It has been over a decade that I have been thinking and writing about creating, breaking, and maintaining community. Over the years, I have attempted to define the evolution of community in a networked society. Rachel Happe and my fellow community management professionals comprising The Community Roundtable have (generally) settled on the defining explanation and benefits of community. While I have been responsible for exclusive community networking platforms in the past, much of my community management experience has been the monitoring and engagement (herding) of discrete communities. In written word and when I have had the opportunity to share what I have learned on a stage in front of an audience, I acknowledge I define community management as following the ebb and flow of relevant mentions and conversations whether this happens on a networking channel or exclusive platform.

Even with a sanctioned space, the collection of people does not a community make. [Channeling my Inner Yoda.] To me, 'community' has become an overused term and the responsibilities of a community manager undervalued. Perhaps the frequency of the term 'community' and extremely high (and many times missed) expectations is because many are not (yet) managing communities. Community is aspirational. Brands cannot create a Facebook community or develop an Instagram contest and label the participants as part of the brand community. We are fostering a false sense of connection.

According to Manuel Castells in Communication Power, “Horizontal, multimodal networks, both on the Internet and in the urban space, create togetherness; this is important because it is through togetherness that people overcome fear and discover hope. Togetherness is not the same as community because community implies a set of common values, which is a work in progress within the movement, since most participants arrive with their own motivations and goals and then set out to discover potential commonality in the practice of the movement. Thus, community is a goal to achieve, but togetherness is a starting point and the source of empowerment: Juntas podemos (Together we can).”

Building a community takes time and focus. How are people naturally clustering around your values and topics of interest. Don't reinvent the wheel. Be where your consumers and visitors congregate. How do you become a trusted participant in the already existing communities and conversations? Don't think you will build a relationship with the flash only. Substance matters. Perhaps if we used 'togetherness' as a lens to create content, paid social advertising, and contests, we would discover increased participation and longevity of relationships.



Community Management Realized

Today, I will post and not make excuses for the gap in publishing. I have been working and realizing the community and social dreams several of us have blogged about over the past seven (or more) years. Social media is not dead. Community managers are wanted. There are jobs for people who can think critically, create resonating content, and engage empathetically to the communities they serve.

Today, many will celebrate the role of community manager. I have never been a fan of this event. Perhaps this is because I have avoided the limelight. My job is to let others shine, realize their potential, and share their stories. A community manager is never alone in their job. There are times when one may feel the burden of being the sole spokesperson and storyteller of the community, but a community exists through reciprocal relationships and transcends the individual.

Today, you will celebrate the progress of community management. What progress has been made? Are these positions of advanced thinking and empowerment? The State of Community Management and salary surveys as published by The Community Roundtable are ideal. I applaud this organization for continuing to hold the flag for community managers and give us the resources we need to push our companies forward. What I don’t appreciate are those with voices claiming our industry is dead or our positions should no longer exist. It is these voices that whisper into the ears of executives and seed doubt. It is these voices that talk about the same subjects over and over again. They do not talk about the dark side of social media or community management publicly. They do not take the conversations to the next level and challenge our own to think bigger and better. Yes, community management should be a part of every role in the company, but we are far from this utopia. Education is needed. We have to pave the road and build a safe haven for internal and external engagement. It really does take a village.

Today, I implore the community and social media managers celebrating another day of employment to share lessons learned. There is no secret sauce to successful community building and content development. Let’s not be afraid to share the failures and the successes. Let’s stop glossing over the tough topics. There are several paths to success. There is no one-size-fits all community management. The silver bullet is your own critical thinking and judgement.

Today, I celebrate those community managers who won’t make the lists or the celebratory meet-ups. I tip my hat to those who have their head down, lifting up the people in the communities they serve without promoting their personal brand as primary objective.

Understanding the digital ecosystem

Last week, I introduced you to a five-step process I am practicing to apply urban planning to online community building and management. It is time to explore the first step and build our foundation and understanding of our digital ecosystem. How many are familiar with the Garter Digital Marketing Transit Map? Cool concept and visual, but the structure is repeating the same structures and silos we have been “talking” about breaking down. Take a close look at this image. Yes, all areas are connected, but none are integrated. Before we can discuss integration, we need to know all of our customer/member touch points (how and where they interact with the company on and offline) and all of the organization’s internal and external support systems and technology. For some, this exercise will be brief. For others, this will be a painful scavenger hunt. As you go through this identification process, I highly recommend you keep track of the business and department owner(s) of each item. This additional information will assist governance outreach.


