Everybody! Collaborate On The Count Of Three …

Good community managers find the right balance between direction and improvisation for ‘spontaneous’ innovation 


A Conductor has a difficult job: there’s an audience to please; the music is complex; and there may be a dozen types of instruments. Most challenging of all, there’s a whole phalanx of accomplished musicians who see themselves as future virtuosi. The Conductor must know the musical notes. He seeks to conjure a new interpretation. If he’s lucky, the orchestra will respond with something unique that will tickle the fancy of audience aficianados.

A good Conductor makes the most of the paradox between structure and improvisation. He makes sure the musicians know how long to glissando, when to hold a note and how to exit. But most important. he knows how — and when — to allow the right kind of musical invention. Good, unscripted interpretation makes for good reviews — and ticket sales!

Online communities, whether commerce-based (‘Web 2.0’) or enterprise-based (‘E2.0′) are successful if they have the best community managers. They are the communities’ conductors: they call the attention; they wave batons; they encourage (and scowl); and they inspire ingenuity.

So, why don’t you have them in your company?


Many enterprises don’t recognize this role and they should! How many well-designed Sharepoint sites loose steam in three months? How many customer sites are DOA? There are probably hundreds of inert internal communities, started with the best intentions, now empty rooms. The evidence is clear.

Why is this? I’ll suggest they don’t have anointed Community Managers who tend important communities inside and outside the company. This is a formal job description in many Fortune 100 companies. Look in the social media job listings and you’ll find adverts for the role. But have you met someone in your company who’s employed as ‘Community Manager?’

It’s no longer enough to commission a ‘Web site’ or a ‘Sharepoint page.’ Management must select the right people to own the community strategy and sustain it for the duration. It becomes their job. They conduct the community towards the company’s objectives in a social, persistent way.

Most enterprises are in the early phase of a very profound transformation on both sides of the firewall. While it’s fun to talk about new technologies, we must talk about new roles and set the best people into them. 

Paula Thorton talks about “orchestrated improvisation” in the FastForward blog. She parries with McAfee’s assertions and suggests the best managers embrace the paradox. There’s some quotable nuggets in there (my favorite: “Science is useless without art “).

If you’re planning to host a community or commission a collaboration venture, give it a read. And then ask yourself: “who is the Conductor?”


  1. Great points here, John. As a former project manager, I shuttered when project sponsors wanted to “build the site.” Ok, what about community management after the site is up? “That’s not in the budget.”

    I don’t think that excuse cuts it in the top companies anymore. And it won’t for long in the ones that want to remain successful. Get with the times, right?

  2. I agree. I would add that the community manager should be part of the design, perhaps even leading the effort. They should know what the community will need.

  3. Would the Community Manager be leading the design or would that be best saved for your company’s User Experience Strategist? Now THAT is a role that companies are severely overlooking in this increasingly digital era, IMHO.

  4. I would say both, though responsibility for the community’s success belongs to the community manager, so they own content and structure, for sure.

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