Trend: Community Vendors Who Eat Their Own Dogfood

Several Tweets today from Jeremiah Owyang got me thinking about community vendors and how they do (or do not) use their own platforms to build communities for their customers and users.

Quoted from @jowyang’s Twitter stream:

My advice to community platform vendors:

  • If you don’t already have a public user community or support community for your customers running on the latest release of your platform, start planning one now.
  • Get your product management and engineering teams involved in the community and spend time learning what your customers like and don’t like in addition to the features they want in future releases.
  • Spend some time monitoring what your customers are saying about you online (Twitter, blogs, and other forums) to avoid being caught off guard by negative feedback.

My advice to anyone selecting a community platform vendor:

  • If they are not running a public community for their customers and users that is built on their platform, run (not walk) away from that vendor.
  • Spend a significant amount of time in that public community getting a feel for the issues that other customers are having with their software. Also take note of how long it takes for them to respond to questions or issues.
  • Ask for some customer references. Call the references and chat about their experiences with the vendor. Ask them for specific examples of both positive and negative interactions and experiences.

While Jeremiah says that “Many of the vendors in my community platform wave ironically do NOT offer a community to their own customers to support themselves”, the best vendors do use their own software to build external communities for their customers.

Here are three examples of vendors who eat their own dogfood:

There are plenty of others who run vibrant communities for users of their platform; however, I was surprised by how many do not. While I was working at Jive, we learned so much about our software by using it to host our own communities. We found bugs early, felt the pain points along with our customers, and celebrated when new features were introduced in the product. Any vendor who isn’t eating their own dogfood is using you, their customer, as a testing bed. I’ll take my chances with vendors who use their software over ones that do not any day.

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Community Managers and Reporting Structures

There are many differences of opinion about where the community manager or the community team should fit into the reporting structure of any organization. In general, I think that it depends on the type of community. The community management function should report to the team most closely connected to the audience you are trying to serve.

Too many companies automatically put the community function under marketing, which works well for certain types of communities, but can be disastrous for other types of communities. For example, developer communities or customer support communities should rarely, if ever, report to marketing. However, I do think that marketing should manage the communities for certain types of customer communities or communities that support a specific marketing campaign. Communities focused on a product line could be driven out of a product marketing group.

Developer communities and open source communities should be driven out of a technology or engineering group, since developer and open source communities tend to work best when they are created by developers for developers. Developers in general have very little tolerance for marketing and anyone who lacks technical credibility.

Support communities should be driven as part of the broader support organization to ensure that the customers in the community are getting an appropriate level of support. The support staff deals with support questions all day and are the most appropriate group to be answering the questions in the support forums and making sure that support customers have what they need from the company.

In some cases, the community should report to the senior management of the organization. Some communities cover multiple functions including developers, support, customers, and product information. In those cases, the community team should be placed high enough in the organization to be able to effectively interface with all of the other teams in the organization. If the community is a critical part of the the products or services offered by the company, it might need to be it’s own function within the organization.

It is worth spending some extra time deciding where the community function should be placed within the organization. You need to take a careful look at the audience for your community and place the community in the appropriate organization.

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WhereCampPDX: Location, location, location

The first ever WhereCampPDX event is coming up in just 2 weeks on October 17th-19th where local geo-geeks of all stripes will be gathering for a weekend of location based fun. WhereCamp is an event that started in the Bay Area in 2007 to continue conversations from the Where 2.0 conference. Legion of Tech is organizing a Portland version to show off the amazing, fun geographic technology activity we have. This is not just an event for specialists: we would like anyone who is interested in the intersection of people, place, and technology to participate.

WhereCampPDX needs your help!

  • Attending. If you plan to attend, please RSVP on Upcoming so we can plan accordingly.
  • Sponsoring. We still need a few more sponsors to help cover the costs of the event.
  • Marketing. Blog, Tweet, and let your friends know about the event.

