Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Community Appreciation & Gratitude for my PLN... Esp when Going Round in Circles!

I have been following the Community of Community Managers since I found out about this group last month (thanks again ) and have been "lurking and learning," for a few weeks. On Friday I joined in the discussion during #cmgrhangout, when the topic was why we love hanging out in the sectors and communities we are involved with.

A result of joining this hangout is that I have been populating Google+ with my education, edtech, startups & organisational culture contacts to my "circles," along with some of my new Community Manager connections. 

I wondered if I could write a post that could appeal to the different circles in my network... here's what I came up with;

Mingling in Community Manager Circles... Fake it til you make it 
"Why would someone with the title of 'Community Engagement Manager' follow industry discussions for a while instead of just jumping right in?" you may ask.

"Good question!" would be my reply, and the honest answer is "Because I'm faking it until I make it!" as the saying goes.

I chose this title when I began working on my "pre-revenue startup" idea after reading about a Master Brewer in Bo Burlington's fantastic book Small GiantsFritz Maytag is the founder of one of the first Micro Breweries, Anchor Brewing, but does not go by the usual title of founder, MD or CEO etc. He has given himself the title of Master Brewer. 

The reason for this is because if he holds the position of Master Brewer no-one else can. Maytag sees this as the most important job in the business and, by holding this position himself, he can avoid any CEO/Master Brewer disagreements regarding beer quality, which would obviously have the potential to undermine or overrule his employees. 

I have been in roles which started out dealing directly with customers but, as my responsibilities increased within the organisation, I found myself attending less and less client meetings, so didn't have my "finger on the pulse" of changes within the sector to the same extent. 

So being the first employee in an organisation I'm hoping to establish I wanted to take a leaf out of Maytag's book, and wondered what title I should give myself? What is going to be the most important role as we grow? (that is if we grow?!). I felt that always listening to customers was priority #1 so opted for "Community Engagement Manager"

After all losing touch with customer needs is something that many businesses have found to be their undoing! 

During "Community Manager Awareness Day" I saw some Tweets asking;

Personally I think it will, it certainly will be in any organisation that I will be establishing! 

Another aspect about "faking in until you make it" with community managers appears to be;

1) The role is wide ranging as the communities people manage can be diverse with different priotiries, and 
2) As this role is a relatively new one it may continue to evolve gradually. #Cmgrchat highlights some of the changes over the last few years - Role of Community Manager in 2014

By the way educators, you may want to check out some of the #cmgr hashtags as the role of community manager sure does seem to have a lot of similarities with student services, marketing and college business development departments. There are also a number of community managers in education who join these discussions including #Cmgrchat co-founder Jenn Pedde (who is a professor at Syracuse University 

The circle of trust - How "Givers" can Avoid Burnout & "The Doormat Effect"
There is an important trait that Educators and Community Managers share - both groups tend to attract people that Adam Grant has identified as possessing "giver" attributes. 

During last weeks' #cmgrhangout Patrick O'Keefe discussed expressing appreciation for your community's contribution and the importance of making sure your community members feel valued.

He talked about his negative experience with a manager who rarely said "Thank you" for any of his (significant) achievements over the years. Today Patrick always makes a point of expressing his gratitude for people's time and effort.

In "Give and Take" Grant highlights that givers can be susceptible to "The Doormat Effect," as givers can find it difficult to assert themselves because they tend to put the needs of their organisation and others before their own. The results for givers can be detrimental as they can get lower salaries, slower advancement and lower promotion rates than counterparts in the same jobs but who possess "matcher" or "taker" personalities. Grant offers some great ways for givers to use their natural attributes to counter this and turn them into assertive and effective negotiators. 

What goes around comes around... 
We need look no further than #cmgrhangout to see these "giver" tendencies within the community of Community Managers.

Tim McDonald () highlighted that he enjoyed hanging out with the Huffington Post Community so much that he wished he had more time to reply to every comment made, and get to know more community members better. Yet he and his co moderators, Sherrie Rohde and Jonathan Brewer, happily give up their time to provide the benefit of their experiences to help others develop their networks and community skills.

I don't know these moderators too well at the moment to be certain of their motivation for this, but maybe they volunteer their time because they are "givers," or perhaps they are among the lucky few who find that they tend to take their "fun" to the office everyday; as opposed to being the kind of people who take their work home with them. Whatever their motivation I hope that they find Karma... I understand he is very well connected and can work wonders for people's communities. 

Giving Too Much?
Educators are also "givers" ... and they can tend to give so much that they become susceptible to burnout. Grant uses the experiences of Conrey Callahan 
to demonstrate this. Conrey was a Teach for America educator in a tough school, and was close to burnout because she felt the impact she was making was limited, despite being committed and working long hours.

