Managing an ESN? Never miss a good chance to shut up.

shut up

Phoebe Venkat wrote a great post earlier this month ‘Top Six Tips for Launching an Enterprise Social Network‘.

She spoke about the Community Manager’s itchy finger, the tendency to want to jump in and solve everything.

My fingers were itching to type a response and let this person know how wrong he was. I wanted to show him some great examples to try to change his mind. Just as I was about to fire off a manifesto, I paused and told myself, “let the community respond…don’t speak for everyone.”

She raises a good point and typically one of the most challenging for Community Managers.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

If your previous experience is in corporate communications or HR keeping quiet can initially feel unnatural. There is a tendency to lean back into more established and formal controlled message delivery. Managing an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) departs from old-school structures of cascading information as communication is flattened. Effectively, everyone has a microphone.

As a community manager you shouldn’t be starting all the conversations. You shouldn’t be at the top of the ‘Top Posters’ list. You shouldn’t be the first responder to every conversation and smacking down every troll.

Community managers today are focused on facilitating people and making sure the community is a lively place to be.

As Phoebe highlights, this means setting the table so that others can join.

Here are three more tips for Community Managers I’d add to Phoebe’s list:

1. Don’t post all the time.

Let the community wander and go off topic by themselves. Sometimes they don’t need to hear from you, but they need to grow by themselves. Posts may not be on-point 100% of the time but you need to give people a voice without feeling like they are on Big Brother. Real conversation needs time to simmer without intervention. Resist the urge to start a new post just to ‘spark conversation’. You don’t want to become that guy; the one that seems to be posting for the sake of posting. Keep in mind relevance and resonance, as participation in social networks relies on voluntary adoption. Slow down with the posting and let other people do the talking.

The challenge for community managers is to not be the number one poster in your network.

2. Stop being the human google.

Community Managers feel personally responsible for every unanswered thread.

You are not the human google and you are not expected to be! Your value as a community manager is as the most connected person in the organisation. Instead of spending your time searching for answers to other people’s questions, introduce them to someone who you think will have the right answer. It doesn’t have to be a long thread of introduction, just ‘@ mentioning’ the person’s name which alerts the right person to the thread.

A good community manager is more involved ‘behind the scenes’ – they’ll alert members to relevant discussions and encourage them to get involved instead of trying to answer everything by themselves.

3. Do dive into the behind-the-scenes stuff.

Shutting up and listening unearths gold. Listen to not just key messages from executives, or discussions on the company strategy, but what people are talking about in general. This will give you some idea about the culture. It will help you identify outliers, build benchmarks and incentives, and see what the company are really interested in.

What posts are getting the most comments? What are getting the most likes? Look for your hotspots.

At Yammer we have a feature called Leaderboards which give you access to this sort of activity really easily.

Too often a community manager’s ears are focused on what people are saying about ‘me’ or the company’s key messages and product. If you zoom out a little you’ll start to spot macro trends.

Do not be deaf to the real conversations going on.

Your role as a community manager is as much about guiding conversation as it is to connecting people to relevant discussions taking place, and listening to what is really being said.

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