By Gloria Lombardi

Steve Bridger is the Community Manager of the CIPD, the UK professional body for HR and people development with over 130,000 members internationally. As a person “interested in people” he has done plenty of personal reflection on a decade of online community management.

The early days…

The pilot community began in September 2003. The focus of the forum was on helping professionals working in the field of personal management to find practical solutions to problems, and discussing issues affecting their job.

“Within three weeks we had to learn to deal with difficult questions,” says Bridger. These could be anything from redundancies, career shifts, language barriers, change management programmes, and leadership development.”

The community was officially launched in January 2004. Bridger identified the early adopters and invited the most active members to become champions. “They are our greatest asset in the community…they do the heavy-lifting and are there when I feel deflated.”

Recognising their level of support, assistance, and enforcement of the community’s decisions, Bridger started a private board for champions, called the Chumps. “Our ability to sound off a little here is something I for one value a great deal: it clears a lot of air. It lets us approach the community strategically knowing we have a professional ‘safety-valve’ of colleagues (and friends).

“We can disagree without undermining each other, tease out the knots from some of the more tangled threads and poke a bit of fun at each other without being, or being found, offensive. I would hate to lose that safety-net.”

Community is about people, not platforms

2007 marked the re-launch of the community on the Telligent-based platform, today renamed Zimbra. The traditional forum of the early days needed to adapt to the evolving landscape of social media, and embrace the new expectations of people brought by more sophisticated technology.

“But it’s worth saying…community management is still about people, not platforms. I believe, 90% is about the individuals and 10% about the technology.” Hence, Bridger’s primary responsibility was to understand the diverse attitudes of members towards the new social network.

He added a social KPI to the balanced scorecard (visits to the online community), which was instrumental in appreciating behaviours better. For example, Bridger recalls a member, Leanned A., who once commented: “Although I am not a regular poster I am an avid lurker and learn so much from the community. I find reading about the application of employment law and knowledge ten times more useful than sitting with a textbook or magazine article…The community is invaluable to me.”

From Community Manager to Buzz Director

In 2008, the CIPD formed a group on LinkedIn. Today, the site is very popular and has 27,000 users. This led Bridger to re-think the role of the Community Manager as the Buzz Director.

“It’s funny how things develop a life of their own on the web. In the old online community world, the role of the community manager was to build places for people to come, and then to manage and facilitate their participation once they got there.

“But things have changed. It is becoming more and more important to understand how to use the whole web as part of your community strategy. A buzz director will identify clusters of people wherever they are, encouraging them through access and links.

“You need to be in many places at one, move seamlessly back and forth through the ever-more porous outer membrane of the company, go outside the organisation’s online space and establish presence in other people spaces.”

Challenges of social media at work

A few years ago many managers were worrying that staff would spend too much time using social media in the workplace. That activity was seen as a waste of time and productivity.

While “those opinions have luckily started to change” today’s challenge is the perception that by simply adding social media to existing structures the channel will be an automatic success..

Bridger believes that to become a social business, firstly “organisations need to learn to distribute trust. For that it’s mission critical to get leaders who understand social media and who would give up some control in return for greater reach.”

At the same time, some measure of oversight and control are necessary. “Guidelines help to set expectations about community member’s participation.” The CIPD created their first policy in 2009 to help understand what it means to be a contributor to the community. For example: “we do not allow to post anonymously” but “enjoy the diversity of people, who have the right to feel comfortable and who may not think the way that you think, or express themselves the same way.”

He also thinks it’s important to acknowledge when individuals are right, even if they are hostile. “It would be a mistake to dismiss them as ‘the awkward squad’, rather than as the critical friends or ‘strategic provocateurs’ they really are.” But, he also warns of “not feeding the trolls.”

The creation of social value today

On average, around 6,000 CIPD members visit the community each month, generating 2,000 posts. The 20 most active contributors have made around the 50% of all the posts. “This is entirely normal and to be expected. Not all will contribute, and not all need to contribute to create social value.”

Now, the Buzz Director is looking at new ways of engaging the community and help individuals discover each other. Target of the year is to go mobile: “our members will increasingly want to access and post to the community from their mobile device and tablets.

“We know this social space is of high benefit. Members spend at least twice as long on the forums than elsewhere on the site. It creates connections between people who before would not have crossed path without significant effort.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate