Author Archive for Rodney Koch

Skills required by Project and Community Managers in the year 2027


Image courtesy of Krom Krathog

This week I attended a virtual conference session discussing the skills that will be needed by Project Managers in the year 2027. The speaker reviewed predictions made in the early 1900s for the world 100 years in the future. While some of the predictions still haven’t come to pass (e.g. personal flying transport devices); others were very close in their general vision, but not so much in the actual technological implementation (e.g. pushing buttons in your room to have material goods delivered versus clicking a virtual button and ordering goods from the internet). The speaker went on to say that futurists shouldn’t focus on technology when making predictions because it’s very difficult to predict the actual path of technology development. Likewise, when looking at the future role of the Community Manager it’s better to concentrate on other factors that are more predictable.

Increased Complexity (and Channels)

The Project Management study took into consideration four different geopolitical/economic scenarios. It was found that in spite of differences between these scenarios that the outcomes remained very similar because all scenarios resulted in increased complexity. Likewise, if we look at the future role of the community manager, we cannot envision an environment which does not become more complex than the current one. While we don’t know what form new technologies may take, based on previous history it seems most likely that there will be new technologies and more platforms. In the past the advent of new communication channels has rarely spelled the doom of old communication channels. Instead new communication channels have just been added to the mix; consequently, while we may think that some new telepathy channel will spell the end of all older communication channels, this is unlikely to occur. The community manager of the future can expect to look forward to managing even more channels and dealing with more complexity than even today.

Communication Skills

Because of the increased environmental complexity predicted by all scenarios in the Project Management survey, communication was forecast to be the top skill required by the project manager of 2027. Likewise, the community manager of the future will continue to need to increase their communication skills. With the increase in global communications the ability to be able to understand the cultural context of messages will be increasingly important. Also, it seems that there will continue to be divergence between informal communication (e.g. texting abbreviations & emoticons, tweeting) and formal communication (e.g. email, blogs) used in a business context. To be able to reach different audiences, the community manager will need to understand the culture and the “proper” language needed to communicate with many different communities.

Leadership Skills

One surprising outcome of the Project Manager survey was that Leadership skills did not appear in the “top 10” list of skills. Instead leadership was rated more in the mid-range of all skills needed. A skill denoted “relaxation” did however, make the top 10. The skill of relaxation was defined as the ability to help others to relax. In the complex and stressful world of the future, the ability to be able to diffuse tense situations and put others at ease so that they can maximize their productivity is seen to be an important skill. So perhaps, what the survey is really saying is that the definition of leadership is shifting to less of a commanding, domineering presence and more of a collaborative presence, that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a key skill that all leaders of 2027 will need. Community managers also need the skill of “relaxation” to be able to deal with stressful situations within their communities and bring out the best in their community members. Community managers already require high EI skills and the need for these types of skills will only increase in the years ahead.

What do you think the key skills for community managers will be in the year 2027? What changes do you expect to see the role of the community manager between now and 2027?

Ramping up Social Media Community Growth via the Conversion Process

Scaling Up

Image courtesy of jscreationzs

In his book Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities, Richard Millington argues that ones of the keys to growing your social media community is to optimize the conversion process. By the conversion process, he means converting non-visitors to visitors, visitors to registrants, registrants to participants, participants to regulars, and regulars to volunteers.

Non-visitors to Visitors

The first step is to look at your current process for attracting people to your community. Ask yourself, “What sources attracted the current members to your community?”. Identify the best sources of traffic and concentrate on exploiting these sources to draw more people into your community. If a particular blogger has referred a large amount of traffic to your site in the past, work with him/her to improve your relationship and increase your future traffic. In short, focus on the sources that have been the most successful in driving traffic to your site in the past and work to accelerate the amount of traffic generated by these sites.

Visitors to Registrants

Once you have gotten someone to visit your site, the next step is to get them to register. First, you must position your best and most intriguing content “above the fold” (i.e. no scrolling or searching necessary to find it) so that it is immediately evident, when they arrive at your site. The “registration form” should also be prominently displayed on the landing page and be visible without scrolling. After a certain number of “clicks” on the page, the visitor should be prompted to register. Registration should be quick, easy, and require a minimum of information. If a confirmation email is sent, it should be sent promptly (i.e. within a minute, not hours or days), and the subject line should encourage immediate action (e.g. “Community Registration Confirmation – respond within 24 hours”).

Registrants to Participants

When the Registrant clicks on the confirmation, they should again be directed to engaging content that is begging for a response. An initial poll or other content that requests participation will encourage them to begin interacting immediately. A special forum for new members hints and tips (and a helpful community manager) will get them up to speed and help drive further participation.

Participants to Regulars

While fresh and engaging content is always a good start to keep people engaged in your community, this is not enough to guarantee participants will become regulars. Continue sending participants regular reminder emails highlighting the current trending topics and offering ways for them to participate. Notify them of upcoming events that they won’t want to miss. Introduce members with similar interests to each other or pair more veteran members with newer recruits so that they become an on-going part of the community. Gaming concepts can also be used to “score” participation levels and create an environment that rewards participants for becoming “regulars”.

Regulars to Volunteers

Although the number of volunteers to total group members will always be a small percentage, it is still important to work on this last conversion process. As a community manager, your job will become much easier if you have an active group of well qualified volunteers promoting and participating in your community. You should always be looking for talented participants who bring special expertise and skills that could benefit the community at the “volunteer” level. You will want to personally invite these members to become volunteers or if you have number of qualified candidates, you may want to have a competitive application process. Either way, it’s important to continue recognizing your volunteers and offering them opportunities to continue growing as a member of the community.

What techniques does your community use to optimize your conversion process? What steps are the most difficult in the process for your community? How do you overcome these obstacles?

An Interview with Amber Giuliano, Thunderbird Social Media Manager


Thunderbird Backpack Logo

The Thunderbird School of Global Management is ranked as the number one school for international business programs and is famed for its “Thunderbird Mystique”, the unique culture which binds together its student and alumni community. As a student at Thunderbird, I took courses and dragged my beloved Thunderbird backpack (see remnants in photo to the right) across five different continents learning about international business and global culture. The famed Thunderbird global community (over 40,000 strong) is represented in almost every country around the world; consequently, I was excited to interview Amber Giuliano, their Social Media Manager (and online Community Manager) in order to learn what Thunderbird is doing to extend their community of students and alumni into the world of social media.

Amber’s Background in Social Media

Amber was one of the early adopters of Facebook, at a time when you still needed a college email address and primarily identified with a university community. After some years in local government and public relations, she came to Thunderbird to work in the Executive Education group. From there she moved to the Career Management Center where she managed their Twitter and Facebook accounts before moving on to the marketing department. A short while later the school’s public relations specialist took another position and handed off the institutional social media accounts to her, which included Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare. After a reorganization, her current position of Social Media Manager was created, consolidating control of the school’s social media presence within the Marketing department. Google+ has since been added to her purview.

Community Management at Thunderbird

At Thunderbird, the Social Media Manager is primarily responsible for community management of the online communities. The Director of Alumni Relations and the Global Community Engagement Manager also do community management work, but mostly in a more traditional sense. The Director of Alumni Relations is the first point of contact for alumni looking to connect or reconnect with the school and manages most communication with the alumni network on behalf of the school. The Global Community Engagement Manager manages the campus ambassador and global ambassador programs and works with them to coordinate face-to-face events like the monthly worldwide First Tuesday networking events, preview weekends, prospective student events, and many more.

Scaling the Thunderbird Community

Facebook and Twitter have not needed much help scaling, because they have grown steadily each day. Thunderbird promotes its social channels via the alumni magazine, monthly newsletters, and cross-promotes via other social channels. As new channels increase in popularity, Thunderbird researches and evaluates the value of reaching that new audience versus spreading their brand too thin. Social media is ever-changing; consequently, half of the job is keeping up with what’s new.

Approach to Metrics

Because the lead-matriculation cycle is so long and people can enter it through multiple points, it is very difficult to track if a prospective student matriculates as a 100% direct result of social media efforts. Currently Thunderbird measures things like the number of fans/followers, engagement (likes + comments + shares divided by the number of followers) in a month over month and year over year cycle. For analytic tools they are now experimenting with HootSuite.

The Future

The role of Social Media Manager is new to the school, starting just last fall as the result of combining marketing and communications. Since then a lot of time has been spent strategizing, setting up calendars, developing key internal relationships, and just making sure each of the channels were fully up and running, and being regularly updated. Currently, they are researching and evaluating several different tool solutions including HubSpot and Salesforce Marketing Cloud and are hoping to purchase one of these tools in the next fiscal year.

As a student who enjoyed the internal community of Thunderbird students, I am looking forward to participating with my fellow alumni in the new social media communities being supported by Amber. What are other universities doing to keep their student communities engaged after graduation? If you’ve graduated, what benefits have you experienced from remaining engaged with your alma mater?

The Importance of Social Media Metrics

Business Metrics

Image courtesy of jscreationzs

In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Bill Gates discussed the importance of setting clear goals and selecting measurements that will drive progress towards those goals as a way to create a virtuous feedback loop and solve the world’s health, education, and agricultural problems. If the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is tackling the world’s biggest problems with this simple insight, perhaps it could help solve social media ills as well. Maybe by measuring the right things and tracking our progress (or lack thereof) organizations could improve the effectiveness of our social media investment. In Social Media ROI, Olivier Blanchard postulates the need for a similar feedback loop to improve companies’ return on their social media program.


The first step is to establish “listening outposts”. Determine what channels are important to monitor. Where are your current and future customers hanging out? Establish a presence there and begin to listen. Begin to sort and organize the data into categories that will help you drill down to more finite measurements.


In this step you will need to define the metrics that will be tracked. The best way to begin is to do as Steven Covey says, “begin with the end in mind”. Make sure to “measure what matters”, by starting with your organization’s objectives and working backward to develop metrics which support these objectives. Also, seek to understand the amount of influence each measurement has on the behaviors you are seeking to modify. Establish baselines for your measurements so that you have a beginning point for future measurements to be compared against. Remember that once measurements are established, they are not static. They need to continue to evolve as new tools or better algorithms are developed that yield more precise or better measurements.


All the data in the world is worthless if you can not distill it into insightful information which you can use to spur new actions or change existing ones in order to increase the probability of meeting or exceeding your objectives. Create a narrative tracking specific financial investments in your social media program (e.g. $25,000 spent for new facebook company page) into non-financial outcomes (e.g. new facebook followers, more click-throughs to website on-line store) and back into financial results (e.g. increased first quarter sales generated by new facebook customers). Documenting the return on investment for each social media investment, will make it easier to know where to make future investments in order to maximize your investment returns.


Reporting needs to be “efficient, timely, clear, and to the point”. Start immediately with the basics and use a continuous improvement process to expand your reporting as needs dictate. Remember that a “picture is worth a thousands words”. Using the right graphics and charts can convey your data much more effectively than a mass dump of indecipherable data. Keep your reporting structure simple and intuitive so that important trends stand out and are quickly grasped by all.

Test, Measure, Learn, Adapt, Repeat

Finally, remember that improving your social media program is continuous learning effort. Continue experimenting and incorporating your learnings into your next iterative cycle. Always continue to test, measure, learn, adapt, and repeat! You may not solve world hunger, but you will improve the return on investment for your social media program.

How do you tie your social media program measurements into your corporate objectives? What have you learned through this process?

Becoming a Brand Ambassador: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Joining Hands

Image courtesy of adamr

I recently read the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. Goldsmith is an executive coach and the book identifies twenty obstacles that successful people may face when they want to take their careers “to the next level.” As I was reviewing the literature on developing brand ambassadorship programs and building brand loyalty in communities, I was reminded of many of the admonitions from the book. It seems that building strong relationships in a community requires overcoming many of the same obstacles that Goldsmith’s executive clients must overcome to advance their careers.

An Excessive Need to be Me

Goldsmith identifies “an excessive need to be me” as one of the most difficult flaws to overcome. As people we have certain notions of ourselves that we cling to, resisting change, because think we’re being true to ourselves. Goldsmith points out that it’s not about us, its about what other people think of us. Similarly, Christopher Barger points out that one of the first hurdles that brands and potential brand ambassadors both need to do is to “get over themselves.” Brand managers need to realize that regardless of how mighty and powerful their brand is that they can’t build a strong relationship with potential brand ambassadors by attempting to coerce them into doing their bidding. Likewise, brand ambassadors need to realize that even if they’ve successfully built “large” communities that brand managers are used to dealing with much larger communities; consequently, brand ambassadors also need to bring a sense of humility to the table.

Making Destructive Comments

Making destructive comments, even if true, will not engender trust between two parties trying to build a relationship. Brand ambassadors need to be careful not to label the brand/brand manager as “stupid”, “shout” at the brand, or organize a group of vigilantes against the brand. Brands should be given the opportunity to fix mistakes without the brand manager and/or community “piling on”. Also, just because a brand manager disagrees with the brand ambassador over the best course of action to be taken, does not mean that the brand manager should be labeled as “not getting it” or “stupid”. Goldsmith counsels that destructive comments can be avoided by first asking yourself “Is it worth it?” and “Will this comment benefit anyone?” If the answer to either question is “no”, it is better to say (and post) nothing.

Not Listening

According to Goldsmith, “not listening” is a key flaw that sends messages to others that you’re rude and that you don’t care about them. Likewise, Barger and many others point out that failing to pay attention to what potential brand ambassadors write about and making inappropriate pitches to them does not communicate that you are “listening” to them. Brand managers also need to sincerely listen to criticism from brand ambassadors and take action when appropriate.

Failing to Express Gratitude

The easiest failure to overcome as identified by Goldsmith is the failure to express gratitude. He emphasizes how easy it is to say “thank you”, but how often people neglect to do this. Barger emphasizes that brand managers need to follow up meetings with potential brand ambassadors by reaching out to them and thanking them for their time and contributions. As he states “thank you goes a long way” (in building trust relationships).

It appears that the skills needed to build strong relationships with brand ambassadors and in brand communities overlap with many of the general skills needed to build face-to-face human relationships. What other examples of common relationship blunders have you experienced while attempting to develop brand ambassador or community relationships? How could these have been avoided?

Reaching Out to Bloggers

Reaching Out

Image courtesy of phanlop88

While many businesses would like to reach out to bloggers in order to tap new markets, target an existing market, or simply expand their revenue base, they often fail in their attempts to do so. In order to be successful in adding bloggers to their marketing mix, businesses need to find bloggers whose audience aligns with the business’ target audience, develop a relationship with these bloggers, and deliver meaningful content that is easy for bloggers to incorporate into their blogs.

Finding the Right Bloggers

It goes without saying that companies need to have defined their business objects and target markets before they begin looking for bloggers to help them reach these objectives and markets. Once companies have defined their objectives and markets, they must find bloggers who are already reaching out to these desired target markets. In The Art and Science of Blogger Relations, Brian Solis suggests that going after large general topic blogs is not usually a good way to reach more narrowly defined markets. Instead he recommends targeting the “Magic Middle” bloggers, who concentrate on smaller niche markets, yet still have sufficient reach to get their message out to a sizable audience. Among the tools available to help find these bloggers are Google blog search, Technorati, and blogrank. Once potential bloggers are found, it is important to spend time reading their blogs and verifying that they are indeed speaking to your desired audience in a tone that you can support. Don’t forget to spend time researching the individual behind the blog, because you will need this information as well.

