Category Archives: community

MeeGo Conference 2011 Wrap-Up

As one of the organizers for the conference, I might be a little biased, but I had an absolutely fantastic time at the second MeeGo Conference held May 21 – 25 in San Francisco. Like with many conferences, it was the people who made it such a great experience for me. Interesting conversations with new and old friends combined with fun activities and sessions full of geeky material made for a fantastic experience. Despite getting almost no sleep thanks to some very late nights of werewolf and discussions in the hacker lounge, it was worth it!

Here are a few of my personal highlights

Siege Weapon Building with Live Action Angry Birds was a great community activity to help people get to know each other. We broke out into about 15 groups of 3 people each, and half of the teams built catapults for the birds and the other half built levels for the pigs. We then paired the catapults with the levels and let people launch the birds at the pigs with judging for best catapult, best level and an additional award for style. The video from Netbook News did a great job of capturing it all into a short, fun summary.

Hacker Lounge and Werewolf

I loved the hacker lounge this year, even more than the one in Dublin. By having the hacker lounge in the same location as the conference and the hotel, people were able to kick back and relax in a fun environment all hours of the day and night. It was a great place to have interesting conversations or play games with people late into the night. We had ping pong, foosball, air hockey, wii, and my favorite community building game, werewolf.

I hung out with old friends, made new ones, and had a great time in the hacker lounge. If I could change one thing about the hacker lounge, I would get rid of the air hockey and television, which were a little too noisy for the space.

Sessions and Collaboration

I presented in 2 sessions: The State of the MeeGo Community with special guest Randall Arnold (aka texrat) and co-presented in Dave Neary’s MeeGo Community Dashboard talk. As someone helping to organize the event, I didn’t get to attend as many sessions as I would have liked, but I did get to a couple. I particularly enjoyed Carsten’s Transparency, inclusion and meritocracy in MeeGo: Theory and practice and an ad hoc session we had over lunch to talk about details behind the community apps. The conversations and collaboration in the hallways, over meals and in the hacker lounge were a big part of the event for me.

A few things I would like to improve next time:

  • Keynotes – enough has been said about the keynote, so I won’t elaborate here other than to say I agree with much of what others have said.
  • Better integration of the warm-up activities. Despite working very closely with the warm-up organizing team, these still felt too disconnected somehow, and people were extremely confused about attending the warm-up before registration was open and badges handed out.

Overall, I was really happy with the conference, and I appreciate everyone who took the time to hang out, chat, attend my sessions, play werewolf and much more. Thank you.

Photo credits: MeeGo Conference Banner by Thomas PerlWerewolf in the Hacker Lounge from Reggie Suplido and Maemo/MeeGo Folks in SF by Thomas Perl.

Note: This is a blog post about my personal experiences at the MeeGo Conference. We’ll some kind of official wrap-up on the MeeGo blog next week after people recover from the conference.

MeeGo Community and Metrics Presentation Videos

I just realized that while I was frantically catching up from my much needed Thanksgiving vacation right after the MeeGo Conference that I completely forgot to post the videos and presentation materials from my sessions at the conference. I presented two sessions:

State of the Community


Presentation Materials (PDF) and More Info

An Inside Look into the MeeGo Metrics


Presentation Materials (PDF) and More Info

You can also watch videos of all of the other sessions at the MeeGo Conference. For those of you interested in online communities, you should definitely watch Dave Neary’s Community Anti-Patterns presentation.

MeeGo Conference: Geeks in Dublin

Wow.

I really had a fantastic time at the MeeGo Conference in Dublin last week. Over the past 9 months in the MeeGo Community, I have spent a lot of time getting to know people over IRC, email, forums, and other online tools. You can get to know people pretty well online, but there is just no substitute for face to face interactions and getting to know people in real life. I got to know people better and met so many new and interesting people that I can now keep up with online in the community.

I was one of several organizers for this conference, and from an organizer’s standpoint, the conference wildly exceeded all of our expectations. While we were initially hoping we could find 600 people who would attend, we ended up with almost 1100 attendees from 51 countries. Amy Leeland, our lead organizer for the event, proved to be a complete rock star; almost everything went according to plan and the few things that didn’t, she handled with a professional get it fixed attitude. We also worked with Portland design company Quango on many of the design and event logistics, and they were honestly one of the best vendors I have ever worked with.