"Conrey's idealistic dreams of inspiring the next generation of students were quickly crushed by the harsh realities of arriving at 6.45am and staying up until 1am to finish grading and lesson plans. Her days were spent breaking up fights, battling crime and tracking down truant students who only showed up for two days of class in the entire year" 

Conrey managed to avoid "burnout" in a rather counter-intuitive way... things turned round for her when she started to gave MORE. She got involved with programmes to mentor young teachers and established "Minds Matter" which mentors low income high achievers and encourages and prepares them for college life.

The reason this extra commitment made a difference was because it was a different type of giving. Conrey was able to see more of a direct impact. Seeing the impact she was making here re-energised her when teaching her class.

"In teaching, do I have an impact? It's kind of dicey, I often feel like I'm not doing anything effective, that I'm wasting my time and not making a difference...[but] with my mentoring program, there's no doubt; I know that I have a more direct impact"

Twitter is Not CPD for Educators... But can it help prevent burnout?
Matt Pearson wrote a post "Twitter in not Professional Develpment" and I don't dispute the need for highly qualified educators, and Teacher Training via Twitter should obviously be discouraged. This article may even be right in that, strictly speaking, Twitter is not even CPD. However the impact of the support that Twitter provides shouldn't be dismissed entirely or underestimated. 

Perhaps Twitter as CPD should be re-branded to something like "Professional Mentoring and Support" or "Professional Mentoring and Support Learning," although I think that any searches for #PMS & #PMSL may throw up some interesting tweets on the Twitter stream. Can you imagine how confused non-educators would be if they saw Tweets like "I don't know where I would be without my #PMS #PMSL" 

Chasing your tail - Getting dizzy on the startup roundabout!
Silicon roundaboutThere's another community I'm involved in where there is a lot of excitement... but which I hope to leave ASAP!

There's so much buzz about "the startup scene" that you can't help wondering if some people see it more about being in a hip, energetic and dynamic crowd, than about building a lasting organisation that has the potential to make a difference.

Don't get me wrong I am extremely interested in startups because of their "can do" attitude and culture they establish. However, I have no interest in loitering in startup land for any longer than is absolutely necessary. I've been a "pre-revenue startup" for a few months now and, truth be told, was getting sick of it and started to lose some enthusiasm. 

The reason for this is because I have been getting frustrated going round in circles (I can see why it's called Silicon Roundabout!). I know that the ideas I have could be a real win-win situation for all involved, but they are also a bit of a departure from current practices so progress has been slow at times.

Finding out about the challenges that other Community Managers and startups face helps a great deal. In Give and Take Grant highlights Deron Beal's story and his mission with Freecycle which was to;

"Build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden of landfills while enabling members to benefit from the strength of a larger community"

I wonder how many times in the early days when such a worthy goal might have felt like climbing Mount Everest... Or if he even dared to think of such a grand plan in the early days... But he sure did pull it off! This proved as a timely reminder that we tend to think that the successful organisations were always destined to "make it." 

"Freecycle's successful outcome was by no means guarenteed; after all if the givers on the site had been overwhelmed by takers looking for a free ride, the whole thing might never have gotten off the ground"

Today only two environmental terms are searched more often than Freecycle - Global Warming and Recycling and 9 million members give away 30,000 items a day that weigh nearly 1,000 tons per year or, to put it another way Freecycle has prevented a land fill site 14 times the size of Everest annually.  

Sometimes hearing about these success stories and support from like minded individuals is the lifeline you need to keep you going, to remind you of how close others came to giving up before they made a breakthrough.

I know that the best breakthroughs come from collaborating with prospective customers and early adopters to find out what they want, then working with them in the development stages to meet those needs... so I know that the work I am doing is on the right track. 

There is further evidence of this as a lot of high growth startups have Community Managers from an early stage. So maybe I just need to give it a little more time, keep plugging away and take David Spinks advice and build the community one member at a time

Anyway, my mountain is waiting so I think "I'll get on my way..." 

But before I go...

Thank You!
I'll end this post by taking Patrick's advice and would like to thank the following people;
  • Educators in my PLN for your support during this frustrating period
  • The #cmgr community for giving up their time to share their experiences  
  • Adam Grant for such a well researched book with so many diverse case studies. I have read a few books that have provided some great insights and new ideas but few that have provided such a wide range of new ideas to consider.
To bring this post full Google circle, did you notice a common trait these 3 groups share? All of them look to make a difference through the work they do... maybe that's why I mix in these Google circles;

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded" Emerson

Also whether Educator, Community Managers or Startup go get #Giveandtake... there are a huge range of great case studies that would benefit anyone who is in my network.

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