Networked community management

As more of our social and work life moves online there is a growing demand for community managers. Betrand Duperrin discusses the differences between community managers and organizational managers (in English & in French), stating that “Sometimes you need a community manager. Sometimes a manager is enough…”

I’ve discussed The Community Manager before and others have shared their experiences in the role of community manager. From our collective experience to date, it is obvious that online community management is much more art than science. It’s like herding cats. Bertrand makes the specific  differentiation between communities and work groups or teams. Communities need a soft guiding hand and more of a master of ceremonies than a directive manager.

Online communities are networks. Any group “work” is co-operative and non-directive. Keeping it going requires a facilitative community manager, or what Bertrand calls an animator (a very accurate term in French). Communities exemplify complexity, with fuzzy boundaries, shifting cultures and autonomous members.

Online work team environments do not and cannot have this level of complexity or work would not get done in the manner that those paying for it would like. The work may be complicated but there are rules, boundaries and processes. Work groups need managers who can direct activities in order to achieve goals. This type of work is collaborative.

group work revised

Community management is not organizational management. Co-operation is not collaboration. Co-operation requires free will on the part of all participants. It’s messy and complex.

This raises some questions:

What happens if the dominant model of how we organize work moves toward a network model and away from a market model?

What would that mean for how we structure our workplaces?

If most of our jobs are directive or reactive in nature, will our work skills help us in co-operative networked environments?

9 Responses to “Networked community management”

  1. Chris LaBelle

    In the university setting, we’re seeing online communities popping up around numerous content areas and surfacing dialog around content ownership, vetting and the like. In many ways, it’s forcing a redefinition of roles as faculty realize their role is more akin to that of a facilitator than manager. Your post provides some helpful info around how best to set the expectations of those who set up these communities from the standpoint of sourcing some community champions.

  2. Tom Haskins

    The complexity of networks will necessitate our adopting more complex concepts of our personal identities and of our interrelating with others. I suspect that complexity will play out as logical paradoxes, both/and conceptions. For instance, I could think of myself as both a talented, unique somebody and nobody special – just one of us. Then I would relate as someone with special needs, requests, motivations and value to contribute while also being free to respond and reciprocate as if I’m no different from anybody else. If every node in an interpersonal network adopts paradoxes like these, the network would function very responsively, resiliently and adaptively in its context.

  3. Rachel Happe

    Hi Harold –

    Great post and I really like your chart. I am very interested in how organizational structures will have to change to adjust to a more networked, interconnected, and complex world and explore a lot of these topics at I am a believer that structures and policies drive behavior and if organizational structures don’t change, those organizations will not be able to take advantage of the dramatic efficiencies that are available with the changing information environment. There is more pressure on margins now that customers have more information but there is the opportunity to dramatically reduce the cost of sales/marketing. More strategists need to be thinking about networks, systems dynamics, and complexity theory.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Harold Jarche

      @Stuart Good point. There is a spectrum from simple to chaotic environments, and we’re facing more complexity, while still dealing with the merely complicated. Maybe we need a four-sided coin 😉 [simple, complicated, complex, chaotic].

      @Rachel I think many organizations will not be able to change.

  4. Stuart G Hall

    A further useful paradox in this context is creating value through understanding the relationship between the simple and complex in an online community, say in terms of structure and process. I see them as two sides of the same coin (indeed using such an approach to complexity allows use of simple metaphor which embodies complex meaning). This perspective also relates to how conversations can surface value (simple and complex), or what are sometimes called ‘nuggets’ — no metaphor intended 🙂

  5. Stuart G Hall

    Thanks Harold, I am a firm believer in heuristic tools in this regard, see for example the tool for community managers at The simple/complex one is the most fundamental tool, which when uses effectively helps move the complicated and the chaotic out of the picture.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)