Back from a super-duper day in Mountain View where a crowd of community experts met to discuss about communities, online and not. These are the main takeaways for me:
Communities are about participation and Free/Libre software projects should make participation easy. This may require a few steps, like preparing a formal governance process (like Twiki had to do). In commercial open source communities participation should start from planning of product roadmap, but this is difficult to sell to the management because the community is not a customer.
This consideration leads to the second takeaway: community == asset. The word customer is related to income: if there is no income, then the customer is bad. Using the word asset instead helps managers understand that, even if it doesn’t generate revenues, a growing, happy and healthy community is good for the company.
Monitoring social media is a hot topic and I received a few suggestions. I knew about some free tools (Google Alerts, tweetalizer, technorati, or the simple Y! Pipe I use for Funambol) and manual labour to control conversations about your brand. There are also affordable tools (I heard mentioned Radiant6, Andiamo, Visible Technology, ScoutLabs) and very expensive ones, too (didn’t write them down since they’re good for huge brands like Sony or Toyota). You should select the words to monitor like you select the words for advertising: focus on the objective you want to reach. Why do you want to monitor the social media?
Don’t mix social contracts with market contracts: some members of the community can be offended when offered money in exchange of something they do for fun or for altruistic purposes. Some members may also not like to be recognized as leaders, too, so be careful when giving recognitions or activating ‘karma’ points in forums.
Engaging community members is a delicate art of balance. You have to know your community well to keep it engaged. Give them new tools to play with to keep them returning, don’t underestimate the lurkers. The social aspect in community software is important: people seem to like to subscribe to twitter or facebook pages of peers posting on separate forums.
There is enough food for thoughts to keep me busy for the summer (and more) at Funambol.