eZ Community » Blogs » Nicolas Pastorino » Making grow the Community seeds

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Making grow the Community seeds

Tuesday 24 January 2012 7:10:44 pm

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The vegetable life metaphor

Let me testify to the strength of poetic metaphors in the next couple of lines ( so their credit rating is not downgraded any time soon ). I am picking the one of vegetable life today, to depict an approach I met a few times in the Community Management / Development world, and that I am putting into practice with the eZ Publish Community. I believe it greatly illustrates the biomorphic aspects of Communities.

 

Sow, all the time

The community seeds must be sowed all the time. While sowing seeds is a simple gesture, finding them represents the bulk of the challenge at this step of community growth & care strategies.

Sow, all the time

 

Increase your community's attractiveness, make it a magnetic pole in your sphere of influence, span its boundaries towards neighbour communities. As an example, the eZ Publish community has strong affinities with the broad PHP community (core developers, ISVs, PHP-based tools, frameworks).
 
Use word of mouth, reach-out to the neighbour communities' members with all due transparency, make efforts to participate to their own events, share about your community's activities and plans, find possible collaboration (on product development, for instance). It is a two-ways process between communities, increasing respective awareness in one another. Your seeds will emerge, expressing some level of interest for what your community is up to.
 
The harvested seeds might be trees in other communities, they nevertheless need to grow from seed to tree within your community. Foster them to the next step in the fertile ground of your community : fragile buds.

 

Fragile buds

Or : of the importance of welcoming new comers. Openness, transparency, scooping-out clan mentality, guidance and mentorship are strong pre-requisites to a proper and rapid integration of the new members. The emerging seeds can be spotted through the first mid-distance pings on social channel (Twitter, Google+, FB). A typical example in the eZ Publish Community is a tweet from someone i never saw in my filtered searches, using the #ezpublish hashtag.

Now that hashtags are supported on Google+, this occurs there too. Make sure these (sometimes a bit shy) pings get attention. A post in the forums, from someone who recently registered and the post count of whom is under 5 (information available beside every single post) is a signal for extra-care need.

Important guidelines for successfully nurturing this segment of your community are :

  • Giving a welcome word, adjacent to some help on the question (if any), is required so the new comers feel at home,
  • Explicitly point to the most important resources (software documentation, involvement guidance), even if you know they are obvious for the “Small plants” and above,
  • Limit usage of jargon, language shortcuts or domain-specific acronyms. In other words : enable with the bases of common language, terminology.

This should help the fragile buds become young plants.

 

Young plants

They have their own leaves, necessary condition for enabling their metabolism (photosynthesis). They start being able to capture your Community's value on their own. Significant of this life stage are the first longer exchanges in the forums, on social media channels. Beginners are heavily relying on their environment in order to grow, the online community resources must enable self-learning, and progression in topic complexity. Soon in-place on the “Learn” section of the eZ Publish Community portal is a per-level filtering of available tutorials : as a new-comer I can filter out all non-beginner knowledge. Once i have consumed most of the entry level tutorials, I can level-up to the next learning level. This helps structure the progression of new comers along the learning-curve.
 
Mentorship is another, complimentary technique, where a direct human bond is created to fast-track new comers to a more solid growth pace. A mentor typically allocates time to follow the progression of one or several “community trainees”, makes himself available (to the extent of what is allowed by the business of his agenda, provided that the eZ Publish Community is a professional community) for Q/A exchanges. Standing on the shoulders of giant is an efficient way to push the limits of a community's mission. It is today done naturally with the eZ Community, where core members (long-time members, experts, afficionados, or all of them) spot fragile buds, walk them until they have sufficient community-discovery skills, and start mentoring others.
 
Mentoring is rewarding in a Community, for it often generates a fair amount of recognition for the mentor, also strengthening their image of expert, teacher or both. An extra mile away are potential business opportunities (recruitment, contracting from the mentor to the “community trainee”). Where possible, the mentoring activity must be structured (peer-to-peer learning center, for instance), and automatically granted reputation (through a reputation engine), letting mentors capitalize on this sometimes time-consuming activity (there are badges for that !).
 
While this evolution stage is probably where most of the fragile buds drop-out, a Community Manager's mission is to fast-track as many as possible of them to the “Plant Growth” stage.

Young plant

 

Plant Growth

The next logical stage in a community member's on-ramp is personal growth. The “young plant” has gained enough autonomy, independence to start exchanging in two ways : creation of value, and continued consumption of knowledge. This stage is likely to last the longest in a member's route to seniority. Reading through the tutorial tagged with “Intermediate” and “Advanced” levels is an example of characteristic activity, now balansed by reactive participation in communication channels, answering the easy questions, pointing the new comers to resources they have acquired, or sharing their (probably limited so far) empirical experience.
 
More elaborated manifestations of their ongoing growth in the community can be code contributions. As an example in the eZ Publish Community, it is not rare to see members who, a few weeks after having registered, contribute to an existing extension in the eZ Publish extension forge. Or decide to enter the (extremely open) club of contributors to eZ Publish's kernel, through submitting a pull-request (thanks to the github.com magic). These are sound expressions of their will to convert the accumulated knowledge and mindset, carrying their contributions to the community's social capital. As their feeling of belonging increases, the formerly young plants become, contribution after contribution, exchange after exchange, the trees of the community.

 

Trees, Cross-pollination, Forests

A tree can be viewed as the 'adult' stage of a plant. They are the main oxygen generators, survival condition of the environment, of your community. These experimented to senior members have a thorough understanding of the code of conduct and habits, have acquired most of the explicit knowledge made available about the center of interests around which your community revolves and have a good proficiency in finding answers to new questions. They speak your community language and have met many other members in-person. Their field-specific learning efficiency is good, and they accumulate, every minute, more tacit knowledge.
 
This tacit knowledge is a gem. It is a boiling caldron full of both past and future, both legacy and innovation, unwritten so far, yet systematically transmitted, peer-to-peer. Did you know that an it is possible to output eZ Publish debug from a template using the {debug-log var=...} operator ? You know what I mean now with "tacit knowledge" ?
(ok, it is documented now but has been here for 5 years before it was documented)
 
Trees and forests can be seen from far away. They are the ambassadors of your community, the climate of it. Trees are shelters for the smaller ones. They thus accelerate the growth of your community, are multipliers. Only trees can cross-pollinate, spanning the boundaries of the forest.

Big tree

 

Humus : joining the two ends, nurturing the Community life-cycle

The fallen leaves of trees turn into humus, new soil for the new seeds. The more experienced members of your community are able, given their broad field-expertise, to provide one-to-many support, to transform their tacit knowledge and experience into permanent explicit knowledge (tutorials, screencasts, webinars, etc), helping young plants to acquire independence, growing the local social capital. They embody your community and carry its reputation.
 
Making sure such interactions are current between the "levels" in your community is essential, the life-cycle becomes a reality, the care capacity of your community towards itself increases along time, as more fragile buds turn into trees and start caring for the new seeds.

Forest

 

Ecosystems

eZ Systems, as the main vendor behind the eZ Publish Community, is committed to help endlessly build and sustainably grow the eZ Ecosystem, of which the Community is the main pillar.
 
To all Community Managers, and to all eZ Publish Community members : let us continue building self-expanding forests. To do so, you'd better care for your trees !

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