There are many decent ‘how to’ articles out there with tips on being a good Community Manager, like this one from Martin Reed of Community Spark, but there is much benefit in shifting the mindset from managing to architecting vibrant communities. Ask yourself daily if you are being a Communicator or a Conversation Architect as described by Bob Pearson?
“Communicators often share content they have expertly prepared in the hope that coverage will somehow lead to good things. It might; but increasingly, it might not.
Conversation architects understand how to enter the conversation with their customer and become a valuable partner to share ideas, product knowledge and solutions, and empower that customer to share the story.”
So? What is the difference between managing or designing a flourishing community? Seth Godin explains architecting as a verb:
“… the intentional arrangement of design elements to get a certain result.
Architecture, for me anyway, involves intention, game theory, systems thinking and relentless testing and improvement. Fine with me if you want to call it design, just don’t forget to do it.”
What Is a Coversation Architect?
Whether the actions of a conversation architect may differ somewhat between the internal and external communities, the key attributes remain the same. By definition, an architect is a qualified professional who designs, plans and supervises construction. An architect is a strategist who looks ahead to envision the ultimate goal of building some lasting and stable.
- What does it look like? How will it function? Who will dwell or work within?
- How do we bring all the contractors (members) together to work collaboratively?
- How will we adapt to changes in the original blueprint and scope of the plan?
- What external influences are important for our internal structure?
- Do we need to plan for bad weather? Will the structure withstand hurricanes & strong winds? Flooding?
- How do we craft it to let natural light shine inside & out?
- What is the maintenance plan? Who will be responsible for fix-ups? Do we have a handyman handy?
- Do we need professional decorators and landscapers, or should things grow organically?
I’ll admit my bias here to state that I don’t think there is such a thing as an internally focus community that is not effected in some way by external influences. Depending upon the type of community, changes with government statutes may apply, risk management needs to be considered, industry analysts may change trends, or the weather may change with something as simple as the voices of past members who’ve moved on.
Even in a largely internally focused community like an enterprise intranet, the best conversation architects are those who can liaise and start information exchanges and discussions between all the business units, speaking fluently in the languages of marketing, development, customer service, and executive vision. As a designer, the architect uses their skills to deftly enable communication, with a keen eye checking the plumbing, wiring and landscaping activities at all times.
It’s also a good strategy to explore outside of your community. Here are a few more ideas for bringing the outside in:
- Be a link leader for fresh ideas to bring to the community. Enter into external ongoing discussions taking place about subjects within the community’s niche area. Read blogs discussing the topic as well as offline journals, reports and papers covering the topic.
- Follow keywords on community focus topics via Google News and Google Blog Search. Blog and comment about what is being said.
- Listen in on TwitterChats related to the interest area. Wonderful resource for attracting new community members and finding new ‘voices’ you may wish to invite as guest bloggers.
- Jump into serendipitous conversations with non-community members to get additional perspectives. If you find a mildly controversial discussion going on elsewhere, ask your community what they think about it to nudge ‘like minds’ into fresh activity.
- Join at least one community that is entirely dissimilar to your own – you might learn some new tricks & tips looking in as an outsider.
No structure is ever truly complete. All require maintenance and renovations through the years. The conversation architect just keeps on designing, planning for future additions and minding the little details that cause flaws in the structure, ever mindful to support the basic foundations & underpinnings.