The other day I got interviewed by Shel Israel for his The Living Enterprise (TLE) book. He did a really nice job capturing what I have done in the last years. When we talked for 2.5 hours I thought it was all about the SAP Mentor initiative, not to create a profile of me. He did both SAP’s band of Mentors first and TLE Notebook: Mark Finnern, the SAP Mentor’s mentor second.
Telling someone your story clarifies your thinking. I don’t remember exactly when, but early on in SDN’s life, at a time when I could still read every forum post and answered half of them, I realized that it is passion that makes a community come alive.
Passion brings out the best in us. It is contagious. You want to hang around passionate people, want to be part of the excitement. I would start to introduce myself as Mark Finnern the SDN community guy focusing on passion. It was the guiding principle behind many of the decisions we made regarding features and functions on the site as well as the things we did around it.
Here are 10 things I learned on the way to 2 million members on how to bring out passion in your community:
- Give people the opportunity to express themselves, to share what they are doing. This is why we allowed blogging for the whole community and not only for SAP employees from day one in 2003.
- Thank them personally via email or even better pick up the phone. Comment publicly to their blog/forum post, and mean it.
- Recognize the people that are are doing good work. We highlighted them early on with pictures on our home page and a link to their profile, so that people could check out what else they have done. We implemented a point system with ranking that showed the top 3 contributors in every forum and tallied them in the Top Contributor List. It was a daily little motivator: What is my rank and how many more points do I need to be in the top 10? Little friendly competitions developed. That this point system was so successful, that people try to game it is a story for another post.
- Listen and act. Early on we created a Suggestions and Comment forum where our community would post improvement ideas discuss them and when possible we would implement their suggestions.
- Have a water-cooler forum for people to hang out and talk about more than just business. When you visit SAP’s Walldorf headquarter most of the offices are 4 to 6 people to a room with Kaffeeecken (Coffee Corners) on every floor. Not disturb the roommates of the colleague your are visiting, you always end up in the Coffee Corner to discuss, coordinate and also chat beyond just work. We ended up calling the forum for people to hang out the Coffee Corner.
- Have a handful of simple community rules that set the framework for community behavior in our case it is the SCN User Guide. Make these rules known, discuss them openly and be timely in enforcing them. As a rule be wide open for everyone to join, but give your moderators the best tools to easily deal with misbehavior. We never implemented it, but it would be cool to have the opportunity to change a user’s access right to read only for a week. It is like going to jail, getting a cool off period, as one possible ramification for misbehavior. A step before total deletion or guestification as it is called within SCN.
- You know you have reached critical mass when your community develops their own lingo. Welcome and support it, but also be diligent about making the new comers feel welcomed. Give them a chance to get up to speed with the community culture fast by providing FAQs, and even your own urban dictionary. (You search for guestification on Google and the first link is to our SCN Urbaon Dictionary makes me happy)
- If you really want your community to gel, you have to bring them together face to face, at least your most passionate community members. For developers, customers or partners working with SAP solutions it is totally cool to walk the halls of the SAP headquarters. It is like making a pilgrimage to SAP’s Mecca. If at the same time they can learn cool new stuff that SAP is cooking up in their lab and get to know how other folks are solving problems out in the market, then that is a winner event. We created SDN meets Labs. Later it developed into local SAP Inside Tracks happening all over the world organized by passionate community members. Which is another milestone that proofs how engaged your community is. Once they develop their own local events, you have reached advocacy.
- SAP TechEd used to be totally focused on training, and people loved it, especially the hands-on sessions. But if you didn’t like your session and walked out, there was nothing else to do, you would wander the empty halls of the convention center totally alone. We changed that by introducing the SDN Clubhouse with couches and the best coffee around. Again a place to come together and get to know each other.
SAP Mentor Matthias Zeller summed our efforts up nicely. One year we were sitting at the Las Vegas airport after another successful SAP TechEd waiting for our flights, and he turns to me and said: You know, you used to go to TechEd, enjoy some lectures, a couple of hands-on sessions, maybe meet up with some colleagues for drinks in the evening and that was it. Now with the clubhouse, community day and all it is like a family reunion. You have succeeded with your community creation effort if your members experience and embrace it as family.
We created the SAP Mentor initiative to strengthen these family ties. For me this is the next step in the evolution of community engagement a program around your most passionate members. We give them status, recognition, bring them together with our executives and with product managers and developers. We also enable the sharing of their expertise for example with the almost weekly public SAP Mentor Monday webcasts.
Richard Hirsch commented during the SAP Mentor 2009 Higlights webinar that one thing that really keeps us mentors synchronized and engaged is Twitter. The cool thing is, that this synchronization is happening in the open, as all of our tweets are publicly available. Just follow the SAP Mentor twitter list that is following all twittering SAP Mentors and you know what is going on.
Keep an eye on the SAP Mentors, they are some of the smartest, welcoming, genuinely passionate people you ever meet. Please engage with us. The last thing we want to be or appear as is an elite inside club.
10. Was afraid that I wouldn’t have a 10th tip, but here is the last and may be most important one: Be passionate yourself. Easier said then done. I just love to create an environment for other peoplepne. It really makes me happy to see them succeed. A general good rule for life: Find out what makes you come alive and create your life around it. Not that I totally reached that for myself, but feel fortunate to have done my part to create this environment for passion.