Whitepaper on social learning through communities


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This brief paper is designed to get started with managing communities and is based on practical tips and 'secrets' of IBM's Center for Advanced Learning’s own successful community managers. It focuses on

1. Social learning: what is it?
2. How to create a successful online community that enables social learning?
3. The community manager’s role
4. How to hire an effective community manager
5. Value Creation of a community
6. Measuring the success of social learning through communities

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Whitepaper on social learning through communities

  1. 1. 1Guidance from IBM‟s Center for Advanced Learning‟s (CAL) onSocial Learning through CommunitiesKhalid RazaIBM Center for Advanced LearningJune, 2013Is your organization looking gain value from social learning communities, but you‘re not sure where tobegin? IBM‘s Center for Advanced Learning can help you start managing communities using practical tips and―secrets‖ of IBM‘s own successful community managers.Social learning: what is it?Where does ‗social learning‘ take place? A cross-collaborative office setting? A classroom where individuals conduct role-plays and apply what they learned whenthey return to their jobs? An online community where everyone is freeto ask questions of other members?Social learning can occur in all three environments,but here we focus on online communities.Fig 1. – Community learning modelAs Figure 1 suggests, social learning through communities exists where:1. Everyone is able to:a. Produce content.b. Share knowledge.c. Gain knowledge by leveraging the cumulative wisdom of members.2. Subject matter experts give back and, in the process, build and develop reputation for themselves.3. New entrants assimilate and learn through social interactions.4. Every member gains a digital identity.The beauty of social learning through communities is that it draws learners into the learning. Members joina community to quench their thirst to know more and at the same time showcase their knowledge and skills.Experts join communities to connect with other experts and leverage collaborative knowledge sharing. Evenlurkers learn – through browsing content, attending events and observing interactions. This offers manybenefits. It:
  2. 2. 21. Improves return-on-learning investment by shrinking time to competence needed by business-criticalworkforces.2. Increases relevant and available learning by leveraging employees to produce.3. Delivers personalized learning content that is both relevant and timely.4. Enables the learning organization to focus on key priorities.5. Reduces training costs.In addition, it creates a more nimble workforce that responds faster to marketplace and customer changes.“This isn‟t just a change in tools. It‟s a change in mindset and organizationalculture” - Virginia Rometty, Speech at the Council of Foreign Relations, March 2013How to create a successful online community that enables social learningTo conceptualize a successful online community, first look for ways to connect a group of people and makethem feel that they share a common interest. This common interest defines and differentiates a successfulcommunity from a group of people.Most of the time, communities stumble at this stage – the beginning of the journey. Plan ways to get peopleto rally around a common interest, rather than creating an interest and hoping people will rally around it.A good example of well-scoped community is PremierFarnells element14 community(http://bit.ly/MCvzrJK). Launched in June 2009,element14 offers the first online communityspecifically for engineers – from electronic design allthe way through maintenance and repair – as well aselectronics enthusiasts.Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder, authors of Cultivating Communities ofPractice1, state that ―Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion forsomething they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.‖How can you accomplish this? Follow IBM‘s Top 10 Tips for Creating a Successful Community:1. Identify the common interest. This interest works like a gel to create a cohesive group. Be sure,however, that it is not too vague. The broader the domain, the less value you members and creatorswill gain. For example, a community on Leadership Development sounds enticing and would get anod from stakeholders, but might fail to achieve results without a narrower connection amongstmembers. Why? The domain is too broad and vague, which results in wayward and isolatedconversations.1Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder, Cultivating Communities or Practice, HBS (March 2002) Page 4.