According to Gartner, the map “shows the relationships among business functions, application services and solution providers.” There are multiple hooks, people, and departments involved in every touch point and technology. It is difficult to display such relationships in parallel transit lines with overlapping stations. Gartner is trying hard to apply urban planning and design with this map design and the reference to neighborhoods on this image, yet neighborhoods that are vibrant are also diversified and dense. This map design looks like it is the product of an organization and not for the use and navigation by humans.

We’re building destination cities. We need human, living cities.” – Cameron Sinclair, founder and executive director of the non-profit, Architecture for Humanity

Just like cities on a map, we are building destinations online. We are building and designing these online structures for organizations, not humans. This transit map from Gartner is a good start to apply urban planning methodology to digital ecosystem strategy to better understand gaps, opportunities, responsibilities, and the integrated role of social media. Take some time to sit down with your team and organization departments and figure out what you have, why you have it, and establish business owners. A simple spreadsheet will work. Create a simple tab for each transit line on the map. For every station, determine if you have this existing in your company, why/why not, and identify business owner(s). Don’t get bogged down into figuring out where these items belong within your digital ecosystem. We will discuss how to craft the ideal online neighborhood and digital ecosystem next.

Being the Mentor – Ditch Digital Guru or Manager Titles

Last week, I needed a vacation from the vacation (to Germany to visit close friends and England to attend the MuseumNext conference). My Inbox was a disaster and the meetings mounted up because people were preparing to be out of the office this week because of the American holiday, Fourth of July. The crazy whirlwind that is my full-time job, being a parent, and a museum fanatic/lurker, prevented me from writing a post summarizing my recent MuseumNext conference take-aways. The additional time did give me some breathing room to (procrastinate) think through what I would post and why. One theme resonated throughout the MuseumNext conference: Everyone wanted to be or have a digital guru and no one seemed to want one person to be the digital commanding force. Let me explain.

The conference kicked off with a bang as Koven Smith delivered some hard truths about “becoming authentically digital.” Though the conference audience may have been museum professionals, Koven’s recommendation to accelerate taking digital out of job titles to get get more people thinking about and taking an active role in digital work and integration, applies to any industry at the moment. This was my favorite line from the keynote:

“In the same way that DDD used to mean “automatic awesome” for audiophiles, “digital” for museums means sweet motherlodes of engagement and young people. We’re finally getting digital. Let’s roll out that blog, and wait for carloads of teenagers to arrive on our doorsteps. That’s the way this works, right?”

I will not duplicate Koven’s post and try to define digital. It is all semantics and how the definition does or does not align with your organization’s culture. I have struggled for years determining if ‘social media,’ ‘community management,’ and now ‘digital’ belong in my job title. To get through the front door, you feel like you should be using those descriptors, and then, when you are past the guard, the title description becomes a straight jacket. I have said many times publicly, that my goal is to work myself out of a job. The role of community manager belongs to every member of the organization, just as ‘digital’ is (as Koven describes) “a methodology that could be adopted by anyone inside  the organization.” In a follow-up session at MuseumNext, Tijana Tasich, Digital Production Lead at Tate, echoed many of Koven’s recommendations about eliminating the need for a separate digital department, and suggested we recruit digital leaders to act as guides of how the organization can apply digital experience and authority.

Let’s go one step further and recommend the grooming or hiring of digital mentors. There is also a lot of baggage that is attached to the word, ‘mentor,’ so allow me to define mentor as one of the archetypes of Joseph Campbell’s, Hero’s Journey, described by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey as:

“In the anatomy of the human psyche, Mentors represent the Self, the god within us, the aspect of personality that is connected with all things…Mentor figures, whether encountered in dreams, fairy takes, myths, or screenplays, stand for the hero’s highest aspirations…Mentors are often former heroes who have survived life’s early trials and are now passing on the gift of knowledge and wisdom.”

In the journey to ‘becoming authentically digital,’ the hero is the collective organization. The function of the mentor is to teach or train the hero for upcoming challenges and bestows an important gift to the hero to be earned and used at the appropriate time during the journey.  Just as there are many types of heroes, there are many types of mentors, willingly or unwillingly, teaching in spite of their own tragically flawed selves. Both the hero and the mentor are called to serve and neither can ignore the call to adventure.

“Although the Hero’s Journey often finds the Mentor appearing in Act One, the placement of a mentor in a story is a practical consideration. A character may be needed at any point who knows the ropes, has the map to the unknown country, or can give the hero key information at the right time. Mentors may show up early in a story, or wait in the wings until needed at the critical moment in Act Two or Act Three.” Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

We must prepare ourselves and our organizations to be able to become and / or receive these guides. To become authentic, we have to understand ourselves, worts and all. Taking ‘digital’ out of a job title will not accelerate the needed thinking to embody a digital methodology. Museums…organizations…are in need of digital mentors who can provide motivation, inspiration, guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Now, when you frame the job description in this way, many of the self-proclaimed digital gurus, directors, and managers become irrelevant.

