Nurturing diversity of thought within communities is an art

Nurturing diversity of thought within communities is an art.  The working title for this blog post occurred to me after reading the article and comments from “Firms Hail New Chiefs (of Diversity)

If you are reading this article, it’s likely because you have interest in the subject of diversity, right?  Ask yourself this question, do you know where your employee or consumer resource groups are today? What topics are being discussed?  What are the key patterns?  Who is discussing with whom about what?  They are a great source of thought and inspiration, so why not engage them?  It’s highly likely you have either been a member or are involved with either formal or informal E2E, B2B or B2C communities online and/or  groups and teams that meet in person, right?  Now think about your diversity of people (membership) and thoughts or outcomes.  Do you seek change or are you wondering how to get more diverse

Just because you now have a social community channel, it doesn’t mean your community is diverse.  Nurturing diversity of thought within communities is an art.  It requires a team of  community weavers with valor, flexibility, inspirational leadership and courage.  These individuals link the unlinkable which isn’t something picked up in a certification class. It’s like an fine aged cheese, it requires an artisan and maturity.  Some of the best weavers that I’ve had the honor to work with build trust, foster diversity, invite dissention and are comfortable with the uncomfortable.  Many of these weavers have the competencies, characteristics or learning plans to:

  1. Risk takers.  I think this is a number one rule – don’t be afraid to go where other community leaders haven’t gone before, because that is exactly where we often find the most satisfaction, by blazing new trails to find new possibilities.  So, go on now, get started, and take a small risk, then a bigger one and so on…
  2. Think like entrepreneurs.  According to Wikipedia, “an Entrepreneur in English is a term applied to a person who is willing to help launch a new venture or enterprise and accept full responsibility for the outcome.”
  3. Can work with a shoe string budget.  It’s important to be scrappy and just figure it out versus going the distance to try to get funding.  I often find that if you cherry pick and take that low hanging fruit, get video testimonials, quotes and in expensive feedback that you incorporate into your on-going conversation or proposal, it is faster.  What I mean is that you can ultimately get funding by using a quickly capturing the story along the way that you are recruiting and identifying community members.  It not only creates a social memory and story – but also becomes the basis for a longer term funding pitch.
  4. Creative.  Use new media to bring people into the conversation; do consider a twitter meet up, a new free hang out tool or even bringing someone into a formal meeting via Skype. Whether they are uncreative to you – they may be creative to others.  I recently learned this through using the www.meet-meme.com cards.  It’s colorful, vintage like and fun.  Think about new ways to bring imagery and tactical into your conversations.
  5. Leverage resources.  Check in with all community managers to see if they have a few people they would propose that join your committee, core team or program.  Check in with your social networks as to whom within their companies could come as a guest presenter to bring outside though into your company.  Consider sharing with a competitor during a conference during an industry event.  Read and read more.  There is so much to find on twitter by just searching hash tags, that you will be lost for days trying to make sense of it all.  Make sure to scan the on-line blogs, tweets and industry magazines to tap into some thought leaders, bloggers or commenter’s to get a sense of others to invite into helping solve your problem.
  6. Know thy problems – speaking of the problem. You must know how to clearly define what your problem is and how this community of diverse thinkers can help solve it.  Aka – community charter – but one common way to get people to rally around a conversation is by starting with a problem.  People instinctively want to help, they enjoy competition, sharing and solving – so why not really understand the problem that exists and share it.  Hard to do if it’s a B2C community or even B2B because it can show your warts – but that is what these tools are made for right now
  7. Politically map – ensure you are asking everyone in your social journey along the way that is nodes they would recommend to talk to within the market, geo, function or ERG.  Through this process you will start to uncover diamonds in the rough.  Linda Linfield taught me this years ago, build relationships with those that you want to influence and leverage the relationship you have with them to influence their thinking.  It’s simple and effective.
  8. Walk the talk – it’s a requirement that along the journey, you embody the collaborative principles– it’s contagious.
  9. Engage SMEs – make sure that you are talking to people that face customers and are experts in their subject matter – they will often have direct contact with customers, suppliers or employees that they rely on for their day job. Often times these people are hard to reach whether they are in the Amazon working on heavy equipment or just really busy loving their day job.  But  the people that are doing the day to day work are resources we must leverage – but be mindful they are highly respected and require kit gloves in handling as they are often hard to reach
  10. Encourage inclusion – make your community a safe and welcoming place for members. Do practice being authentic, warm and embodying the community guiding principles!

The Naked Community Manager

I’ve been building teams of community managers for years.  One consistent theme that is required is to ensure that we provide them with the tools, the structure, support and empowerment they need to flourish.  Much of my leadership in communities is spent ensuring that they aren’t left as, ‘naked community managers’.  I’m constantly advocating that they aren’t tethered to the phone so that their brains aren’t oatmeal, am expression that Melyssa Nelson, a colleague of mine uses in community management  to describe a treadmill of being tethered in community life to something that isn’t allowing the deeper time to think, to pause, to reflect and evolve in our community management roles. 

A few insights that I’ve gained over the years is that we need to ensure that we challenge organizational structures and cultures that limit community managers abilities to be transparent in their conversations.  Cultures that restrict community managers desire to advocate community member’s feedback, innovations and ideas.  This is a critical part of our eco-system and should be embraced as foundational in the central activities of what we do as community managers. . 

Our nature as social community managers is to translate what we hear, see and experience through the eyes of our members.  In doing this critical activity, we have a deep sense of what our sponsoring organization could do to thrive and realize a mission or business imperative.  David Brooks calls this “MindSight” our ability to download what members are seeking.   This is why I’m an advocate for empowering, training and supporting this critical part of the fiber of networks, communities or groups.  Listen to this great conversation with David Brooks around ‘The Social Animal’

We as culture and community advocates need to continue to advocate for valuing these skills within organizations.  Ensure that we leave for errors in our employees, groups, networks, communities and ourselves.  We need to continue to make room for space and flow and most importantly, we must create a culture that recognizes and values everyone.   These social artists are some of the most gifted people that I’ve met in my career and I’m honored to create an environment that provides them with warmth, support, encouragement and apparel.