  3. 3. 32. Create the platform where the interest can flourish – A Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com),Google+ page (http://plus.google.com) or a website. IBM Connections(http://ibmurl.hursley.ibm.com/2E7G) supports IBMers across the enterprise. The best platformshost features that enable groups to collaborate, interact, work socially and grow skills.3. Prepare the community. A blank community will ensure members never come back. Don‘t open yourmega store without groceries in it. Have the discussion topics ready, a few blogs, files and bookmarksuploaded so that when someone comes for the first time, they find something to read, write and talkabout.4. Invite members to join. Send invitations to the target audience, inviting them to join thecommunity. Clearly identify the WIIFM (what‘s in it for me) or value for members. Add members atthe back-end only for communities whose membership is restricted.5. Engage the members. Initiate a thread to engage the community members, such as a platformwhere they can showcase/introduce themselves. This makes members feel welcome and participatemore actively. It also helps members know more about one another and helps create stronger ties.6. Create a value proposition. Asking members to respond to a thread without highlighting its valuewill waste their time and result in few responses. Identify what members will gain if they respond toa thread.7. Avoid being a community leader. Don‘t respond to every question asked. Let the members respond –that‘s why they joined the community. Even if you know the answer, wait until you don‘t see aresponse before answering. The first opportunity should be for the members.8. Keep them coming back. Use the community‘s mail feature to send out newsletters (we recommenda monthly schedule). A well-crafted newsletter will help members want to come back andcontribute. Read 5 tips to make your community newsletter a success (http://bit.ly/ONkaI7) to learnhow you can make your newsletter work as your agent.9. Arrange get-togethers. Every community should create face-to-face or virtual events in whichmembers can interact with one another. Use watercooler sessions, learning events or speakers tobring members together.10. Ensure the value of membership. This is the most critical part of community management. Makethe community a valuable outlet (http://bit.ly/sFndt3) for members. Conduct surveys to find outwhat members think, and take corrective actions to incorporate feedback.Use these Top 10 Tips as a checklist for creating a successful community.The community manager‟s roleCommunity managers should:1. Be active rather than reactive. For example, they should reach out to teams and departments toensure timely information is delivered to community members. They must also build relationshipswith members to enhance the membership experience.
  4. 4. 42. Manage the community like cultivating a green plant. Know when to water the plant, when to pullweeds, when to provide support if the plant starts leaning, how much tilling is needed etc.3. Stay a step ahead of community members. When you invite friends over, do you wait for them to tellyou what they want to drink or eat, or what music they would like to hear? No, you plan ahead. Trythese tips:a. Know your community members and understand the community‘s scope – the reason they gettogether.b. Give members what they thought they would get by being a part of the community.4. Offer relevant and timely content and activities to read, write and think about, engage with andreflect on.Community management does not end with the creation and launch of the community. You must grow andmaintain it. Measure your broader management role by the quantity and quality of activity happening withinthe community. Most communities, big and small, desperately need someone to fill this role. Failing toappoint an effective community manager results in either a chaotic or a dead community.How to hire an effective community managerLook for four qualities when hiring a community manager:1. Superb „learning party host.‟ The community manager acts like a party host and ensures learningnever stops, using discussion threads, blogs, files, bookmarks and events. This does not mean doingeverything oneself. At a great party, the host doesn‘t do all the talking; everybody chimes in. Yourmanager should be able to drive people to contribute and collaborate, making the community anengaging platform.2. Skilled communicator. It‘s imperative for the communitymanager to connect with all community members andstakeholders. He or she should be able to lucidly communicatewith both parties and sometimes moderate content, send outcommunications such as well-crafted newsletters, and hostevents3. Premier collaborator. The community manager must be a rolemodel for collaboration and digital eminence. He or she shouldbe a part of communities like socialmediatoday.com and able tocreate a dependable network.4. Creative adopter. The community manager should know the tools available that can enable asophisticated and contemporary approach to community management and amplify communityproductivity. For example, creating a Facebook and LinkedIn presence will increase thecommunity‘s visibility.With an effective community manager, the community stakeholders and community members can count oncontinuous growth not only in numbers (memberships, events etc.) but also in value for every member.