Developing a Relationship with Bloggers

It is important to get your new relationship off on the right foot, so once you have learned all you can about the blogger and his/her blog, approach them by contacting them with a personal note (using their preferred means of communication), addressing them by name, and complimenting something in a specific blog post or on their blog site. Make sure to put yourself in their shoes and think about what value you can be bringing to their blog site in exchange for their help in moving you closer to your target audience. Help them see the value you can add by following them, commenting on their posts, publicizing their site, and becoming a part of the “local” community. Finally, make sure your personality shines through in your communications so that you don’t come off sounding like a corporate public relationship department. Always remember that you are building a relationship with a human being who, if you can find common ground, will prefer to interact with you as a fellow human being, and not with a faceless business entity.

Delivering Meaningful Content

Bloggers are always interested in receiving meaningful content that is applicable to their interests. First, you need to make sure that you are offering them unique content or at least content with a unique viewpoint. Offering them content on a topic that they just wrote about the week before is not the way to win them over. You need to act like Wayne Gretzky and skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been, so remember to offer content which discusses new topics or revisits older ones in a way that makes them fresh and relevant again. Make the content you offer easy for the blogger to consume by stating your case succinctly and incorporating links, infographics, videos, podcasts, and some tweetable 140 character “sound bites”. If you regularly contribute good content and interesting ideas while continuing to build a strong human to human relationship, your blogger outreach is likely to succeed.

If you are a blogger, what motivates you to work with someone who reaches out to you? What deal breakers have you experienced in the past that have caused you to spurn attempts to reach out to you? What successes or failures have you experienced with blogger outreach partnerships?

Book Review: Web Analytics 2.0 The Art of Online Accountability & Science of Customer Centricity

Web Analytics 2.0 Cover

Web Analytics 2.0 – Copyright Wiley Publishing 2010

What is Web Analytics 2.0?

In his book, Web Analytics 2.0 The Art of Online Accountability & Science of Customer Centricity, Avinash Kaushik defines what he calls the five pillars of second generation web analytics:

1) Collecting, storing, processing, and analyzing click level data (aka, The What),
2) Measuring increased revenue, reduced cost, and improved customer satisfaction & loyalty (aka, The How Much),
3) Experimenting and testing to determine what works (aka, The Why),
4) Listening to the voice of the customer (aka, The Why again), and
5) Performing competitive analysis (aka, The What Else).

As Community Managers, moving to the second generation of web analytics requires several shifts in mindset. First, we must dig much deeper than simply measuring “clicks”. We need to choose new quantitative measurements that measure things the business really cares about (i.e. revenue, expenses, and customer engagement) while at the same time gathering as much qualitative customer data as possible (i.e. via customer surveys, etc.). We need to automate decision and create continuous feedback and learning loops which measure customer sentiment and drive improvements in our behaviors and customer interactions. Finally, we can’t stop with just looking at our own position; we need to look at our position in relationship to our competitors.

Use the 10/90 Rule to Make the Right Investments

One of Kaushik’s reoccurring themes throughout his book is the use of his 10/90 rule. When investing in web analytics, many companies make the mistake of believing the primary investment is in the tools themselves. Instead Kaushik argues, 90% of our investment in analytics needs to be in the people who are interpreting the results of the tools. The investment needed in tools and professional services to get the tools up and running is only about 10% of the total investment in web analytics. Investing in expensive tools will yield little benefit if we don’t invest sufficiently in one or more brilliant people to interpret the results of the tool. Community managers need to be one of those people with a “planet sized brain” as Kaushik puts it. While the community manager may not need the technical depth of a web analytics professional, he or she needs to understand the techniques used by the web analytics professional, be able to ask the right questions, and provide direction for prioritizing deeper analysis by web analytics professionals. Of course in some cases the Community Management, Social Media Manager, and Web Analytics guru is the same person…..(sigh). Good luck with that. You’ll need a “galaxy sized brain”.


