone can be a part of an online community, but using one and building one are two very different things. Using one and managing one are light years apart in skill sets and mindset.

Imagine that you are in the automotive industry. You are about to hire various people to do the best job possible designing and building your next great car model. How successful will you be if your criterion for hiring is that the person has used a car before? Using and designing are not the same. Using and building are not the same. While you may (and should) care about and consider input from everyday users throughout the process, the ones with the ultimate responsibility and authority to design and build the model will surely be limited to those trained in, passionate about, and experienced with that aspect of the process.

Another example… You’re a business owner and you want to create or greatly improve your company’s website. To whom will you go for advice on what is possible and effective? Hopefully, you’ll go to those who are experienced in website design, marketing, user experience and any other aspects specific to your purpose for the site. You won’t consider going, for example, to your neighbor next door because he’s used a lot of websites before. It won’t enter your mind to have your social media-addicted family member create your business website just because she is online all the time. Using and designing are not the same. Using and building are not the same. Using and managing are not the same.

The analogies could continue: You would not, for example, leave the construction of a major business complex to those who have merely worked in offices before. You would not entrust the creation of a fine, multi-course meal for your wedding guests to a few friends who like to eat. You would not eagerly wear clothes made by people who like clothes but who have no experience in sewing or working with various fabrics and materials. Why, then, do so many businesses use such failed logic when it comes to community management?

I heard someone proudly mention recently that in her company those who have responsibility for their enterprise social network have “real roles” – meaning other full-time jobs and that nobody has the title or responsibility of community manager. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sorry that the company proud of that situation doesn’t understand the value a community manager uniquely brings to the table. I’m sorry that the company is not getting the most possible out of their internal community due to the absence of passionate, qualified community managers. It’s great that they have some enthusiastic users, but I’m sorry that the company doesn’t grasp the difference between using and building or managing. I wonder how much the company and its employees are missing out on?

My simple case for community management is this: It takes special skills and qualities to design, build and manage online communities, and merely having used one or more before doesn’t quality anyone for the role. If we understand that there is a difference in building, using and managing other areas of life from cars to websites, then it’s time we recognize that the same holds true in building, using and managing online communities. We need specific community manager roles to exist and we need training and professional development paths and opportunities appropriate for the role expectations so that those interested in the profession have a legitimate opportunity to break into the field and to succeed in the role.

When it comes to building, using and managing online communities, the typical community participants do one of those three things really well – they use the platform to connect with others. That is why they are there. They are, of course, vital because without them the communities would not exist. They are the reason we community managers do what we do.

The best community managers, however, know how to do all three – build, use and manage.

Your online community – whether internal for your employees or external for the public – needs at least one dedicated, trained, community manager.