Tag Archives: culture

Mr. Popularity and Your Enterprise 2.0 Community

Let’s do an experiment. Take five minutes and do a quick search of your organization’s blogs, microblogs, wikis, and forums that are available behind your firewall – and then let me know what the most popular topics are. Do they involve “social media,” “Web 2.0,” “new media,” “mobile,” “enterprise 2.0,” or “collaboration?”

Now, take a look at who is posting and commenting on these topics. Are these the same people who also have the most overall comments, posts, edits, and connections? If so, Mr. Popularity may be taking over your community and the worst part of it all? He may actually think he’s helping you.

Starting and maintaining a vibrant online community behind an organizational firewall is already fraught with challenges – integrating it into the workflow, securing funding, scaling across the organization, developing policies and guidelines, creating rewards structures, identifying active champions – and now I’m here to tell you that those very active champions who are so critical to the early growth of your community may also be the cause of its downfall.

You see, while these active champions are responsible for seeding a majority of the content, answering questions, posting content, editing pages, and creating topics, they can also skew the content to suit their own agenda and create a chilling effect on opposing viewpoints and topics. This makes your communities far more social media and technology-oriented than your organization really is. In the early days of your online community, this may be of little concern to you – content is being created, new members are joining, and discussions are happening. This creates a vibrant community for those employees interested in social media and technology, but unfortunately, further dissuades those interested in other topics from joining. Mr. Popularity, once an ally, now becomes a challenge to be overcome.

I’ve actually experienced the pros and the cons of being Mr. Popularity on our  own hello.bah.com community a few years ago. I was one of the first community managers and was a very visible and active champion for the platform. I became known as the guy who could get conversations started, who could help increase traffic to a post, and who would be willing to give an opinion when no one else would. Our internal communications staff was even pitching me to get me to share official corporate messages because I had built up a decent sized following on my blog. This worked out great in the beginning – I was able to help drive some additional traffic to the platform, increase user adoption, and create a ton of new content that was shared across the firm. The double-edged sword of being Mr. Popularity hit me right in the face though when I got the following email (excerpted below):

“When I ducked into our VP’s blog, I noted you had already jumped in with what appears to be a standard, or getting there, pat on the back and tutorial…  Are you becoming too intrusive beyond cheerleading?  The speed at which you’ve already entered the room is giving me the thought that you are becoming Master Control from the movie Tron. I can’t recall reading anyone’s blog that I can’t remember seeing you there in the first couple of replies.  You write extensive replies very quickly that to me verge on being somewhat inhibiting for others, like me, to weigh in so as to not repeat a point.”

Wow! And here I thought I was being helpful! I thought by commenting on everything I could get to, I could help build and reinforce the collaborative culture we were trying to create. And at first, that’s exactly what I was doing. Little did I know that as the community grew beyond the early adopters, my hyper-activity that was a boon at the start was now becoming a detriment. Instead of a community manager, was I becoming a community bully?

To find out if your Mr. Popularity is negatively impacting your community, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does Mr. Popularity know that he/she is having a negative impact? These active champions probably don’t even know that they’re causing harm. Quite the contrary – they probably believe that they’re helping. Like the email I received above, reach out to them and have a discussion with them about their contributions and show them areas where instead of helping create conversation, they may have inadvertently stopped it.
  2. Who are your most active contributors beyond social media and technology? The best way to lessen the influence of Mr. Popularity is to identify people in other business areas who are willing and able to post and discuss content areas like HR, Legal, and Operations.
  3. What is your role in the community? Do a bit of self-reflection – maybe you are Mr. Popularity. Talk to your colleagues and find out what they really think of your online presence. Do you come across as overbearing? Too focused on one topic? Closed off to other opinions? Publicly, you may be receiving all kinds of positive reinforcement. But what are people saying among themselves that they aren’t sharing publicly?
  4. What other possible reasons exist for the gluttony of social media/tech-related topics? Are community members discouraged from discussing operations? Has the Director of HR banned his staff from participating? Having a few individuals who are hyper-active on your online community and skewing the conversations toward their interests is like having two good quarterbacks and not being able to decide which one to start. It’s usually a good problem to have, and despite some of the challenges identified in this post, they are still likely helping more than they’re hurting your community.

