|Marc Siegel runs IBM Rational’s online developer community. IBM developer community has over 650+ forums (one or multiple forums exists for almost all developer products of IBM. This represents over 1.5 Million users. Marc purveys thousands of users, and facilitates discussions and keeps “the fun going”. You can reach him via email with some questions.
I met Marc at Le Boulanger in Willow Glenn, yesterday over lunch. He has a very interesting background. After rising up the ranks at several large organizations (including NASA – so he’s as close to a rocket scientist as you can imagine) to manage a team of people, he wanted to get his hands dirty again. He joined a really fun startup – Catapulse, ( know it was fun since a couple of other folks from there remember it fondly) which was acquired by Rational soon after he joined. He joined Catapluse with the express intent to build and grow their online presence.
Here are his top 3 best practices based on years of working these communities:
1. Understand your user behavior, usage patterns and help fit the community into their work (instead of the other way around). Unix adminstrators and programmers were the first “developers” of the products that he was responsible for to build a community. Now, if you know these folks at all they are not exactly patient with the “Windows crowd”. The online medium of community though gave these developers a great avenue to share scripts, information and tips and tricks on getting things done quicker. With minimal frills and a simple design this community has thrived and grown in its significance.
The other interesting point was that not most of the developers were at their desk waiting to help others. Some of them had a 45 min train commute and would love to get the questions and other information to their laptop and work with it offline and respond back the next time they were connected. This is a great example of “making it easy” for them to be a part of the community and “fit into their pattern of work”.
2. Graduate from measuring simple metrics to the ones that affect change. Most metrics collected by Marc today are around page views and user signups. The key project for 2007 is to get the next level of support metrics – how quickly were questions answered, how many questions were answered, etc. These are a better reflection of the objective measurement of the community.
He mentioned the folks from SAP said their developer community was so strong most questions to the community forums (88% of questions) with a mean time to solution of <1 hour. That is a great metric. I would love to learn more from SAP and share it with our readers.
3. Understand the usage of technology for the benefit of your community more than its capability. Most communities are okay with just a message board and simple chat. Putting together a blog and wiki (just because they exist) does not really help UNLESS you integrate it with a process that resolves a problem or supports a use case for the community members.