I was being shown a really impressive KM site yesterday on our intranet that one of our professional communities has set up with a view to rolling it out as a template for other professional communities across the business. They’d really given it a huge amount of thought and put a lot of effort into it. The problem is no one was using it and they wanted advice on how to increase adoption. I just had this niggling feeling which I couldn’t articulate very well at first around the fact that the site seemed to lack ‘humanity’.
My inability to articulate exactly what I meant by ‘humanity’ made me feel a bit stupid as the professional community director, who was showing me the site, is a really switched-on, business-focused, value-driven, hat-full-of-MBAs, high-flier kind of guy who, no doubt, I’ll end up working for one day! However, I persisted.
The problem is, you can tell people they are part of a business community (based on skills, experience, projects etc.) and provide excellent tools to support them in their community activities, but unless they feel they belong in some way, they won’t participate. For me, community is fundamentally about a sense of belonging. That sense can be very strong in close-nit communities (families; neighbourhoods etc.) or more subtle (Facebook groups; Yahoo groups etc.) but it has to be there as the invisible force that holds it together.
I eventually managed to explain what I felt was missing in a way that made some sense. While you can’t create ‘belonging’ via a system alone, you can ‘humanise’ your systems to help that feeling grow. Use photos rather than just names (photos that the users have chosen themselves); embed snippets of user-generated content onto otherwise ‘dry’ pages (such as Tweets and status updates); recognise most prolific or valued contributors in each area … but, the main thing for me, is to ensure that the people who create stuff, or contribute stuff, are linked to what they create and are properly recognised by their peers for their contributions. And, that every community member can see the entirety of both there own contributions and those of others (a kind of Friendfeed) … in other words, there own personal brand.