Friday, 7 March 2014

Community Building in Edu & FE... Building EdTechBridges

Regular readers of my blog and critical friends in Further Education (FE) will be aware that I have felt like leaving the sector. This has been due to a lack of progress with some of my ideas. I have felt that t
he challenges were either due to;

1) Questioning whether there was a market and demand for what I am trying to achieve. I find this hard to accept, as these ideas would lead to a 30-50%+ reduction of Tech products that are new to FE. Given all the budget cuts and focus on tech at the moment surely this would be a welcome development?

I am also aware that FE is a small market, so working in this space is not without risks, nor is education the easiest sector to work within for tech suppliers. 

2) FE can be quite a fragmented and a challenging sector to engage with, which means new ideas can take time.

Despite getting a lot of support from my "critical friends" I was ready to leave FE, this was despite their helpful or encouraging comments. Anytime anyone from within the sector suggested that I need to be patient I would reply "I've given it time... I've worked in this sector for 13 years, put in hours of my free time through my reports etc... and not a great deal to show for all the effort!" 

So what changed? A group I started to Hangout with...

Tribal Leadership... Make New Connections!
On the first day of SXSWEdu there were Tweets that encouraged educators to make connections "outside their tribes" this is something I totally agree with, and would encourage anyone to do... It really can make all the difference!
Preaching to the choir? Get out of the Echo Chamber and find out what other sectors are doing
Last Friday I joined #cmgrhangout where the discussion was on the topic of "scaling connections" when building your community.

Before this session I felt that the only way for me to develop my ideas would be to build a community BEFORE taking my plans forward. As a result of the fantastic support and advice from the #cmgr community I realise now that this would be an ambitious, if not crazy, strategy.

I was delighted to hear about the model that experienced Community Managers used and recommended... it was a far more manageable plan! During #Cmgrhangout I discovered that; 
  • I may be a lot further on with my plans than I expected, and
  • That even if I find that the sector I work in is in any way fragmented that this is to be expected; That there are ways to deal with and develop this, and; This is the Community Managers' job! (If it was easy there wouldn't be a need to Community Managers. Right?)  
All the participating Community Managers agreed that;

1) They have a core of 20 of influencers they are close with, and they empower this group find and encourage other advocates of the project/brand

2) Tapping into other networks and connections is part of building a community... They don't feel the need to do all the outreach by themselves.

3) Some people don't want to have a relationship with them... There are groups within the community who enjoy the benefits of the service the organisation provides, but are not necessarily interested in developing a relationship with the Community Manager.

These may even be members of the community who are very vocal and are real advocates because they enjoy the camaraderie being involved provides - but still may not be too interested in Community Managers engaging with them.

It was surprising to hear these views from companies like Scoopit, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post... You know those organisations that we know "just went viral overnight" to become an "instant success." I was surprised to hear that Scoopit was in "Beta stage" for a year before rolling out, and building a community was part of their early stage development.

Building EdTechBridges
Not only did #Cmgrhangout provide some clarity but, through following another tribe this week, I got the full impact of the Community Managers' advice.

On Wednesday I was catching up with events at #SDSWEdu (or trying to, given the pace of the discussion!) and noticed some interesting chat on the #edtechbridge hashtag and, low and behold, discovered someone who was trying to do the same thing I was looking to achieve with #startupeduchat - to create a space online for Educators and suppliers to collaborate.

I mentioned this in December and it has taken a while to drum up a crowd before running the first session, which would also take a while to gain some momentum. By finding 2-3 other people with the same goal and similar interests we will obviously have a larger reach but, more importantly, we will have connections who have a shared interest in bringing educators and suppliers together via Twitter.

The timing here has been perfect - a great #cmgrhangout, which I got to see in practice by finding other advocates of #edtechbridge #startupeduchat by mixing it up with different groups.

All of this talk of scaling your connections has not just helped to build the #EdTechBridge I needed... It might just have thrown me a lifeline.

FE, FELTAG & Community Managers
I have written plenty about the Further Education Learning & Technology Action Group (FELTAG) this week. Since the recommendations have come on the radar I have seen different groups forming - The inaugral #EduFEChat, The Think Out Loud Club, Coralesce/Education & Training Foundation and others - I sincerely hope that these groups will take #Cmgrhangout's advice and follow Steven Isaacs' lead and will build bridges with each other. 

To play my part with the bridge building with Community Managers and Educators, I think that Educators and FE could do a lot worse than look to the companies that have Community Managers. I am seeing a trend between innovative companies and companies who have Community Manager Departments. This makes sense as organisations who have a commitment to listening and learning about their customers needs is exactly what many feel is needed in Education in order for companies to achieve "product market fit" 

Educators, you may want to check out NimbleRebel Mouse and others who join the #cmgrhangout/#cmgrchat discussions (I've Got a big list of companies with Community Managers that I need to cross reference for Edu/FE relevance). 

A World Wide Web... Of Connections  

Maybe, just maybe, Andrew Carnegie was right and "The Gods provide Thread for a Web Begun

Thank you #Cmgrhangout, Wanda Eby, #SXSWEdu and Steven Isaacs @Mr_Isaacs... Now lets sharpen our tools, get our sleeves rolled out and start the construction... Build a community by constructing bridges to our various networks.

It's not always easy for Edu & Suppliers to connect when building in the cloud
Now the only question is... What to call this community #EdTechBridge or #StartUpEduChat? I can see the merit in both and look forward to seeing what the fledgling community decides.

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