  5. 5. 5Value CreationThe scope of the community directly influences the creation of value for members. Once the scope isdefined and identified, it becomes easier for the community manager and stakeholders to drive value. Hereare typical examples of community scope:1. Learn and network. Skill development, unique congregation,leaders developing leaders, collaboration, informal andsocial learning.2. Develop Job role, Business, Industry or Solution insight.Focused on a specific client or business solution,communities can provide an integrated learning, knowledgeand communications environment for globally dispersedteams.3. Increase profits. More sales, more subscriptions, biggerdatabase etc.4. Efficiency in a global working environment. Fewer emails,fewer ad campaigns, greater word of mouth publicity etc.5. No goals. These communities are rare, as owners‘ goals supersede the common interest. Thesecommunities are formed to get a task completed, such as a product launch, and they run dry oncethe activity is over.Creating a community to meet a defined need should result in vibrant results if you follow the guidanceshared in this paper. A community manager needs to internalize the scope of the community to drive valueand make relevant information available to stakeholders. Stakeholders tend to confuse the first two types ofcommunity with the third by looking for dollar value or direct monetary impact.Imagine a group of IBM sellers from around the globe collaborating on sales trends in their local markets.The sellers will gain global awareness while sitting in different corners of the world. Without a community,they would continue to work and act locally, but with a community they gain insight, expertise, andfeedback from others who have done the same thing in different areas.As Randy MacDonald2, (Senior Advisor- Human Resources, IBM) emphasizes in his post, Embracing SocialMedia (http://ibmurl.hursley.ibm.com/1VTX):1. The best financially performing corporations are 57 percent more likely to use collaborative andsocial-networking tools to help global teams work together.2. Collaboration is the most powerful and underutilized use of social media.3 By tapping the intelligence of the people who work for us -- who collectively know more than anyexecutive team -- companies can get surprising solutions to some of their biggest challenges, such ashow to apply innovations that didnt pan out to a new use. Or which new markets the company shouldpursue2Randy MacDonald, Human Resource Executive Online (May 2011)
  6. 6. 6Overall, any community should be centered on value creation—for the organization, the members, or both.This common interest should result in realized value.In IBM internal communities we see and encourage learning in various ways:1. Written collaboration. This allows members to ask questions, provide responses and engage in awritten dialogue on varied topics of interest. The threads always remain, and provide learning tonot only those who are directly involved in the discussion, but to viewers as well.2. Verbal collaboration. Watercooler sessions are informal gatherings of members to discuss issuesor topics where they need help. These sessions help members discuss roadblocks and getresponses or solutions in real-time. In a typical IBM Manager Communitys watercooler session,members share best practices, showcase good work, discuss roadblocks and seek observations orsupport or solutions to problems, while helping others with their roadblocks.One of the community members has said, ―The value I gain is the ability to share experiences andlearn from them. For example, there was a manager from an acquisition that was having aproblem and since I also came from an acquisition I was able to share some of my previouslearnings so that hopefully things would be easier for her. Concurrently, there were experiencedIBMers on the call whose experiences I learned from as well about performance management andhow best to engage in performance and development discussions to drive productivity.‖3. Leaders developing leaders. Initiatives like a ‗Community member speaker series‘ create valueby enabling leaders to develop new leaders by sharing knowledge. These informal learningplatforms allow greater connectivity and they complement traditional ‗sage on the stage‘learning.
  7. 7. 74. Practical Tips. Panel discussions involving business and technical leaders provide valuable tips formembers. Andrea Freile, Service Management Account Management Senior Manager, says, ―Ireceive useful information, and it is also great to see the same issues are faced by managersacross the world, and we suggest similar alternatives for solution.‖5. Bridging gaps. Regular connections through Leader Panels and events provide a platform formembers to connect with leaders with whom they might not otherwise have contact.Measuring the success of social learning through communitiesSince every individual‘s perception of effective learning is subjective, quantifying social learning has beendifficult for community managers and stakeholders. Even so, it is possible to measure number of members,posts, blogs and thread trails. Although these provide clues, deeper surveys are essential. For example,according to an early survey conducted for more than 2,200 GTS employees in July 2007, 87% of IBMerscollaborating with others in communities increased their skills and 74% increased their productivity. SourceLook for these characteristics of healthycommunities: Usefulness, including content that isrelevant and helps members in theirjobs. Growth in membership. Traffic. Member interaction, includingresponse-time, both by membersand, when appropriate, thecommunity manager. Activity, including the number ofsocial learning opportunitiesassociated with the community.
  8. 8. 8Use this list as a basis for analyzing community health: Members (current) Contributors Percentage of contribution Total updates Average updates per day Average feeds per member Average wiki activities per member Average forum activities per member Average forum replies per member Average forum topics per member Average bookmarks per member Average files per member Average blog comments per member Average blog entries per member.Social learning through communities is the future, co-existing with instructor-led and work-based training.IBM organizations that harness the power of communities are the architects of the future.
  9. 9. 9Inputs from (alphabetically): Bhavana Malve, Community Manage, IBM Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) Chuck Hamilton, Social & Gamification Learning Lead- Center for Advanced Learning Douglas Lieberman, Senior Learning Consultant Howard Smith, Learning Developer, IBM Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) Ian Bird, Social Networking & Informal Learning Leader, IBM Centre for Learning & Development Laurie Miller, Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) Social Computing Evangelist Mariano Aragunde, Community Manage, IBM Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) Rumia Thakur, Community Manage, IBM Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) Sarah Siegel, Social Learning Developer, Leadership Development Thiago Pereira Ribeiro, Community Manage, IBM Center for Advanced Learning (CAL)