Originally published on April 21, 2016

Communities are frequently confused with the tools that support them. From the Communities Manifesto:

Communities are not sites, team spaces, blogs or wikis; they are people who choose to interact.

Communities can be created, led, and supported using TARGETs: Types, Activities,Requirements, Goals, Expectations, and Tools.

Although communities are not tools, tools are very important to the effective operation of communities. To enable communities to collaborate, offer one or more tools for members to use. People make up the community, and tools support collaboration among the members.

Tools for Communities Programs

1. Information site: A place to find out more about the communities program, for example, Facebook Groups; may include a communities directory and a request form

2. Communities directory: A listing should be added to the organization’s community directory to increase awareness for each community. If a community directory does not already exist, create one. Otherwise, submit a description of your community, a link to its web site, and a link for joining. If categories or tags are available, provide all relevant metadata so potential members will be able to search or browse to find your community’s topic. For example, Google Groups and Ning Directory.

3. Request form: A way to request a new community; details on what to include in a request form

Tools for Individual Communities

Tools should support member interaction. There are five key tools for communities: SCENT — Site, Calendar, Events, News, and Threads

  1. Site: home page — for reaching new members and sharing information with current ones
  2. Calendar: of community events — for promoting interaction
  3. Events: meetings, conference calls, webinars — for interacting personally
  4. News: newsletter or blog — for ongoing communications and publicity
  5. Threads: threaded discussion board or enterprise social network (ESN) group — for interacting virtually

1. Site: can be based on a variety of technologies

  • Prominently display most useful content
  • Update regularly
  • Make it easy to navigate and visually appealing
  • Provide obvious links to all important elements
  • Aggregate multiple sources of relevant information
  • Optional features: lists, document libraries, bookmarks, blog, wiki

1. Platforms: designed specifically to support online communities. An example of a community based on a platform is the Ning Creators Network. Details on available platforms and requirements to consider when selecting one:

2. Web sites

  • Web sites can provide information to potential members. Details on the community’s topic, leaders, members, events, and links to other resources should be included. And of particular importance, it should offer an obvious and easy-to-use way to join the community, through a single click if at all possible.
  • Internet sites: publicly-accessible. An example of a community Internet web site is KM4Dev.
  • Intranet sites: based in a private computer network that uses Internet protocols, network connectivity, and possibly the public telecommunication system to securely share part of an organization’s information or operations with its employees. The intranet is typically accessible to all employees, and also to contractors and partners who have signed appropriate nondisclosure agreements. Being a part of the intranet provides a way for users to navigate to your community site, find its content using organization-wide search, and take advantage of standard templates for headers, footers, and menus. An example of a social intranet is ThoughtFarmer.

3. Team spaces: collaborative workspaces designed to allow teams to share documents, libraries, schedules, and files; conduct meetings, calls, surveys, and polls; and store meeting minutes, discussions, reports, and plans. An example of a community team space is the Federal Knowledge Management Working Group.

  • A team space is a site which enables community members to post and retrieve files, share information, and carry out group activities. A collaborative team space can be used for document sharing, meetings, lists, polls, photos, and schedules. Instead of using email to send meeting reminders, presentation files, and minutes, these can all be posted to the community team space and thus save network bandwidth and inbox capacity.
  • Documents and files intended for the community should be posted here. Schedules and agendas for meetings, including dial-in instructions, presentation materials, attendees, minutes, and links to recordings can be provided. Community polls on governance issues, opinions, and member feedback can be conducted and summarized. A community roster can be provided for self-maintenance, including photos, profiles, and links.

4. Portals: provide structured content if there is sufficient quantity to warrant such a tool. For those communities with a significant amount of contributed documents, storing it in a portal or repository with rich metadata tagging, search, and alternate viewing capabilities will be worthwhile. For other communities, this will not be needed, and a team space or web site will be sufficient. An example of a community portal is APQC.

  • 5. Blogs: web sites where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), displayed in a reverse chronological order. An example of a community blog is KM Chicago.
  • Blogs often provide commentary or news on a particular subject; some function as personal online diaries or logbooks. They combine text, images, and links to other blogs and web sites. Blogs typically provide archives in calendar form, local search, syndication feeds, reader comment posting, trackback links from other blogs, blogroll links to other recommended blogs, and categories of entries tagged for retrieval by topic.
  • Blogs are a way of empowering users to express their ideas, record their thinking, and link to others who are doing the same. Organizations can use blogs to communicate, solicit comments, and engage in online conversations. Blogs serve as a good archive of communications, since each entry is stored by date, and it is possible to search just within a specific blog to find previous posts.
  • Blogs are good for communicating when there is a need for permanent links, comments, or trackback for posted entries. A blog provides a chronological archive which can easily be searched.

6. Wikis: web sites which allow users to easily add, remove, edit, and change most available content. They are effective for collaborative writing and self-service web site creation and maintenance. An example of a community wiki site is SIKM Boston. An example of a wiki for knowledge sharing was KmWiki.

  • Wikis can be edited by anyone, thus making it easy to collaborate on writing a document, creating a web site, or collecting information on a topic. It has been most successfully used in the Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia that has achieved dramatic levels of contribution and use.
  • Participation in wikis can be a challenge. They are often created by a committed individual who hopes that others will share a similar passion for the topic and add to the content. When these others fail to materialize, the wiki ends up being maintained primarily by the original creator, and thus is more similar to a blog or web site.
  • For communities, wikis enable collaborative editing for meeting agendas, position papers, and self-maintained lists of resources. Wikis enable collaboration on shared documents and content. If the community wishes to capture a body of knowledge which will be evolving and involve iterative definitions from multiple members, a wiki is well-suited to this.

2. Calendar: a place to show all upcoming events

  • An example is the APQC Knowledge Management Community
  • Show all scheduled events with details on speakers and topics
  • Include logistics details such as dial-in numbers
  • Link to slides and recordings
  • Include archive of previous events
  • Schedule recurring events on predictable days and times, e.g., the third Tuesday of every month at 11 am ET

3. Events: regular conference calls or face-to-face meetings

  • Purpose
  1. Stay connected
  2. Share progress
  3. Reuse good ideas
  4. Collaborate on common needs
  • Activities
  1. Share an idea, tip, trick, technique, proven practice, or insight
  2. Request feedback on a presentation, document, web site, idea, program, or problem
  3. Lead a discussion on any topic of interest
  4. Provide an update on a project, program, initiative, or organization
  5. Conduct training
  6. Speaker (community member or invited guest)
  • Ideas
  1. Themed-call, where multiple speakers discuss the same subject
  2. Post agendas ahead of time using events calendar, agenda pages
  3. Upload presentations in advance so no one needs to ask about this
  4. Send reminder messages a week before and the day before
  5. Prime the pump prior to the call by asking others to ask questions or share their thoughts
  1. Recurring conference call: 60–90 minutes, held biweekly or monthly
  2. Send out a recurring meeting invitation to lock into members’ calendars
  3. An example of a community conference call is the monthly call of the of SIKM Leaders Community
  4. Community conference calls can be recorded, with the consent of the members, and the recordings made available through the community team space, web site, or portal, and the link shared in the newsletter or blog
  5. Low-tech web conferences are the most reliable
  6. Avoid formal organizational announcements and anything else perceived as boring by the members
  7. Host both internal and external speakers
  8. Hold a member roundtable and Q&A
  9. Introduce members to one another to build relationships
  10. Suggest to those who want to present or demo to one member or to a small group that they do so on a call instead
  • Face-to-face meetings
  1. Some communities meet regularly in person, for example, the Knowledge Leaders Council
  2. For those communities that don’t meet frequently in person, try to hold a face-to-face meeting at least once a year, for example, the SIKM Leaders Community Annual KMWorld Dinner
  3. If your community is unable to meet in person, use a virtual meeting room — an online, real-time tool designed to allow communities to share presentations, applications, and white boards during meetings
  4. 10 Tips for Successful Face-to-Face Meetings

