“There is no magic formula to enterprise network success, only common sense and an ongoing appreciation for the hard work of people in our communities.”
I wrote these words in a previous blog post about how to make “space” in your online network so community members would likely be more engaged in communication and collaboration. I stated that there is no magic formula for online community success.
I think I may have been wrong. I think I finally found the formula.
Now, development of this formula has taken years of hard work. Lots of restless nights and busy days, cold pizza and stale coffee. But I think I have finally figured it out. I think I have the magic formula.
First, a question appears in our online community. One of our community members is looking for an answer, a connection, someone to help.
If I happen to know the answer to the question, do I respond right away? Or, do I click “Like” right away? Or, maybe I wait 5 minutes in the hopes that someone else will respond, and then I “Like” the response that was provided by the community? Or maybe I wait until the end of the business day before I respond. Or maybe I give it 24 hours.
To date, I have not been able to refer to a solid “E = mc²” equation, or an “I before E, except after C” rule. We have been on our own. The rules have been ours to make.
In the blog post quoted above, I referenced the ancient Jewish teaching of Tzim Tzum, which teaches that, after creating the world in seven days, God constricted their presence. So that life could be created, so that the mountains could rise, trees and plants could grow and the oceans could be filled. God’s mere presence filled everything, so they constricted, and now life could grow.
I think of the lesson of Tzim Tzum when I see a new post appear in my online community. As the community manager, it is very easy for me to respond. Often, I am the first person to see the post. Often, I do happen to have the answer myself. Often, I can be the one to answer the question, solve the problem, or make the connection. However, when avoidable, the community manager should not be the one making the first response. Waiting provides space. Waiting provides opportunity. Waiting gives others a chance to be involved.
Post (question/statement/announcement) + Time
So after the post appears, according to the magic formula, the community manager gives time. Ideally, the community members will see the post and provide answers themselves. Though it usually does not happen as quickly as we would like, it does usually happen.
This is not to say that we must only sit idly by. We can take proactive steps to provide an answer while not providing an answer. The community manager can tag other users who might be able to help. Those users will get an alert they have been tagged, and will now not only be aware that the post was made, but that this is a post where their particular experience and expertise will be helpful. The community manager can also help curate the post. Beyond tagging other users, topics can be added, resources can be linked that can provide helpful background information, and more.
Post (question/statement/announcement) + Time < Curation
Proper curation of the post is an important, sometimes a “silent” step. An answer is not being provided, but rather the post is being made a bit stronger. Work is being done behind the scenes to make the post a bit easier to see now. A bit easier to find in the future. There is no reason that curation cannot happen right away, once the post has been made. Consider who in your community might be subject matter experts in relation to the question that has been posted, or at least who has recently been active in the group where the question has been posted, and tag their names. They will all get alerts, and likely you will just need one of them to respond in order to encourage even more replies.
Curation is also the step where topics can be added. Effective use of a topic is similar to carefully placing the post in the exact right file folder. It will always be in the right place, and it will always be easy to find. In the Yammer platform, for instance, topics are the great unsung heroes of proper curation, and effectively adding topics to any post will not only make them easy to find, but will show community members that someone is providing care. The step of using topics can work in other platforms as well. Someone is taking their time. This post is important.
Post (question/statement/announcement) + Time < Curation (topics:tags)
The post has been made. Time and space is being given for others to respond. The community manager is taking steps to properly curate the post. And now, if the magic formula is working (and it should be working), members of the community begin to respond, and there is just one more piece of the formula.
Different things are happening as people begin to respond. Files are attached to posts that might benefit from having topics attached, or maybe the file name should be changed so it is easier to read. Expertise of others might be referenced, at which point they should be tagged so they are aware the conversation is taking place. The conversation might go off on an unexpected, yet interesting tangent presenting a valuable opportunity for the manager to link to different files, tag new users and connect to other valuable information.
Post (question/statement/announcement) + Time < Curation (topics:tags)> = Responses, Resources, Community
You will not find this magic formula on your calculator or computer, but initial testing has yielded positive results.
Let the posts be made. Give it time. Curate the information. Monitory the responses. Encourage community. Let community create itself. Your network will thrive, and your community will be successfully engaged.