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This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Sep 24, 2009 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Community Management via Cheeseheads & Tom Sawyer

Enterprise Agile Planning

We’ve recently published our CollabNet Community Management cookbook, and have had some good discussions already in the forums surrounding our attempt to give something back to the community (and yes, to showcase some thought leadership around community leading to consulting gigs). 🙂

One of the discussions that was happening was around ‘next steps’, or ‘rollout plans’ and the topic of community champions was raised. Fortunately, there is plenty of commentary/data out there around this subject. In fact, I recently read a great post by Rachel Happe (of the group Community Roundtable) on her version of champions, specifically ‘Cheeseheads‘. Now, for those readers not familiar with the National Football League, that name refers to the passionate (some might argue overly so) fans of the Green Bay Packers. These folks are some of the most loyal people you’ll ever meet, and Rachel’s point is it’s crucial that you cultivate, nuture, and reward these ‘cheeseheads’ in your community. These are the kind of people that will make your life as a community leader either very hard or very easy.

As an example, when I was helping run a small skunkworks team at Sun Microsystems, we literally had to rely on the notion of ‘Tom Sawyerism’ (i.e. – getting folks to come alongside us as we attempted to do great things). Rachel’s cheeseheads are people cut from the same cloth as those we found to turn projects from a small 3 person team into some of the largest successes in the company – projects like the JavaCar.

Now that I help companies try to run the same kinds of communities within and outside their organizations, the lessons of the past keep coming to the forefront – one of your primary jobs as a community manager/leader is to find these ‘cheeseheads in the rough’. Easier said than done you say? Let me offer a few suggestions:

  • Look for people not afraid to bend rules to get things done
  • Find people with pain points that your community effort can solve
  • Get people who want to make a name for themselves

While two out of these three qualities may seem incongruent with leadership, generally, people with those traits will be your staunchest allies if you are providing them an outlet or capability to solve their pain. Once you’ve found them, explain to them how the community you are building benefits them (WIIFM principle). Yes, you may have to ‘sell’ it a bit, but if you can find two or three people like this in a small community, who turn around, advocate your efforts *and* recruit new leaders, you’ll be on your way to a healthy community ecosystem.

Always remember that your job as the community manager is partially like that of Tom Sawyer – find other people to come along and help paint your fence. Unlike Tom though, you aren’t completely abdicating responsibility – you’re there to help guide/coach/mentor your cheesheads. 🙂

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