When Companies Sponsor Communities

Here are my notes from the Art of Community lightning talk that I delivered at OSCON yesterday. Some of this advice is geared toward open source and developer communities, but most of it applies to building corporate communities in general. We also used a 3 minute lightning talk format, so the advice below contains only my top few tips that could fit into this fast-paced format.

We’ve all seen times where companies try to sponsor communities. Sometimes they do it successfully, but other times all you can do is watch while the whole thing backfires. Here are a few tips to help companies approach community building in the right way to build successful communities and hopefully avoid the disasters that some companies face.

Tip #1 Think about Ownership:

  • The company does not “own” the community. The community “owns” the community, and the people participating own their contributions (whether it is ideas, advice, documentation or code).
  • A company who starts a community:
    • owns the infrastructure
    • facilitates the discussions
    • moderates and keeps people in check
  • It can be difficult for companies to think of a community in this way. However, if the company doesn’t play nice with the community, the community will take their discussions elsewhere and fork the community and the project.

Tip #2 Keep Sales and Marketing in Check:

  • This applies to all communities, but is especially true for developer communities.
  • Developers want detailed information without the fluff. Get rid of the marketing speak and make it easy to find the key pieces of information
  • Don’t use the community to sell anything. You don’t need to pimp your products and services within the community. If someone is already participating in the community, then chances are they can find out how to get in touch with you if they need something.

Tip #3 Make Someone Responsible for Community Management:

  • This person can make sure that everything is running smoothly in the community and work to resolve issues before they get out of control.
  • The community manager isn’t responsible for doing all of the work within the community, but they can pull the right people into discussions and make sure that the right people are participating.
  • For open source and developer communities, this person should report into the technical side of the company (not marketing)

Companies can have successful communities, but only if they take the time to do the right things and truly participate in the community.

6 thoughts on “When Companies Sponsor Communities”

  1. Dawn, great notes and notes and points on the right way to build and grow company-sponsored communities.

    Curious to know whether your presentation and the other lightning talks were recorded at all?

    The Podcasters Across Borders guys did this from their June 2008 conference and are releasing one audio recording per week throughout the summer. It gives me at least a taste of what I missed, and whets my appetite for trying harder to attend the event in 2009.

  2. Thanks for all of the kind words!

    Bryan, I don’t think that anyone captured the audio unfortunately; however, a friend of mine was getting video of most of the session. I’m trying to track it down now. I’ll post it somewhere if she hasn’t posted it already.

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