You can expect to see people from a variety of places talk about various location-based technologies related to projects like Shizzow, Platial, WeoGeo, Trimet, and much, much more. You can find out more about the event on the WhereCamp PDX blog.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Recent Links on Ma.gnolia

A few interesting things this week …

Cone Finds That Americans Expect Companies to Have a Presence in Social Media

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Web Slideshow on: Farm Blogs and RSS – Agglom

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Obama ‘08 for iPhone | raven.me

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OSCON moves to San Jose – O’Reilly Radar

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Justin Kistner – The next Holy Grail of collaboration is to kill the 28% of our day spent on distractions

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Online Communities: Surviving and Thriving in a Downturn (Part 1)

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Online Community Thought Leader Search

During Marshall Kirkpatrick’s session at WordCamPDX last weekend, he talked about some of his customized search engines, which inspired me to create one of my own.

Google does a great job of finding everything for a keyword, but it doesn’t really know how to filter for posts matching less measurable criteria. For example, a standard Google search can’t filter for the blogs of people that I think are really smart and interesting. The idea behind the custom search engine is that I can tell Google which sites I want it to search, and then Google does its magic to find the best posts within the limits that I provide. Marshall uses his custom search engines as a starting place for research to get quotes for blog posts or learn more about a topic he’s researching.

I have plans for a few others, but I wanted to start with a custom search engine for online community thought leaders. I’m hoping it will help me when I’m doing research for blog posts or consulting clients. In order to keep the results relevant, I’m limiting the number of sites searched to a very small number of blogs from people that I think are thought leaders in the online community space. While I have a huge respect for many people who work at companies that make community platform software, I’m deliberately not including blogs from vendors to attempt to keep the search vendor neutral.

Here are the first blogs to make the cut:

You can try the Online Community Thought Leader search for yourself and let me know what you think:



Now the big question for you:

Who did I miss? Did I leave someone amazing off of the list? If so, you can leave suggestions in the comments.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Corporate Community Trend: Focus on People

I was looking at the new SocialText 3.0 release this morning, which TechCrunch describes as a blend of “Facebook, Twitter and the Enterprise”, when I started thinking about a trend that I have been noticing for quite a while related to companies, communities, and community software.

The Software

SocialText has been known for their wiki software; however, the latest 3.0 release shifts the focus more toward people with the new SocialText People (social networking functionality) and Dashboard (attention stream management of conversations, colleagues and more). The wiki is still the core part of the product, but this additional functionality shifts the focus onto people.

Jive Software also recently released a new version of Clearspace, and the major differences between this release and the previous ones are also focused on people with social networking and groups functionality leading the way.

These are just a couple of examples of community software focused on the enterprise; however, they are incorporating the features that people have been using extensively in their personal online community interactions through sites like Facebook, Twitter, and more to connect with other people.

The Trend

If you look at the early community software platforms and other early ways of building communities (mailing lists, etc.), the focus was on the data more than the person. Inside companies, the focus was similar. Companies had knowledge bases, document repositories, email and other ways for people to share data. Most of these applications made it easy to find data, but difficult to find out any real information about the people behind the data. Even some of the applications designed to help coworkers find other people within the company were often skill based, which made it easy to find someone with Java programming expertise but not the sort of information that tells you about the person behind the skill set.

I’ve said many times in presentations and here on this blog that communities are all about the people. This has always been an important concept, but it has been more true in social communities and less true in many corporate communities. Over the past months, I have been seeing a bigger trend toward companies and other organizations putting the focus on the people in corporate communities. The information is still important, but I like seeing this shift toward people. Knowing more about the person behind the data can help put the data into context. For example, information about venture capital investments coming from me would be less credible than information about venture capital from Guy Kawasaki.

Having the functionality to connect with other people in a corporate community, whether it is an internal company community or an external community focused on a company’s products, helps us strengthen our connections with other people who share similar interests. This trend toward putting the focus on people is an important step in the right direction for corporate communities.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Recent Links on Ma.gnolia

A few interesting things this week …

Jason Nazar’s Blog » Blog Archive » 10 Lessons Startups Can Learn From Superheroes

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Building a Community is like Hosting a Party. Don’t Be a Bad Party Host! at Josh Bancroft’s TinyScreenfuls.com

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Decreasing Connections While Increasing Our Networks

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Legion of Tech Board Elections in December at Legion of Tech

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Elections for the Legion of Tech Board

Do you love Ignite, BarCamp, Startupalooza, and the other events organized by Legion of Tech? If so, you might be interested to know that nominations for new board members are due on November 1. We will also be forming a new advisory committee if you would prefer to help out with a smaller time commitment. The entire process is documented on the Legion of Tech site with detailed information about responsibilities and the elections.

