Tag Archives: community manager

Lurking and Learning as a New Community Manager

LurkingI started working at Puppet Labs during the last week of September. During the interview process and in the first few weeks, I made sure people knew that I would spend my first month or two lurking in the community while I learned about how people participate in this community. I’ve been working with open source and communities for more than a decade, but this is still an essential step when you are new to a community as a community manager*.

I’ve seen too many over-eager new community managers jump into the community early and make mistakes by violating community norms, talking about things that aren’t relevant, making people unnecessarily upset, and just generally making a mess of things. Every community manager makes mistakes at some point, but here I’m talking about the issues that could have been avoided by knowing more about the community before jumping in with both feet.

Don’t be afraid to let other people do most of the responding while you learn from them. By taking the time to observe and lurk for a bit, you can learn about how people behave and get a feel for how people typically respond.

This doesn’t mean that I spent my first month sitting on my butt. As part of the learning process, I spent a lot of time talking to other employees about what works well in the community and about what isn’t working. As a part of talking about the things that weren’t working, I focused on what was causing the most pain for our engineers and started thinking about how we could make things better. I came up with a big list of things to tackle and started talking to people about plans for improving some of the community processes that were the most painful. I’ve started working on a few of these already, and others are in my 2013 plans.

I also worked on a lot of documentation and improvements to website content during this first month. We really didn’t have community guidelines or other standard documentation. Since community guidelines are relatively similar for many open source projects, I got a good start on those in the first month. I also focused on getting monthly community metrics published. I actually got a ton of work done during my first months. It just wasn’t publicly visible work.

Don’t be afraid to work behind the scenes for your first month or two while you learn about the community. If you make sure that your manager and colleagues know why you aren’t publicly visible while making sure that your work behind the scenes benefits the company, people are more likely to see it as an important and necessary part of the process of starting this new job.

Additional Reading:

*If you were hired out of a community where you have already been participating or are hired to work on a newly launched community, this advice probably doesn’t apply to you.

Photo by Stephen Jones used under a Creative Commons license.


Community Manager at Puppet Labs

After being lazy and taking a nice little month and a half off of work after leaving Intel, I’m happy to announce that I have just accepted the Community Manager job at Puppet Labs. I will be spending most of my time during the first month just lurking and learning more about the community while working on things like community metrics before diving too far into the job.

I am super excited to be working at Puppet Labs. It’s a great team of people, and I’m looking forward to working at a startup in downtown Portland again!

I’ll be starting at Puppet Labs on Thursday during PuppetConf in San Francisco. James will have a session on the State of the Community at Friday at 10:45 (you can watch the live stream) if you want to learn more about the Puppet community.

If you’ll be at PuppetConf on Thursday or Friday, find me and say hello!

Community Manager Tip: Take a Fresh Look

Keep It FreshMost of us get into the swing of our day to day routine and work habits, which can be good most of the time. However, occasionally, you need to take a fresh look at your community to get a new perspective on what you have. We sometimes remember to do this when we notice issues, but the best time to do this is when the community is healthy.

When was the last time you really looked at your primary landing page for your community? Take the time to really look at everything on that page, and remember that your landing pages are primarily for new and prospective community members, since active community members will just dive right into the heart of the community. Is everything still relevant? Does it focus on the right things for your community to help new community members easily find what they need?

When was the last time you looked at every page on your website or your wiki to see what information was out of date or irrelevant? This may not be practical for a very large community, but you can use your analytics programs to help you at least find the most frequently used pages to review.

Are the discussions in your community productive and appropriate? Take a hard look at what people are discussing and the tone of those discussions. If it doesn’t feel right for your community (and this varies for each community), then spend some time thinking about what you can do to make it better.

Additional Reading

Photo by Mars Infomage used under a Creative Commons license.

Community Manager Tip: Don't Copy

This is the first post in an attempt to resurrect my Community Manager Tips series, a collection of short posts to share quick tips for community managers, to get me back into the blogging habit.

People often ask me for a list of the “best” communities that they can use as a model when building their own community, but this is fundamentally the wrong question. Each community has a different audience, different goals, and a different purpose. Building your community based on what works for another successful community can fail very quickly if that community doesn’t have the same needs as your community.

A better question is, “what type of communities are my competitors building and what does or doesn’t work for them?” Your top competitors are likely to be more similar to you than other companies, and this gives you a place to start. Spend some time lurking in your competitors communities to see how they work and try to get a feel for what works and doesn’t work for them. Look for common complaints, and come up with interesting ways to solve them in your community. Pay attention to what people enjoy or get excited about, and think about how you might get people excited about your community. You shouldn’t model your community on a competitor’s community, but this analysis along with some basic best practices will probably give you a start for how you want to build your community or improve an existing one.

Don’t copy other companies. Build something unique that will work well for your audience while also meeting your goals.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Juliancolton2 used under a Creative Commons license.

Open Source Community Metrics

Today at Open Source Bridge, I’ll be leading a session about Open Source Community Metrics: Tips and Techniques for Measuring Participation at 3:45pm in B302.