Using segmentation is another recurring theme in Kaushik’s book. Segmenting your metrics makes it possible to gain deeper insights into your website’s data and drive new actions which will improve your website’s effectiveness. By using analytic tools to break the data into different segments you may be able to determine that the rogue video your colleague put on YouTube has drawn more customers to your site than the latest more expensive marketing campaign. A community manager may find that new community members are passionate about certain topics that long-time members are not and seed community discussions with unique content that will appeal to each audience.


Kaushik’s book helps Community Managers understand that Web Analytics is not just important for hard core technologists. Community Managers can benefit from understanding web analytic techniques and using them to grow the size of their community, differentiate themselves from similar communities (through competitive analysis), develop better business oriented metrics for their communities, and of course, listen to the voice of their customer.

How much do you think Community Managers need to understand about Web Analytics? Are you a Social Media Manager, Community Manager, and Web Analytics person all rolled up into one? If so, please share how you do it all.

What to Think About Before you Comment

Friends in Circle

Image courtesy of Savit Keawtavee

Have you ever read a community post and wondered, “What was that person thinking?” or more likely “Why wasn’t that person thinking?” While the onus is often placed on the community manager to deal with all kinds of crude or thoughtless posts, maybe it’s time that we all helped improve the constructiveness of our community dialogue by thinking more before we “speak.” While I realize that I risk “preaching to the choir”, here are some filters that I personally attempt to put my messages through before sending them out.

Who can Hear my Message?

Recently, according to Forbes, two attendees at a tech conference conference were talking to each other using crude sexual innuendos. The person in front of them was offended, snapped a picture of them, and posted it on Twitter with their comments. Needless to say things only got worse from there. One key learning from this is that whether we’re speaking to the person next to us in public or posting to a private forum on the internet, we need to think about who might “overhear” our message, and realize that it may go beyond our intended audience. The more public and unknown the potential audience is, the more conservative we need to be when formulating our message. We also need to moderate our messages based on how much trust we have in the privacy controls of our internet provider, social media platform, and our fellow community members. Even if the technology platforms are completely “secure” and “roped off” there is always the chance that a community member could repeat what we have said elsewhere, so remember to “let the buyer beware”, because there is no guarantee of privacy on the internet.

What Community Standards do I need to live up to?

Even if we have chosen a community that has good privacy controls and feel comfortable relying upon these controls, there is still the need to learn and follow the standards of a particular community. The best way to do this is to listen for a while until we understand the tone of the community. We need to watch what the community manager allows or doesn’t allow and observe how the more esteemed members of the community conduct themselves. Too often “free speechers” will join a community and declare their right to loudly express their opinions. Yes, it’s a free country, and no one knows you’re really sitting at your computer in your pajamas, so you have this powerful feeling of anonymity, but please don’t post your personal right-wing/left-wing political manifesto every other day; please don’t bait and make personal attacks against your community arch-nemesis; and please do try to support your ideas with logical, well-thought out arguments instead of resorting to name calling. Just as some professional sport announcers have to practice in order to avoid swearing on air, we need to filter ourselves and practice living up to the standards set by our communities. Obviously, these may differ from community to community, which is why it’s important to listen and observe these standards before going overboard. Again, when in doubt, err on the side of conservatism, even if it means deleting some of the best lines from that colorful rebuttal you have written. And remember the admonition of your mother, “If you don’t have anything good to say”, don’t say anything at all”.

Does my Message Construct Match my Medium?

Maybe I’m showing my age on this one, but I still believe we need to choose the right medium for the message and construct the message in the format appropriate for the medium (and of course, the intended audience). To me there is a continuum of mediums whose proper use depends at least partially upon the formality or informality of the medium as well as the context of the message. It’s OK to use “u”, “2”, and “8” as words in text messages, but as we move up the food chain to more formal mediums (e.g. formal blogs, business emails, business community forms), we need to use our best formal language skills. Twitter and Facebook appear to be more informal on the surface, but business pages and business targeted communications using these mediums require more formalized encoding of our messages than firing off a text does. If we all put more time into thinking before we speak or hit “send/post”, the world could be a better place for all of our communities.

