Friday, 25 March 2011

SOCIAL LEARNING COMMUNITY – ANALYSIS OF A SUCCESSFUL START–UP

In just 3 weeks, Jane Hart’s (www.c4lpt.co.uk) new Yammer based Social Learning Community (http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/community.html) has exploded globally to over 500 members.

This extraordinary growth has not happened by accident.  Many such communities (Learning Communities, Communities of Practice etc) launch and, far from achieving spectacular expansion, wither, and many die for lack of participation. This blog is an attempt to “capture” the moment as experienced by members of the community themselves (thanks to all who have contributed) and to draw out some lessons and principles that will enable the successful launch to be replicated elsewhere.

So what are the driving principles?

Ø  The opportunity has been provided by someone well known and trusted as an expert who is welcoming and helpful to people at all levels of SoMe experience
Ø  Initial respondents to the invitation were people who
o   Face common challenges, speak a common language and many of whom had plenty of practice sharing and communicating in this way.”
o   Are eager to learn from one another and share what they have done
o   Saw the community as a natural extension to their existing work and experience
o   Had a shared sense of purpose
o   Experienced skilled moderation
§  Personal welcome to every member on joining
§  Encouragement to share
§  Providing hints and tips to overcome technical issues
§  Huge energy to make people feel at home
§  Few rules to enable the community to self-moderate
§  Encouragement through message and example to share and give as well as take
Ø  Rapid achievement of a critical mass of members to enable the community to be self-sustaining
Ø  Use of a platform that is beyond the cryptic and provides some organisation (threads) for the information. It provides a space for in-depth discussion
Ø  Excitement of members shown, among other ways, by inviting a wider network to join.

Additionally there is much comment in the feedback that this initiative hit the spot – an idea whose time had come – whether the topic, the platform or the perception that is rapidly spreading about the fundamental change that SoMe is making to all our lives, not just Social Learning

So what are the contrasts from my other experiences of being asked to join communities in the last few months?  All the others have omitted one or more of the principles outlined above – lack of proactive and energetic moderation being the common theme.

While the Social space is very open my own conclusion is that for a community to succeed it needs both an energetic locus and enough of a framework to entice people in, make them feel welcome, help them to find their way around and to apply the gentlest of steers to the direction of the conversation to keep it aligned to the community’s purpose.

I’ve learned a lot from gathering this data.  I hope my analysis helps others to initiate successful communities.  I would love to hear of your experiences in doing so.

In the meantime I will be collecting data to see how the Social Learning Community embeds and grows as a part of our working lives.  In particular I will be interested to see if the “lurking” membership becomes more involved in the community life.

Finally my thanks to Jane Hart for her support in getting me started on Yammer, and for allowing me access to the community’s metrics to make this analysis possible