Do you know what people are really doing in your open source project? The best thing about open source projects is that you have all of your community data in the public at your fingertips. You just need to know how to gather the data about your open source community so that you can hack it all together to get something interesting that you can really use. Having good community data and metrics for your open source project is a great way to understand what works and what needs improvement over time, and metrics can also be a nice way to highlight contributions from key project members. This session will focus on tips and techniques for collecting and analyzing metrics from tools commonly used by open source projects using examples from what I’ve learned doing MeeGo metrics.

A few topics:

  • General guidance for coming up with a set of metrics that makes sense for your project.
  • Tips and techniques for collecting metrics from tools commonly used by open source projects: Bugzilla, MediaWiki, Mailman, IRC and more.
  • General approaches and technical details about using various data collection tools, like mlstats.
  • Techniques for sharing this data with your community and highlighting contributions from key community members.

For anyone who loves playing with data as much as I do, metrics can be a fun way to see what your community members are really doing in your open source project. It’s like people watching, but with data.

Community Manager Tip: Be There for Your Community

Communities occasionally go through tough times, and it’s important as the community manager to be there and support your community as much as possible. For example, last Friday there was an announcement scheduled at 2am my time with a webcast that promised to have at least some impact on the community that I manage. Rather than sleeping until my normal wake up time of 6am, I pulled my butt out of bed to watch the webcast with the rest of the community and sit on IRC to support people and answer questions where possible. I thought it was important to be there for people in this case.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • None of us can be awake 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but we should be there during tough times.
  • Don’t be afraid to shift your work day to accommodate key community activities.
  • Pay attention to your community and anticipate times when they might need you more than other times.
  • Answer questions and be honest when you just don’t know the answers yet.

Recommended Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Illustration by elkokoparrilla used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Meet People in Person

For those of us who manage global online communities, meeting people in person isn’t always easy. However, it is important to find ways to meet people in real life whenever possible, and we should be careful not to underestimate the value of making these real world connections. Last week, I attended LinuxCon where I gave a presentation about the MeeGo Community and did more demos than I can count, but the real value of the conference was in the conversations that I had with community members.

Some thoughts on why this is so important:

  • You put a face to the name and start to build better relationships with people.
  • People will provide different feedback in person and will often talk more frankly about community issues that they would not be comfortable putting in writing in a public forum.
  • It’s fun! These are people that you have something in common with and you can have some really interesting conversations with people and make new friends in the process.
  • I return from conferences refreshed with new ideas that come from having conversations with people outside of the typical daily routine.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Aaron Hockley of Hockley Photography.

Community Manager Tip: Role Model Good Behavior

Last week’s community manager tip about how members notice everything is part of why community managers need to pay close attention to how we behave in our online communities. Members notice everything, and they watch the community manager and other leaders in the community to determine what types of behaviors are appropriate and expected in the community. Every community operates with slightly different norms and expectations, and we need to be careful to role model those behaviors that we want to see in our members.

Here are a few things to think about. Are you encouraging behaviors you want to see from others?

  • Do you try to be as helpful when people are asking questions as you expect from other community members?
  • Are you careful to remain calm and not fly off the handle when things get intense?
  • Do you use language that is consistent with what you expect others to use?
  • What techniques do you use to help redirect people to keep the discussions on topic?
  • How do you deal with difficult community members?

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Amber Case used with permission.

Community Manager Tip: Members Notice Everything

You can’t get away with hiding anything in an online community; community members will notice even the smallest things. While this is true in communities of every size, it is especially noticeable in large communities with many members. People are often under the mistaken impression that they can post something in a wiki or other content system, and as long they don’t link to it, no one will be able to find it. However, we have these things called search engines and recent changes pages where people can find everything. This is especially true now that everything seems to have an RSS feed or email notifications, since many users choose to have changes, like new web pages or wiki recent changes feeds, pushed to them to review whenever they have a few spare minutes.

This creates some interesting challenges and advantages for community managers:

  • Advantage: Posting information early, especially in a wiki, gives you a place to collaborate with others and make the document better. Don’t worry about trying to hide things – get them out in the open early, and let people help you improve.
  • Advantage: People will also notice spam quickly, and if you make it easy to report spam, you can keep the community spam free.
  • Challenge: Once the information is out there, it is public. Deleting data on the internet is a myth, since it is cached, mirrored and in RSS feeds, and removing information from your community is likely to cause more negative responses than leaving it alone.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Keven Law used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Community Manager Tip: Have Great Metrics

For community managers, having excellent metrics is one of the best ways to show your progress and help justify your efforts to management when talking about budgets and staffing for the community. It provides an early warning system and diagnostics for potential community issues, which gives you time to make corrections before things get too bad.

Here are a few tips for having great metrics:

  • Measure many details to help you diagnose issues, but focus on a smaller subset that are used to determine success / failure.
  • The smaller subset should map to your goals and strategies for your community as a whole to show that you are meeting your objectives.
  • Share your metrics with your community. I have a public report with the data and a second internal report with more detailed analysis and suggestions for where the team can improve.
  • Measure across a few categories. I use awareness, membership and participation / engagement.

Additional Reading

Note: I hope to make this into a series of short posts (approximately weekly) to share quick tips for community managers.

Image by Flickr user Kevinzhengli used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.