Building Online Communities? – FAQs on Why-What-Who-How

CoP-FAQYou cannot always do it alone.  Whether you are trying to learn some new concepts, improve your existing knowledge, or feed into your desire to teach others.  Communities can be one of, if not the most comprehensive tool a company has to transition to a Learning Organization, which is part of the transformation to becoming a Social Business.

Building useful, thriving Communities requires dedication and understanding from all areas of the organization.  As you go around your company and promote the concepts of Online Communities, you will find people will not totally understand what this is all about or how to get started.

So here are some FAQs you can share to help provide some clarity to why Online Communities can benefit your Organization:

1. Why Should I become a Community Member?


  1. Build Strong Relationships. If you’re a new or existing employee, joining various Communities are a good way to connect with people and to build strong professional and political relationships across organizational boundaries.
  2. Have a question or a problem specific to your company? You can ask the Community for information or suggestions, and work together to solve your problems.
  3. Got a great idea? Then why not share it with the Community who can help to get that idea recognized and even improve it.
  4. Think yourself an expert? Join a Community and share your knowledge, receive affirmation from peers, and improve your personal brand.
  5. Feel connected to the company.  In my experience, strong community program can help build & sustain an emotional connection to your organization.

2. What is the main purposes of the Community?


  1. Expand your knowledgeof the Organization’s Business or Domain of Expertise.  This can help you in your career path by learning from multiple areas of the business.
  2. Develop new skills. As part of your career-learning process, Being a contributing Community Member can help in your Team-Work skills, while a Community Manager role can provide excellent leadership and problem solving skills
  3. Improve professional relationships.  Build your professional network within the Organization in order to help solve new problems or find new solutions to old problems.
  4. Speed up innovation.  Innovation within a limited pool of resources is limiting.  Build out your network to stimulate new ideas and Point-of-View, leveraging the Collective Intelligence of the Organization.
  5. Manage our business more effectively.  Ask advice on key decisions to positively influence Business Outcomes.

3. Am I really ready to start a Community?


  1. I know what this Community will be about and what topic[s] will be discussed.
  2. I can articulate how this Community and its output[s] are linked to the Organization’s Business needs?
  3. I know what type of people will be in this Community, and can articulate to potential members how they can benefit from membership.
  4. I am ready for the long hours and hard work necessary to build, cultivate, and foster the Community.
  5. I am ready to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
  6. I will not QUIT, I will not WAIVER from building a valuable Community for the company.

4. How do I get Started?


  1. Get in touch with the Organization’s Enterprise Community Manager[ECM} and discuss your desires to build a Community.
  2. The ECM should have a “Community Toolkit”. This “toolkit” will have at a minimum:
    1. Defined Business objectives of ALL Communities within the organization.
    2. Rules of Engagement & Governance for ALL Communities
    3. Details on the technologies used for ALL Communities
    4. Community Leader’s and Member’s training documents on how to be more effective.
    5. Approved Community Folksonomies
    6. Community Leader’s and Member’s Roles & Responsibilities
    7. Resources on how to learn to be a better Community leader and Community Member.
  3. The overall benefit of the “Community Toolkit” is to assist you in the process of:
    1. Planning, Building, & Launching your Community
    2. Managing & Measuring your Community
    3. Promoting & Expanding your Community

5. How is a Community Built?


There are several steps in the process:

  1. Establish the Objectives, which can assist in building the Identity of the Community
  2. Create the Roster.  Identify potential members, advocates, and recruit those top talent for membership.
  3. Set the ground rules and formalize expectations for the Community.  This is also known as the “Working-Mode”
  4. Obtain formal Sponsorship.  Gathering financial resources and political cover is key in ensuring your Community has the ability to execute on its mission.
  5. Formalize the “Launch Day” of your Community.
    1. Make sure as many members attend as possible
    2. Promote the Launch to leadership
    3. Have your Community Sponsor kick off the Launch by clearly communicating to members the Community will be an open forum, free from threats of retaliation, free from negative criticism, and members contributions are expected.
    4. Make sure you have Content already seeded in the Community.

6. Who are the Crucial Players in the Community?


  1. Community Leaders (also referred to as Community Mentors or Managers).  This person[s] drives engagement, sets the tone for the Community, creates the agenda and schedules various Community events.  They are responsible for all actions that take place in the Community.  The primary goal is to build TRUST amongst the members.
  2. Community Members.  As with all Communities, members will have different roles.  Some members will post feverously, while others will simply consume the information, and still others will be somewhere in-between.   While there is value in all types of Community engagement, it is important to have a varied membership to ensure a good balance.
  3. Community Advocates. This role is key towards the success of the Community.  Advocates are people who drive much of the animation for your Community.  They are highly motivated, and typically enjoy knowing their participation and efforts are widely known in the organization.  There are several types of Advocates.  Some like to drive conversations, some like to challenge conventional thought, and other like to act like librarians within the Community;  sorting, organizing, and tagging information.  Identify the types of Advocates you need, and reward their contributions.
  4. Community Sponsors.  The Community Sponsor role is one that is important for the positioning of the Community within the organizational culture.  The sponsor should be at a minimum, at the VP-Level so the Community’s importance is visible to others in the organization and can be demonstratively linked to Business strategy.  The Community Sponsor’s role is to provide political, cultural, and financial support.

7. As a Community Member, how do I get the most of my membership?


  1. Be Brave.  It can be difficult for some to be open and ask questions for fear of ridicule and/or retaliation.
  2. Listen.  You have a chance to learn from others in the Community.
  3. Reuse & Share with pride. The whole idea of a Community is to propose, synthesis, share ideas, concepts, and information.
  4. Challenge with Respect.  If you are not getting the answers you need, push back and ask for more clarity.  Ask the Community Leaders about taking the questions outside to other Communities in order to obtain the answers you seek.  This can lead to increased utilization and value for the Community.
  5. Feedback would be nice.  Provide feedback to members and mentors.  My motto is “You cannot fix it you don’t know what’s broken”  Everyone needs to put forth their POV to improve the Community experience & value.
  6. Ask the Community Leaders how you can help build a better Community.

8. As a Community Leader, are there some important considerations to keep in mind?


  1. Building Trust. This is your primary goal.  Without trust you have a Community of Nothing.
  2. Mistakes are not bad.  Making mistakes are part of the learning process.  Encourage open participation, and remind members that there are no mistakes…only learning opportunities yet discovered.
  3. Slow down & Start small.  Do not overwhelm members with too much content and direction at once.  Start with 1 event, and a few posts, then encourage participation.  Let the Community grow, don’t force-feed, but cultivate and encourage.
  4. Birds of a Feather.  Ask the Enterprise Community Manager about starting a community for Community Leaders.  This way you share best practices and help each other.
  5. I see you.  Publish the locations for all members in the community, and encourage face-to-face office meetings & perhaps after hour casual gatherings when possible. 
  6. People.  Remember Communities are not technology or tools, but are people.  Respect the attitudes, emotions, and behaviors of all members.

So there you have it.  Hopefully these tips will help you as you build your Communities. 


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