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  • Around the watercooler
  • Process: How to ask communities for help

Around the watercooler

I attended a virtual watercooler session for the IBM CommunityBuilders community yesterday afternoon. It was great hearing from other people who are also figuring out how to help others use social networking tools to build community. We’re dealing with many of the same issues: encouraging adoption, facilitating participation, keeping up to date. One of the incredible things about working in a huge company like IBM is being able to tap a breadth of perspectives and learn from so many people around the world.

There’s been such a big shift over the past few years. The questions we get from clients and coworkers alike used to focus on what and why and how, like “What’s Twitter? Why would anyone use it? How do I get started?” We still get questions like that, but more interesting questions have emerged. Now that enough of the tools and enough of the culture has taken root, we can start looking for interaction patterns. We can look at how communities and teams use combinations of tools, how that influences their processes and results, and how the discussions flow.

There’s so much that still needs to be explored. I want to help figure out how we can more effectively connect and collaborate, and that work is just beginning.

Process: How to ask communities for help

Reaching out to communities can be a powerful way to find talent or resources. Your personal network may take a while to find the right person or file, especially if key people are unavailable. If you ask the right community, though, you might be able to get answers right away.

Here are some tips on asking communities for help:

  • Providing as much information as you can in the subject and message body.
    • Show urgency. Does your request have a deadline? Mention the date in the subject.
    • Be specific. Instead of using “Please help” as your subject, give details and write like an ad: “Deadline Nov ___, Web 2.0 intranet strategy expert needed for 5-week engagement in France” .
  • Whenever possible, create a discussion forum topic where people can check for updates and reply publicly. This will save you time and effort you’d otherwise spend answering the same questions again and again. It also allows other people to learn from the ongoing discussion. If you’re broadcasting your request to multiple communities, you can use a single discussion forum topic to collect all the answers, or you can create multiple discussion topics and monitor each of them.
  • If your request is urgent, send e-mail to the community. Most people do not regularly check the discussion forum, so send e-mail if you feel it’s necessary. You may want to ask one of the community leaders to send the e-mail on your behalf. This allows leaders to make sure their members aren’t overwhelmed with mail. Using a community leader’s name can give your message greater weight as well.
  • Plan for your e-mail to be forwarded. Because your e-mail may be forwarded to others, include all the details people will need to evaluate your request and pass it on to others who can help. Omit confidential details and ask people to limit distribution if necessary. Include a link to your discussion forum topic so that people can read updates.
  • Promise to summarize and share the results, and follow through. This encourages people to respond to you because they know they’ll learn something, and it helps you build goodwill in the community.

Good luck!