Have you tried to set up an IBM Connections community but struggled to get people to use it or contribute to it? In this blog post, I describe my experience in setting up and moderating a community with a few hundred IBM users from dispersed training teams across multiple business units.
My community supports 366 users of a software solution for developers of learning content for physical or virtual classrooms. I am the lead creator of this solution, which is called IBM Class Author. It provides a suite of IBM-developed productivity tools and templates to automate repetitive authoring tasks and convert content between file formats. It increases productivity, enforces standards, improves quality, and separates the role of the subject-matter expert from the author. The subject of a case study sponsored by Adobe in 2014 and 2011 finalist for a UK Institute of IT Training award, IBM Class Author has seen active use in IBM for more than a decade with no comparable solution known in the market.
In 2010, we migrated the support of our users from a Notes database to Connections. I worked with the help of an IBM colleague with Connections expertise to define the structure for the new community. Here are five tips that we applied and see as instrumental to our community’s success:
- Guide people through the community.
On the home page, we set up the Community Description to summarize the community’s purpose. It’s surprising how often this section is blank! From this community description section, we provided links to other useful areas of the community, such as the Wiki, Forums, and Bookmarks. It accelerates access to them, even though these features are available through the navigators.
- Know your audience and cater for them.
This consideration is key! For my community, I needed to support three categories of users:
- Course development managers. I designed the high-level overview on the community home page for them.
- Prospective users. The wiki area caters for them. It provides a wiki page structure that includes what IBM Class Author is; why to use it; release information; sample materials; how to install it; exercises for using it; available training; and frequently asked questions.
- Active users. I created a subcommunity with access for some members to more detailed and restricted content, including access to the IBM Class Author installer package for downloading. The See who has downloaded feature in Files provides statistics on the downloads. The subcommunity also organizes neatly detailed information for users, documentation, and presentations and recordings from past knowledge transfer sessions.
- The Forums are a valuable collaboration tool. Moderating them is key.
Early on, users posted in the Forums purely to seek help: to report a problem or ask a question. As the community matured, users are now actively encouraged to engage directly in conversations with other users, such as to respond to another user’s question if they know the answer. In doing so, users promote knowledge sharing and valuable cross-fertilization of ideas, sometimes between teams across business units that might not otherwise have contact with each other. We encourage users to use the Follow this Community option to be notified of new posts.
Moderating the Forums includes timely responding to questions or suggestions, or directing users to an earlier post where their question was answered. As moderators, we can help those who search for answers, for example by editing a user-created post title that uses vague wording such as “Strange error” to be more specific, such as “How to fix FrameMaker 12 error when updating book conditions”. It’s a smart investment that pays back so many times.
- Don’t assume that users will find what is there.
It is simplistic to assume “build it and they will come”. Users need to be actively informed when new items are added, and to be clear on what’s in it for them. The owner’s periodic use of the Mail Community feature helps with notifying all community members about new product releases, how to resolve common problems, or other high-value contributions. Mailings can be proactive: when a user encounters something important, we mail the whole community about it to save time and grief to others.
- Use bookmarks.
Use social bookmarking (in the Important Bookmarks or Important links section) to direct members to other communities or sites of interest. For example, I include communities such as the Acrolinx quality checking tool community and the IBM Style corporate writing guidance community in our bookmarks. These bookmarks act as recommendations to everyone on the basis that if I take the time to put them in there, it is because they already provided value to me. So for other members that’s worth a look!
If you consider these five tips when you build your community, I am convinced they will serve you well. Your community will provide higher value to users and they will more likely move from passive consumers of its content to become active contributors.