Mr. Popularity isn’t necessarily a detriment to your community. Quite the contrary – they’re likely some of your most valuable members. But, left unchecked, they do have the potential to take over the community – its members, its content, and its discussion. The key is in channeling their energy and enthusiasm and focus it on helping grow the community as a whole, to include topics other than social media and technology.

*This post originally appeared on my AIIM Enterprise 2.0 Community blog.

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Disagreements and Debates Are Good Things

Image Courtesy of Flickr User pboyd04

Have you had a disagreement with your boss about the direction of a project? Did you actually voice your difference of opinion with him, or did you grumble about it silently but do what he told you anyway? If you answered the latter, then you’re not doing your job as effectively as you could be. Sure, you might be getting good performance reviews and winning awards, or maybe you’re flying totally under the radar, putting in your eight hours and doing exactly what’s expected of you. Or, you’ve dutifully accomplished every task your boss has asked of you. That’s great – I’m happy for you. I just wouldn’t want you on my team.

You see, here’s the thing – if you can’t think back to the last time someone at work, be it a boss, manager, junior employee, intern, etc. has yelled at you, debated something with you, or flat out argued with you about something that you did, how do you know how much more you could have done? How do you know if that briefing really should have included your slides if you didn’t make your case to include them? Can you remember the last time you asked someone on your staff to do something and they pushed back and said, “how about we try it this way instead?” How about the last time you felt strongly enough about a project you were working on that you didn’t take “no” for an answer? Can you remember a time you argued for or against something you truly believed in?

You see, the people I want to work with are the ones who are naturally inquisitive, who will put their neck on the line for something they believe in, who aren’t afraid to send me an email and tell me that I’m flat out wrong and here’s why. I want to work with people like that because that’s how I am. Every problem is an opportunity to fix it. Ask for forgiveness, not for permission. If there isn’t a policy stating you can’t do something, then that probably means it’s allowed, right?

For us social media and Government 2.0 champions, we pretty much make our living taking our colleagues, clients, and bosses out of their comfort zones, showing them new ways of working and new ways of thinking. We’re the innovators, change agents, and in some cases, instigators. We have our battle scars, our stories of almost getting fired, and our half-completed resignation letters, you know, just in case 😉  On the other hand, many of the most innovative and groundbreaking social media initiatives began with an argument or a debate.

And I’m here to tell you that that’s OK. You know why? It shows me you’ve got some passion. I’ll take a passionate, enthusiastic worker who sometimes takes things too far over a conservative worker who does exactly what I tell him every time every single time.

Booz Allen has ten core values – professionalism, fairness, integrity, respect, trust, client service, diversity, excellence, entrepreneurship, and teamwork. Interestingly, no where on that list do I find the words “agreeable,” or “passive,” or “obedience.” While I try to live by these core values every day, I also know that I can have professional and respectful differences of opinion, arguments, and lively discussions. It’s this ability to give honest feedback and to engage in honest dialogue that is common of most social media and Gov 2.0 evangelists. We probably don’t have any special degrees or titles, but we aren’t afraid to take a risk and try a new way of doing things. Reprimands, arguments, and nasty emails are sometimes just part of the job.

Innovation isn’t easy. It involves risk-taking, debates, differences of opinion, and often, some good old-fashioned arguments. That’s ok. That’s part of what makes it innovative. Truly transformative initiatives aren’t the result of achieving consensus at senior committee meetings or from a memo from the Director. They’re achieved every day, step by step, argument by argument, by the people who see an opportunity and who don’t just take no for an answer.

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