Tag Archives: online community

Companies and Communities at the Corvallis SAO

I spent yesterday evening in Corvallis presenting at Corvallis chapter of the Software Association of Oregon on the topic of Companies and Communities: Participating without being sleazy. I always enjoying spending time in Corvallis. It’s a fun college town with some very interesting and innovative technology companies: Strands, ViewPlus, ProWorks, and many more.

This SlideShare presentation is what I used last evening to lead the discussion:

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.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

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.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

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

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.

Promoting Your Community Efforts the Right Way

Last week, I started a series focused on corporate communities with posts about planning and getting started, maintaining a successful community, and structuring your community. In this final post for the corporate community series, we will spend some time on the right and wrong ways to promote your community efforts. Some of this advice also applies more broadly to promotion of other social media efforts as well.

Good ways to get the word out about your community

I wish there was an easy answer to the best way to get the word out about your community; however, it really comes down to basic marketing principles. Do your research to find your audience and talk about your community efforts in places that your target audience will see it. The specific methods you use to promote your community will depend on the type of community and the target audience. If your company already has an existing customer base, you should be using existing promotional vehicles to reach your customers. Look at the ways that you typically market your products, and include information about your community efforts in those promotions.

You should augment your traditional promotions with social media keeping in mind the guiding principles that I talked about in an earlier post. The key is to engage with social media on the community’s terms with a focus on having a conversation with people, not a focus on pushing your messages at people. Talk openly and honestly about the new community on your corporate blog with information about why you launched it, what you hope to get out of it, and what you hope the members will get out of the community. People involved in the community effort can write personal blog entries or Twitter posts that talk specifically about their involvement in the new community. Audio or video podcasts might also be a good idea.

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. First, you can get their feedback and make improvements in the community before you launch. Second, you get a good base of initial content from people outside of the company, so that when you launch, it already looks like an active community. Third, these existing beta users can help promote the community by bringing in coworkers, friends, and others who might be interested in joining your community.

You might also consider providing small incentives for people to join and participate. You do not want people joining just to get the incentive and never coming back to participate, but some small incentive (t-shirt, etc.) can sometimes be a nice thank you gesture for signing up. Don’t forget to make a special effort to find some way to reward the early beta participants after launch with special status, discounts, t-shirts, or something to say thank you.

Things to avoid when promoting your community

Do not promote your community on your competitor’s sites. This is just slimy, and it will not be productive. The potential for backlash and negative publicity is not worth the one or two customers that you might pick up. It will also encourage your competitor to retaliate by promoting within your community.

Do not use social media (twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.) with the sole purpose of pimping your products (go back to the guiding principles post for more details). If you are already using social media, you should talk about your ideas, thoughts, and products with a personal spin (what YOU are doing as an individual in the new community).

Should you promote your products in the community?

The short answer is no, but it isn’t really an absolute (yes / no) answer; it is really more of a continuum. Do not use your community to sell anything. Think of the community as way to generate awareness, not a place to close sales. Use your community to get people excited about your products: answer questions, talk about new features, and encourage people share stories about your product or company (customers and employees). If you can get people excited about your products, they will be motivated to figure out how to buy them.

ForumOne’s report on Marketing and Online Communities does a good job of highlighting the challenges associated with using your community as a marketing channel.

I would be interested to learn more about what has or has not worked well for you in the comments.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

A Structure for Your Corporate Community

Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about corporate communities as I work with clients who are in the process of creating new online communities or improving their existing communities. Earlier this week, I blogged about planning and getting started with an online corporate community and maintaining a successful corporate community. I thought that it would be a good idea to also spend a little time on the things that you should be thinking about when coming up with a structure for your community.

It is important to keep in mind that every community software package is likely to have unique strengths and limitations when it comes to configuring your community. From a design and architecture perspective, I strongly recommend looking at this strengths and limitations of the platform and taking them into account before starting any design or architecture work. Make sure that any customizations that you do will be compatible with the community platform and will be easy to upgrade to future versions of the software. I have seen way too many companies try to shoe horn a design that just is not compatible with the platform they selected. In most cases, they are able to make it work for the initial launch, but then spend way too much time and effort during every upgrade or even worse, they get themselves into a situation where upgrading the platform or applying bug fixes becomes nearly impossible.

You should also take a careful look at how much structure to put in place when determining the category or discussion forum structure for your community. The specific categories will depend on the type of community and your specific situation, but I generally look at these three basic approaches: emergent, highly-structured, and adaptive.


In an emergent structure, very few (if any) categories are defined before launch, and the structure is allowed to emerge based on the discussions that people are interested in having within your community. As the discussions unfold, you should start to see some common themes. New categories are created and discussions are placed into these categories based on the themes that are emerging in the community.

Advantages to the emergent approach.

  • It is certainly the easiest to implement when creating a new community, since very little is defined before launch.
  • User buy-in may also be higher, since the community members see themselves helping to create the structure by discussing topics relevant to their situation.
  • You might also end up with something completely unanticipated that works very well, but is something that you never would have thought of creating as a category.

Disadvantages to the emergent approach.

  • Community members may get writer’s block when faced with an unstructured community. If confusion sets in and users can’t figure out how to participate, they may never return to the community.
  • A few early members may take the community so far off-topic that it becomes useless for the purpose that it was created to serve. While this is much less important for a social community, it can be devastating to a corporate community.
  • It can be more difficult to maintain in the early days of the community, since you will need to rearrange posts into newly created categories.

I do not generally recommend an emergent structure for corporate communities; however, I could see it being useful in certain situations. In an environment where the industry or product was undefined or unclear and you wanted to avoid constraining people’s ideas into categories, allowing the structure to emerge might generate more innovative or unusual discussions. This structure is also more commonly and more effectively used in social (non-corporate) communities.