In this post, here on my personal blog, I’m not going to do a full report-out on the conference (we’ll save that for the MeeGo blog), so I’ll focus the rest of this post on the community aspects and my personal experiences.

The community was very engaged in the event: organizing early bird sessions, volunteering to help out whenever we needed it, and working and playing together in the hacker lounge until the wee hours of the morning. I also led the unconference day, and I’m always nervous about scheduling an unconference at the end of an event when people are tired and have been watching presentations all week. I’ve seen too many unconference days become the time when people leave early or spend the time in a corner catching up on email. In this case, I was very pleased that the unconference day was a success with attendees presenting in every available space (more than 45 sessions) and staying engaged throughout the day.

One of the keys to getting good community participation and getting attendees to hang out together is to have evening events that are more interesting and fun than what most people would decide to do on their own. Add free food and drinks to the mix, and you really can keep everyone together well into the evening. The Guinness tour and the football game, for example, drew large crowds, and people really did seem to have a lot of fun.

The best part of the conference from a community building perspective was the 24 hour hacker lounge where people gathered after the evening events ended to work on projects, hang out and play games. We used this space to play many, many games of werewolf often lasting past 3am. Werewolf is one of those games that I really like to bring to conferences because it gives people a chance to get to know each other. It gives the quiet guy who doesn’t really know anyone something to do and an excuse to meet new people, and it puts people on a level playing field where the company executive, the university student and the internet famous are all equal as werewolves and villagers. It gives people something in common to start the conversations while they learn enough about each other to find other things in common. Many of us tend to talk to the people we already know, which keeps us in our own little friend bubbles that can seem cliquey even when not intended to be. Werewolf is an excuse to talk to people that we don’t know and otherwise might not have met. Unlike those other team building and conference games, people really seem to enjoy werewolf. I don’t play werewolf just because I love it. I play it because it builds community.

Other interesting personal notes from the conference and Dublin:

  • Organizers are too busy to eat – I made too many meals out of wine and peanuts in the hacker lounge.
  • Jetlag worked to my advantage allowing me to play werewolf until after 3am, and I didn’t really crash until the plane ride home, so the timing was perfect.
  • In Dublin, like many cities in Europe, you have to look hard for street signs. In this case, they are blue and nailed to a random building or fence somewhere near the intersection.
  • You can find good vegan hippie food in Dublin – as always, look for it near a university.

Thanks again to all of the new friends I met and the old friends that I had time to hang out with. I’m already looking forward to the next MeeGo Conference in May!

Photo credits:

Online Community Manager: Yes, it's really a job

This afternoon, I’ll be spending some time at Portland State University talking about what it’s like to work as a community manager. I’ve done this presentation a few times before, but I completely overhauled the materials this week with new data on community manager salaries, job satisfaction and more. I also added some updated slides with best practices and information about the skills required for community managers. I thought that other people might be interested in seeing the materials, so here they are!

If you are interested in becoming a community manager, I’ve written many other articles on the topic that you might also find helpful:
http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/01/26/online-community-manager-yes-it%E2%80%99s-really-a-job/
http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/01/30/online-community-managers-what-do-they-do/
http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/02/02/online-community-manager-what-does-it-take-to-be-successful/
http://fastwonderblog.com/2007/08/05/reflections-on-community-management-aka-what-do-you-do/
http://fastwonderblog.com/2007/09/03/what-does-it-take-to-manage-a-community/
http://fastwonderblog.com/2007/12/17/community-roles-manager-moderator-and-administrator/
http://fastwonderblog.com/2008/06/14/hiring-a-community-manager/
http://fastwonderblog.com/2008/07/04/how-to-get-a-community-manager-job/
http://fastwonderblog.com/starting-point/learn-more-about-online-communities/

The Role of Listening as a Community Manager

Last week, I wrote a blog post about finding the right mix of listening and creating content for online communities or social media programs, and this week, I wanted to talk more specifically about the role of listening as a community manager. This post comes from my experience as a community manager and describes what has worked well for me over the years; however, there are many different types of communities and what works for one community doesn’t necessarily work for another.

There are also plenty of differing opinions about the role of community manager and how the job is defined. Here’s my take on the community manager role (related to the topic of this post – listening):

  • The community manager should not be the person  answering all of the questions or responding to almost every post; however, the community manager needs to make sure that someone is responding with good, solid information.
  • A community manager needs to spend a lot of time listening to all of the various opinions from the community. It will never be possible to please everyone with every decision, but knowing what people think can help you make the right decisions.
  • Corporate community managers (those being paid by a company) need to walk a delicate line between doing the right things for the community and their employer at the same time while acting as a communications conduit to make sure that the community has what they need from the company and to communicate community issues and trends back into the organization.

I generally take a listen first, talk later approach to community management for most things, especially initially. I’ve been managing the MeeGo community for a little more than a month, and I spent a lot of time listening in that first month to give myself time to understand the community dynamics, the people and the project. I spend a lot of time on IRC; I read every post on every mailing list and forum; I watch the recent changes on the wiki; and I try to spend some time listening to what people say about MeeGo outside of the community. I respond to only a small fraction of these discussions, but I try to make sure that someone responds. There are plenty of cases  where I could respond, but I like to give other people a chance to contribute. A healthy community has many people who will respond to questions or provide input, and an overly aggressive community manager who responds to everything can shut down the conversation.

This doesn’t mean that the community manager can just sit back and read all day. At some point, you need to take action by summarizing what has been said, making decisions or providing direction. The community manager can help set the tone for the community, and your interactions in the community will often be seen as a model for how you want people to behave. A community manager should be role modeling the type of behaviors that you want to see other community members display.

The community manager job is even more interesting for those of us who are being paid by a company to provide this service because of the delicate balance between providing information, maintaining company confidentiality and serving the interests of the community and the company at the same time. I spend a lot of my time working with people inside of my company to make sure that they know what is happening in the community and preparing them to interact with the community. This only works if I spend a lot of time listening to the community. As the community manager, I have a broad picture of what goes on across the entire community, and part of my job is to educate our employees to make sure that they have the information they need to have positive, productive conversations in the community. This involves a certain amount of nagging and arm twisting of everyone from developers to executives, but that is just part of the glamorous life of a community manager.

Photo by Aaron Hockley of Hockley Photography.

The Right Mix: Listening and Creating Content

Whether you are managing an online community or a social media program for your organization, having the right mix of listening and creating content is important. Without listening to feedback, you are just creating content in a vacuum without gaining any insights from other people. If you just listen and create nothing, you are all but invisible and aren’t contributing anything to the discussion or even acknowledging that you are listening. The right balance differs for each organization, and it will probably take some time to find the right balance for you and your organization.

Last week, I spoke on this topic as part of a panel session at the Portland Tech America Social Networks & the Enterprise Unite event. I used one slide to summarize my ideas, but I wanted to go into a little more depth here about the topic.

Listening and Creating Content

Listen First

Social media and online communities are all about the people, and people have conversations. They don’t share marketing messages. This means that people from traditional marketing backgrounds need to think a little differently about how they participate in communities by shifting the focus to conversations, and that initial focus should be much more heavily weighted to listening, rather than talking.

Spend some time initially focusing on learning what people are saying about you, your organization, your industry and your competition. By paying attention to these conversations, you can learn so many unexpected ideas.

  • People are probably using your products or services in new and innovative ways that you never intended.
  • People are sharing interesting new ideas about your industry that you can use to improve your personal knowledge or improve some aspect of your organization.
  • Your competition is probably sharing something that you want to know, and it can be worth the effort to see what individual employees at your competitors are saying online.

Listening Tools

One of the big questions is how to set up the right listening posts and filter the information down to something manageable that you can make sense of and process. The tools to monitor conversations range from free to fairly pricey depending on your situation.