Book DNA: When the Heart Waits

This is a painful post to write, yet it feels good to be typing away about another marker in my own Book DNA. I find myself in search of a book. Usually, when this feeling comes over me, it is right before I pick up a book that will change me forever. Sometimes these stories are new to me and other times the books are seasonal reads and my body is yearning for the words on the page. This morning, it was the latter. A book I have not picked up since my last crisis of self in 2007 was howling my name. I tried to resist the calling of this book because that would mean I have to admit I am facing another crisis of self. That is never a thing we wish to admit to ourselves or publicly.

I read the final paragraph on the first page of this book and the words grabbed a hold of my soul just as it did seven years ago.

For some months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit. Back in the autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.” – When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd

I should have seen the signs. This past January, Sue Monk Kidd visited our neighborhood book store to talk about her new book, The Invention of Wings. As she autographed the copy of the new book, I told her how much When the Heart Waits had impacted me. I don’t cry easy or often and at the moment I could not prevent the tears welling up in my eyes. Sue Monk Kidd stopped the grueling and long process of the book signing to give me a hug and share a moment about how and why she had written this book. My soul was aching to read the book at that time, but I pushed down and ignored the request.

Over the past year, books like Lean In and even the new book by Hillary Rodham Clinton, talk about how we can have it all. Balance can be achieved. Rarely, do people want to read about the messy stuff that have to be broken and fixed to achieve any balance or how that balance is fragile and must be nurtured. Rarely, do we want to ask ourselves the tough personal questions about our own journeys. Living through another’s tale of woe and come-back is false hope. We can’t have it all. That is not looking at life with a glass half empty approach, but the truth. There are times in our lives where we can handle more and do it well and other times we have to surrender to life. If you find yourself in a similar place, I encourage you to pick up, When the Heart Waits. Don’t rush through it. Let the book feed you. Be ready and open to address those orphaned voices because you will never be able to run far or fast enough to keep them silent.

[Please note this is a spiritual book. I do not follow one faith over another, but explore and respect a Higher Power. I read this book appreciating the questions being posed by the author.]

Building SMART Online Communities

Community management posts have become a bit stale. There are a lot of people saying the same thing. Not that any of this content is not worthy (although some of it is questionable depending on source and experience), but it is a lot of the same direction regurgitated or repackaged in a BuzzFeed approach. Over the past two years, I have thinned out the community management and digital voices I was listening to and started to look outside our industry for inspiration. A year ago, The Community Roundtable (one of the few resources I kept on my radar because of quality of content and internal discussions) invited Thomas Vander Wal to present about the links between community management and urban planning. Instantly intrigued, I took copious notes and read the recommended book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. The original copyright of  this book is 1961, yet many of the messages in the book are timeless. I read the 50th anniversary edition and covered the book in highlighter and Post-It notes.

“Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.” 
― Jane JacobsThe Death and Life of Great American Cities

The way Jacobs explained the design and user experience of a city dweller, I understood the connection Vander Wal presented, so I began to seek out current urban planning thinking and discussions and stumbled across the smart and sustainable city discussions. If you follow me on Twitter, you have witnessed my obsession with this content. The community management discussion and linkage extends beyond social media community and into the broader digital ecosystem development. Social media networks are merely the green spaces or collective areas within the online city. More on that later…

The blog discussions led to the reading of The Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck (check out the TED video), The Happy City by Charles Montgomery, and Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia by Anthony M. Townsend. All three authors reference Jacobs and build on her original ideas to propose a user-centric environment. Many of the same urban planning principles and phrases used in the books I also found referenced in online development resources. Websites, social media networks, mobile solutions, and other digital assets are being created by organizations to serve one or several communities.

We are building online cities.

(And some organizations are creating viable pathways between nodes or neighborhoods, while other companies are facing urban sprawl challenges as they create unrelated mobile apps and microsites.)

The spark was lit. For the first time, in quite a long time, I was inspired to once again discuss community management, and present best practices with fresh perspective. Earlier this year, at SoloPr Summit, I mustered my courage to present on this topic and was encouraged by the positive reaction to the connections I was proposing. Over the next several months on this blog, I will outline the links between community management and urban planning and the five-step process I have already started to put into practice.

  1. Understanding the digital ecosystem
  2. Establishing zones
  3. Building crosswalks
  4. Developing green spaces
  5. Packaging experiences

It is time to go beyond theory, stop talking strategy, and forge a pathway that can only be discovered through action.