What filters do you put your messages through before submitting your posts? What filters would you like to see others put their posts through?

Planning Content for Your Community

Construction Plan

Image courtesy of Nuttakit

Eons ago (i.e. before the internet as we know it today) I was a volunteer (read unpaid) Marketing Director for a large national computer users’ group supported by the largest computer hardware and software maker of the day. Corporations paid an annual membership fee to belong and sent attendees to three annual conferences a year to learn about the latest technologies and hopefully influence the large computer giant to develop new products or modify existing ones to better address their needs. We were a community, albeit mostly a face-to-face one, quaint as that may sound nowadays. Needless to say, a big part of my time (and all volunteers’ time) was spent doing content planning. In “Buzzing Communities”, Richard Millington relates how his virtual gamers association grew once he discovered that community content needed to be “content about the community.” As I read his thoughts, I experienced a severe case of deja vu back to my days as a users’ group volunteer. According to Millington, content has 5 goals:

  1. Create a narrative for the community to allow members to follow what’s happening
  2. Provide a reason for members to visit the community frequently
  3. Develop a sense of community among members
  4. Establish a social order among the community
  5. Subtly influence the community by emphasizing activities that you wish to encourage

Narrative for the Community
The narrative for the old face-to-face model of community was paper-based communication. Our user group was divided into groups by topics. The conference as a whole and each topic group would produce a newsletter between conferences reviewing the previous conference and highlighting key speakers and events at the next conference. Today, of course, newsletters may be published online, and are more likely to be a series of posts on a social media platform rather than a single publication.

Reason for Members to visit the Community Frequently
Under the old model, we focused on driving attendance at each of our physical conferences; consequently, much energy was spent around determining the correct theme for the next conference based on some emerging trend in the computer industry that our members would need to know about. Similarly, today, community managers must continually be thinking about new topic and discussion themes that can be raised within their communities to keep their members engaged and returning for the “next great thing”.

Develop a Sense of Community – Unique Identity
Within our user group, the different topic areas would try to “recruit” new members. Attendees at the conference would indicate their topic area of interest on their application form and when they arrived at the conference this would be denoted on their name tag by a color coded sticker. This allowed you to see at a glance whether the person standing next to you had some of the same interests and made striking up a conversation with new people easy. The night before the opening keynote, an open bar event was held in a large open conference room with large placards scattered around the room letting you know where to meet other “birds of your feather”. As people gathered around a group dinner would be arranged and you’d go out for dinner together. This was repeated every night of the conference and helped to build strong communities. I believe that this aspect is perhaps harder to build in today’s online communities because of the lack of food and drink, but creating an inviting place that helps “birds of a feather” find each other and “flock together” is still the key.

Establish a Social Order
In the old physical world, at each conference the “President’s Award” would be given to one or possibly a few people who had been long-time contributors to the community and had done something outstanding for that particular conference. The entire volunteer organization had a hierarchy and your status was identified by ribbons attached to your name badge. First time attendees received a special pin for their name badge to recognize them and encourage old-timers to help them out. In the online community our awards are handed out by the community manager through recognition of a job well done or being mentioned in the community news. The structure is less hierarchical, but anyone visiting soon gets to know “who’s who” in the community.

Influence the Right Activities
In the user group, we wanted to convert attendees into volunteers and help them work their way up in the organization. We gave a special presentation at each conference on how what they should do so that they could bring value back to their organization in order to get funding and commitment to return and become a regular attendee and “wear a ribbon”. In online communities, we “like” good posts and comment on postings that engage us and make us want to return to the community, thus encouraging the poster to continue doing what he or she is doing.

What similarities and differences do you see between the old and new community models? Is there anyway to replicate food in the online community?