  • Free and Easy: I recommend that you start with some free tools that require very little expertise to get a better feel for what you want to monitor. Use TweetDeck or a similar application for realtime monitoring of Twitter, and keep this even if you move to a more robust monitoring solution, since most of the existing solutions don’t do a great job of realtime monitoring. Start with some Twitter searches using advanced operators and set up some Google alerts or Google news / blog searches with RSS feeds. All of this will give you a better feel for the volume of results and some ideas for what you need to filter out of your standard keyword searches. For smaller companies, you might find that this is all you ever need.
  • Free with Knowledge Required:  There are also plenty of free tools or do it yourself approaches that are still free, but they require some time to set up and some specialized knowledge to use. My favorite DIY tool is Yahoo Pipes. If you know how to use it, you can do more advance filtering than you can with the large expensive packages. This requires some time and a bigger learning curve; however, the biggest downside to most of these DIY approaches is that they don’t do a good job of counting results, looking at trends over time or providing pretty charts for your management staff.
  • Paid Tools: The real benefit of these tools is that they are relatively easy to use, they do a good job of counting and charting mentions over time, and many of them provide additional workflow tools to help you manage responses. I have the most experience using Radian6, but there are many other available options. The cost can be worth it for many companies who have complex filtering needs, large volumes of responses, or who want something easy to use.

As a side note, I use Radian6 for monitoring some large volume projects, but I also use TweetDeck for realtime monitoring, and I use Yahoo Pipes to fill in the gaps for specialty monitoring needs. I also have large numbers of RSS feeds that I read regularly.

All of this information can also used as ideas for content, and to be more responsive to your customers or other people who have questions about your organization. You can answer questions or join those conversations, which brings us into creating content.

Creating Content

Creating content in online communities and social media should be so much more than just company messages and press releases. This is an opportunity to show how much your employees know and give them place to showcase their industry expertise where they can talk about industry trends, experiences, ideas and the topics they are passionate about. Writing this type of thought leadership content gets the attention of other people within your industry who link to your content and bring in additional potential customers, which can help improve search engine optimization over the longer term.

Much of this content will probably take the form of blog posts, and it can be daunting for people to have to come up with great content on a regular basis. This is why I recommend that organizations have group blogs where several people with different perspectives all contribute to make sure that one person isn’t bearing the whole load. There are also some tips and tricks for coming up with ideas for blog posts that include writing short posts, reusing other content, reacting to what others are saying, using research, doing interviews, and more.

One of the biggest ways to make sure your content makes an impact is to make it personal. Talk about how you or your job has been impacted by a particular trend or idea. The reality is that people will be reading and responding to whatever you write, and people react more forcefully when they see some kind of personal connection. You want to sound like a real person with thoughts and ideas, and not like a corporate drone.

Getting Started

After the talk someone asked me how she would know when she has done enough listening that she should start to participate and create content. You’ll know when you are ready because you’ll start to feel comfortable listening. You’ll know the language and abbreviations being used and will be eager to jump in. I recommend that you start small and participate gently at first. Start with one forum or one tool (like Twitter), and don’t do too much at first. Follow a couple of people (not hundreds or thousands) and start participating a little. After you really get started, then you’ll need to continue to find the right balance between listening and creating and make sure that you remember to continue to do both.

I did a longer presentation with similar content at WebVisions last year, so you might also find this presentation interesting if you want a little more information.

Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day

Community Manager At Work
Community Manager At Work

First, I wanted to thank Jeremiah Owyang for being the ultimate community manager by putting together a framework for Community Manager Appreciation Day and organizing the rest of us to help get the word out and support the effort.

Community Manager Appreciation Day will be the 4th Monday in every January, and it’s a great excuse to and recognize the contributions and thank those people who are managing your online communities and social programs. These people work tirelessly on behalf of your organization and much of what they do happens behind the scenes and often goes unnoticed by management and community members alike. Have you ever wondered who answers all of those questions, cleans up after spam attacks and makes sure that the community runs so smoothly that you never need to think about it? There is probably someone acting as community manager regardless of their official title within your organization.

The role of community manager can be a tough one. They face challenges from within the organization to justify the ROI and drive programs needed for the community while at the same time being beat up by spammers or demanding community members who want more. To top it all off, this isn’t a 9 to 5 job where the community shuts down from 5pm to 9am, so community managers often need to jump into the community during their off hours to resolve issues. Despite all of these challenges, the role can also be rewarding and fun, which is why so many of us choose this profession.

