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As the manager of several Yammer enterprise social networks, there is nothing quite so satisfying as seeing a busy, rewarding online conversation taking place in your network. When a good question is posted, and helpful, robust answers are shared in response, our network is succeeding. It’s firing on all pistons. It’s a rockin’ good time. Information is being shared. People are getting the help they need. All is good with the world.

But sometimes, the world can be a busy place. Sometimes, the world can be too busy. Sometimes, when the world is too busy, there is no space left for anything else.

Judaism teaches the concept of Tzimtzum, roughly translated as “contraction.” We are taught that after the world was created, God’s presence was contracted so the sun could appear, and life could grow. It was only because God was not filling up the space of the world that water, light and life could all now appear.

The lesson of Tzimtzum recently came to mind when I was working with two of our Yammer users. “William” had created a discussion group to talk about a particular issue, and since the groups’ creation, “Thomas” had begun to post several comments every day in that group. Some comments were in response to questions that had been asked, some where informational, and shared as a courtesy.

This is exactly what anyone who manages any kind of online space would want. Lots of comments, lots of discussions…lots of activity. But William had come to our network hoping to engage lots of people in conversation, hoping to create community, hoping to hear a variety of voices.

Thomas on the other hand was only trying to help. Thomas had good information to share and was trying to help as much as possible. But what Thomas may not have realized is that, due to all the comments and information being provided, space was being taken up. No light was getting through. Other people were not getting involved in the conversation. Other voices were not being heard. Life was not being created.

William was rightfully concerned. The group that had been created was to be a place where anyone and everyone could contribute, but there was one consistent voice answering every question, making every comment. Was Thomas only there to help? Was there another agenda?

William reached out to Thomas. Thomas was confused. Isn’t this what you want? William tried to explain, but to no avail, Thomas was angry.

So you don’t want me to respond?

You only want me to respond a certain number of times?

What are the rules?

Thomas wasn’t being difficult, he was just looking for clarification, and if your inclination is to share, to make your voice heard, the lessons of TzimTzum are not always going to resonate.

In the context of an online space, balance needs to be found. How can we encourage conversation without dominating conversation? How can we create a busy space while still making sure people understand we need to hear their voices?

  1. Post questions designed to engage others rather than just pushing information out.
  2. Tag users in your posts who not been active recently,  if at all. Make it clear you want to hear from them.
  3. Email post links to un-engaged users. They may not yet be in the habit of checking Yammer regularly. Taking this pro-active step will remind them their voice is important, valuable and necessary.
  4. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, group moderators should sometimes not respond to posts right away. Give it a little time, provide a little space. Taking that sometimes necessary pause provides the opportunity (and subtle encouragement) for others share their thoughts and expertise.

There is no magic formula to enterprise network success, only common sense and an ongoing appreciation for the hard work of the “William’s” in our communities, and an appreciation and awareness of the motivation and good intentions of all of the “Thomas’s.”

Contract. Provide space. It will be filled.

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