Making flowers bloom

People like to group things, I don’t know exactly why, but it seems that it helps us to cope with information. This is in real life, but might occur even more online (you can call this ‘digital packratting’). Most platforms I know, and that are used within enterprises, offer the feature to create groups to put content (discussion, bookmarks, files, etc) in. When introducing these kind of platforms without proper community management I often see two general approaches for groups that are both recipes for failure:

  1. ‘We know what is good for you’; In this approach an enterprise defines groups upfront. There is no option to create a new group. However one could file a request for creating a new group although new groups are often not created.
  2. ‘Go ahead, create some groups’; In this approach the users can create any group they want. However there is often nobody who takes into account if groups are duplicated or not used after creation.

In the first approach the users will end up with groups they don’t want and need, in the second approach there are so many groups that users will become clueless if there is any group that is already fulfilling their needs and wants. It might be clear that there is need for a different approach than the first two.

A right way

The first two approaches are often the result of not appointing a leader for the platform, you could call him either a community manager, a chief blogger, a patron, a gate keeper or whatever nice role name you’d prefer. Most important is that there is somebody (or several persons) that cares about the platform and its purpose and who is able to guide people in using the platform, while letting users do what they want . He should be helping people in whatever they want to do on the platform, He prevents the cluttering of content due to users creating too many groups (which is quite arbitrary though), he helps people to discover content and people they weren’t aware of at first.

Groups are always a potential problem

..and every problem is an opportunity in disguise. When you let users create groups (or others buckets in which they could put content), think upfront what the desired outcome may be. Even more important is to think of what you should do if somebody creates a group that is either duplicate or which isn’t viable after a few weeks. What will you tell this user, without offending the user who created this group? The person who created the group seems to think that there is a need for it, so how can the community manager help him? What will you do when somebody creates a group which is very active but about a topic you’d rather not see people talking about (for example about the enormous bonus of your manager…)?

Preparation is key

As you might have noticed preparation is key, just installing a new platform and promoting is a starting point, however most often not the most successful one. You need somebody who takes care of the platform, just like a gardener takes care of a big park. The gardener can help to prevent that things are becoming a mess in the garden, however he can not force a rose to bloom. With the right tools and enough time the one thing he can do is to create the right circumstances to give the rose the opportunity to bloom and that is exactly the thing a community should do: just creating the right circumstances for others to participate and to give the best of themselves.