Here are a few of Jeremiah’s suggestions for recognizing your community manager:

  • If you’re a customer, and your problem was solved by a community manager be sure to thank them in the medium that helped you in. Use the hashtag #CMAD.
  • If you’re a colleague with community manager, take the time to understand their passion to improve the customer –and company experience. Copy their boss.
  • If you’re a community manager, stop and breathe for a second, and know that you’re appreciated. Hug your family.

Have you thanked your community manager today?

Supported by Bill Johnston, Connie Benson, Rachel Happe, Jake McKee, Sean O’Driscoll, Lane Becker, Dawn Foster, Thor Muller, Amy Muller and Jeremiah Owyang.

Photo by Aaron Hockley of Hockley Photography

Community Leadership Summit: July 17 & 18 in Portland

Jono Bacon (Ubuntu community manager) is organizing the second annual Community Leadership Summit on July 17 & 18 in Portland, Oregon (the weekend before OSCON, which has returned to my lovely city). I didn’t make it to the summit last year, since I skipped OSCON, but I heard great things about the Community Leadership Summit, so I’m not missing it this year!

Community Leadership Summit

Here’s a brief description from the website:

The Community Leadership Summit 2010 is the second incarnation of the popular event designed to bring together community leaders and managers and the projects and organizations that are interested in growing and empowering a strong community.

The event provides an unconference style schedule in which attendees can discuss, debate and explore topics. This is augmented with a range of scheduled talks, panel discussions, networking opportunities and more.

The event provides the first opportunity of its kind to bring together the leading minds in the field with new community builders to discuss topics such as governance, creating collaborative environments, conflict resolution, transparency, open infrastructure, social networking, commercial investment in community, engineering vs. marketing approaches to community leadership and much more.

The event is free to attend, but you will need to register to help them plan the event. A big thanks to O’Reilly for offering up the space for the event.

New Online Community: Having a Beta Period is Important

FailUnfortunately, when an online community fails, it fails publicly. Anyone visiting the community can see that people aren’t participating, and it does not make a good impression. Whereas, traditional websites fail more privately, since only the people with access to your analytics know for sure that no one is visiting the website. Because a failure to get participation is so visible, it is important to launch with some seeded content from real people, in other words, your beta testers.

With any new community, always run a limited beta with your existing customers or a few potential customers if your company is still new. There are many benefits of running a beta.

  • You can get feedback and make improvements in the community before you launch. This allows you to fix mistakes, clarify any items that people find confusing, and make the community better than it would have been without the feedback.
  • You get a good base of initial content from people outside of your organization or project, so that when you launch, it already looks like an active community.
  • These existing beta users can help promote the community by bringing in coworkers, friends, and others who might be interested in joining your community.

Tips for running a successful beta

  • Build relationships first. If you don’t already have relationships with your potential beta testers, stop everything else and build those relationships to get to know your audience.
  • Before you build anything, talk to people and get their ideas. Share your plans and ideas while getting some initial feedback to make sure that you aren’t started down the wrong path. This probably involves some phone calls and meetings outside of the online space.
  • Start small and grow. Start with a few people in your organization and expand out a few people at time while making incremental improvements before bringing the next wave of people on board.
  • Listen, listen, and listen some more. During this beta period, you should spend your time listening to feedback and figuring out ways to make your community better.

You’ll know that you are ready to launch when you have finished working out any big issues and when you have enough activity that you are proud to call your effort a community.

Photo by Flickr user hans.gerwitz used under Creative Commons.

Who is the Voice of Your Brand?

I’ve talked before about the importance of having someone you trust as the face of your company:

When you are talking about online communities or social media efforts for a company, you need to think very carefully about who you put in charge. In particular, this applies to community managers, bloggers, and the people running your social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) The people in these positions become the face of your company. You want someone who will do a great job of representing your company and who fits well within your corporate culture.

Tom Fishburne’s latest cartoon and blog post are a great reminder of the importance of having someone you trust representing your brand in public facing, social positions.

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