4. News: communicate community updates, facilitate knowledge sharing, and help recruit new members

  • Newsletters can be helpful in reminding members of upcoming events, linking to posted materials, and including articles of interest to members. An example of a community newsletter is the Gurteen Knowledge Letter.
  • Tips
  1. Leave out boring announcements
  2. Avoid jargon
  3. Link to longer articles
  4. Recognize the members and their contributions
  1. No more than one page
  2. Publish and distribute every month
  3. Stay in communication with members
  4. Remind about calls
  5. Link to key information — reuse content already produced
  6. Recent threaded discussion posts
  7. Blog posts of interest
  8. Recently-edited wiki pages
  • Success stories — publicize in the newsletter, blog, and wiki
  1. Solicit from community members
  2. Mine threaded discussions for examples of how members helped each other or learned something valuable
  3. Testimonials by community members on the value of participation
  4. Stories about the usefulness of the community
  5. Posts thanking other members for their help
  • Supporting tools
  1. Blogs provide a chronological archive for announcements and newsletter archives. Copy announcements and newsletters into the blog.
  2. Distribution lists are useful for announcements and other push emails. Use these for sending out periodic newsletters, one-time announcements, and any other communications which don’t need to be archived and aren’t likely to prompt discussion. An example of topic-specific distribution lists is ScienceDaily.

5. Threads: forums for carrying on discussions among community members

  • Threaded discussions include online and email posts and replies, searchable archives, and discussions grouped by threads to show the complete history on each topic. This is where questions can be asked and answered, ideas can be shared, links to posted documents can be communicated, and an archive of discussions can be preserved and searched.
  • This is the key tool for any community. An example of a community threaded discussion is the SIKM Leaders Community.
  • Threaded discussions provide benefits to their subscribers and to the community. They enable subscribers to learn from other members; share new ideas, lessons learned, proven practices, insights, and practical suggestions; reuse solutions through asking and answering questions, applying shared insights, and retrieving posted material; collaborate through conversations and interactions; and innovate through brainstorming, building on each other’s ideas, and keeping informed on emerging developments.
  • The community benefits by having a reliable place where people with questions and problems can be directed to get answers and solutions, a searchable archive of the discussions, and a way for people to learn about their specialty and to develop in it. The broader the membership in a threaded discussion, the greater the benefit to the community. This is due to having the widest possible range of perspectives, the greatest possible number of people to answer questions and solve problems, and greater leverage of all knowledge shared.
  • Providing a way for questions to be asked and answers to be supplied is a key function of threaded discussions. Subscribers post questions such as “has anyone done this before?”, “does anyone know how to do this?”, and “where can I find this?”, and other subscribers respond with answers, suggestions, and pointers to more information.
  • Another use of threaded discussions is sharing insights, techniques, and innovations with community members. Posting a tip on how a problem was solved, a customer was helped, or a breakthrough was achieved allows many others to reuse that knowledge in other contexts.
  • When used in conjunction with community events, repository contributions, and published articles, threaded discussions allow communities to reflect on the events, provide feedback on the contributions, and debate ideas in the articles. This extends the useful life of events, publicizes submitted content, and stimulates the lively exchange of ideas.
  • Tips
  1. Post at least once a week to the threaded discussion board
  2. Include a summary of a community event, a useful link, or a thought-provoking topic to stimulate discussion
  3. Look for relevant discussions that are taking place in email exchanges, distribution lists, or outside of the organization
  4. Then redirect those discussions to the threaded discussion board, copy or link to the key points, or summarize the highlights
  5. Regularly suggest to those with questions or interest in the topic that they join the community and post to the threaded discussion board
  6. Use Enterprise Social Network (ESN) groups for threaded discussions — see these posts about ESNs
  1. Email is the killer application for communications, and threaded discussions are the killer application for communities.
  2. There is a connection between these two applications: threaded discussion tools need to allow for reading and posting entirely by email.
  3. When selecting or implementing such a tool, be sure that full email functionality is provided so that subscribers will not have to visit an online site in order to participate in discussions.
  4. Allowing users to choose between email or online interaction is valuable; both options should be provided.
  5. See Section 4, Question 15 in 100 Questions & Answers on Collaboration & Communities.

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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