I know that at least three people currently on the board have decided not to run for next year due to personal time constraints, new jobs, etc. This means that there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved this year.

If you want to get involved, take a look at the detailed blog post and then talk to a current board member to get nominated.

For anyone living under a rock or not living in Portland, Legion of Tech is an Oregon non-profit organization working hard to grow and nurture the local Portland community through free, educational, community-run technology events. I am a co-founder of the organization, which was formed in December of 2007, and I currently serve as Chair. I plan to run again for the board, and I have had a great time participating in Legion of Tech over the past year.

I hope to see the rest of you out at our upcoming events, including WhereCampPDX October 17th – 19th and Ignite Portland 4 on November 13th.

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Introduction to Facebook for Companies and Organizations

Updated 4/7/09: I have a new, updated post about getting started with Facebook for your company or organization that you may want to read instead of this one.

Facebook is probably the social network that has the broadest audience and the most community functionality of any of the big services right now. You can find large numbers of college students, people working in the technology industry, and many people in the 20 – 40 year old range; however, I am starting to see anecdotal evidence of some people in the older age ranges starting to join Facebook.

There are several ways to engage with people on Facebook.

  • Individuals. Make sure that some people in your company are on Facebook as individuals. This is the best way to learn how people use Facebook if you haven’t already used it. I would start by getting a personal account, entering your personal profile information, and friending a few people that you know. It’s a great way to learn more about how people use Facebook, and it will help you better understand how to use it for your company.
  • Company page. After you are comfortable using Facebook as an individual, you should create a company page. Do not create a personal profile on Facebook for your company. Those look artificial and weird in addition to being outside of what people expect to see on Facebook. A company page lets you provide information about your company along with an event calendar, video, photos, discussion board, and much more. People can then choose to become “fans” of your company, and you can use this page as a lightweight community effort.
  • Groups. You can create a group on Facebook around any imaginable topic. I’ve seen groups used fairly successfully for lightweight community activities, especially when they also involve an in person element. The Online Community Roundtable events in San Francisco are organized using a Facebook group.
  • Applications. It might also make sense for your company to create an application that people can use on Facebook, but this would only be relevant to a small number of technology companies. The application could interface with your existing technologies the way that applications for Upcoming, Twitter, and others make it easy to update Facebook with information from those services. Another option is to make something purely for fun that people can use on Facebook.

There are certainly other ways to use Facebook, but this covers the basic ways that most companies will want to use it. In general, remember to participate as a person first and a company second, and remember that the guiding principles that I have talked about so many times before on this blog still apply to using Facebook.

Please feel free to add comments with other ways that you like to see companies engage with people on Facebook.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Musings on Community Ownership

Community ownership is a tricky issue. In this post, I am not talking about legal ownership, but about something a little more abstract. I’m sure the courts would come up with a different conclusion than the one that I propose here. I’m really talking about the sense of ownership that people feel for something that they are passionate about because they helped to create it in some way. This sense of ownership is a big part of what makes an active community so special and interesting.

Too many people and companies think that they “own” their community with a level of ownership that includes exerting too much control over the members participating in the community. Some people delete posts or comments containing criticisms that don’t show them in the best light. The natural instinct for some people is to bury anything that is less than favorable, but this is not a healthy approach for anyone (it’s how we end up with companies like Enron).

A better approach is to think of it this way: the community “owns” the community, and the employees of an organization or other people hosting the community are an integral part of that community. If you think of yourselves as an equal member of the community, it might be more natural to have conversations about negative criticism and work to resolve them together. Maybe this is just semantics, but I think it can help people think about the community in a way that facilitates collaboration and cooperation.

Anyone who starts a community is responsible for a few things. Clearly, they do own the infrastructure and the environment where the online community software resides. As a result, they should feel a responsibility to maintain the software and keep it running well. They are also responsible for facilitating the discussions and participating in the community along with the other community members. Finally, they are also responsible for moderation and keeping people in check by deleting spam, porn and other content that is truly inappropriate for the community. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, negative comments do not count as “inappropriate” for the sake of moderation.

If the company doesn’t play nice with the community, the community will take their discussions elsewhere. Thinking about the issue of ownership in a way that encourages community members to consider themselves a real part of the community is just one more way to encourage people to remain actively engaged in the community.