Highly Structured

In a highly structured community, all possible categories are defined before the community launch in great detail.

Advantages to the highly structured approach.

  • The company creating the community has full control over the community structure with categories clearly defined in areas where people should focus their discussions.
  • The community members have clear expectations about the types of conversations that are appropriate for the community.

Disadvantages to the highly structured approach.

  • It is a restrictive and inflexible with fewer opportunities for the community to take the discussions into new areas.
  • The company may also face more community resistance, since the community members did not have any input into the structure.
  • The end result might also be a structure that does not work for the community with categories that do not resonate with the intended audience.
  • Too many categories can also make the community seem very fragmented and give the appearance of less participation. This is particularly true if too many narrow categories are selected.

This structure may work fine in certain situations where the categories can be easily predicted and the environment is well understood; however, it can be a bit heavy handed. When it is used, I recommend sticking with broader categories rather than narrow ones whenever possible. Broad categories with more participation will make the community look much more active than if the same amount of participation is split among twice as many categories.

I made the mistake of using this approach when I created the structure for the Jivespace community. I defined way too many narrow categories and put too much structure in place. There were a few categories that people used most of the time, and a few that were rarely used. I would have been better off if I had defined about half as many categories or if I had used the adaptive approach described below.


The adaptive approach is really a hybrid between the emergent and highly structured approaches. A few very broad categories are created to get the community started in the right direction, and additional categories are created as needed after people start participating.

Advantages of the adaptive approach.

  • Better user buy-in, since the community members have some influence over the structure.
  • The company maintains some control over the initial structure to help ensure that the discussions fulfill the purpose of the community.
  • The community may also evolve in unanticipated positive directions that would not have been anticipated in advance.

Disadvantages of the adaptive approach.

  • The company has a little less control over the structure.
  • Getting user traction early in the process is required to help set the direction.

In most situations the adaptive approach is the one that I recommend. It is the most flexible, and it is fairly easy to implement.

Allowing Off Topic Discussions

When you create the structure for your community, you should assume that people will have some off topic discussions in your community. The best way to facilitate this without disrupting the rest of the community is to create a place where people can have these discussions. While they may be slightly off topic, I have found them quite productive for the community on occasion. For example, I’ve seen people using the community to find out which other members were planning to attend an upcoming conference on a related topic. As a community manager, I have used them to talk about interesting things going on in the company or the industry that did not directly relate to community. I caution against calling it something like “off topic”, since people may take you up on the offer to discuss too many random topics. I’ve had pretty good luck calling it “the lounge” or something similar.

Ultimately, the structure you select for your community will depend on your individual situation. No one structure is right or wrong for every situation, so you may need to experiment a little to get it right for you. During the beta phase for your community, you can get quite a bit of feedback about the structure allowing for some adjustments prior to the public launch.

You should also plan to adjust the structure over time regardless of which approach you use. The industry and your products will change over time, and the community structure will need to evolve along with these changes.

What are your tips for organizing and structuring your community?

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Community Manager Compensation Study

I’ve mentioned before about how great it is that ForumOne does focused, relevant, and interesting research on the online community market, and their most recent report is no exception. They just released the Online Community Compensation Study results a week ago. Since I participated in the study, I was able to get a free copy of the entire report, but Bill does a great job of summarizing the key points in his blog post.

The entire study was great, but I was particularly fascinated by two pieces of information:

  • Salary ranges are all over the board
  • Women’s salaries are quite a bit less than men’s

Salary Ranges for Community Managers

I’ve always said that community manager salaries cover a broad range, but I was surprised by exactly how broad the range is. My advice to people about community manager salaries is that community managers tend to make $50,000 to $150,000 per year; however, I was really surprised that it wasn’t more of a bell curve. I was expecting to see a few people around $50k, a few people in the $100k+ range and most of the community managers in the $75k range, but the real numbers are nothing like this imagined bell curve as you can see from the graph above.

The number of people in $150k salary range compared to the other salaries was the most surprising of all; however, I expect that these people fall into two groups:

  • people in higher level strategic positions in corporate environments who head a large organization responsible for the growth and management of multiple communities.
  • community managers with name recognition or internet celebrity status working in high profile positions as community evangelists

The lower salary ranges, while I didn’t expect them, are actually less surprising. I suspect that many people volunteer their time to help manage communities for little or no salary. The lower end of the range is also likely to include people managing small communities on a part-time basis or in startups.

In general, community managers for technical communities (developers, etc.) tend to make more than end user, social communities. Salary also changes significantly depending on whether the role is really more low-end, tactical moderation or something more strategic, like building a new community or revitalizing a troubled community site. Job experience, scope, management responsibilities, location and how well known the person is can also make a big difference in the salary range as mentioned above.

Salary by Gender

Unfortunately, women are making less than men by what seems like a large margin to me. I’m not even going to speculate on why this might be true because they would just seem like the same old clichés and excuses that we’ve been using since women first entered the workforce. I’ll just say that this makes me sad.

Disclaimer: The graphs come from the research conducted by ForumOne; however, my analysis and commentary is highly speculative based on what I know of the industry, not the data in the report.

For more info

Bill does a great job of summarizing the rest of the key points along more information about the demographic breakdown in his blog post. I would also encourage you to take a look at the Online Community Report blog to learn more about the research at ForumOne. They have some very interesting studies and are doing more detailed research into online communities than any other companies I’ve found so far.

Related Fast Wonder blog posts

Online Community Presentations

I’ve been doing a few presentations about online communities recently, and I finally got around to uploading a few of them to SlideShare. I thought people might be interested in seeing them.

I will continue to upload more presentations to my SlideShare account as I deliver them. You can also contact me via email (dawn@fastwonder.com) if you would like to have me deliver a similar presentation or more extensive online community or social media training for your organization.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts: