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Mark Finnern by Shel Israel In three words or less: How do you create a thriving engaged community? My answer: Focus on Passion.

In this post I will give you 10 tips on how to create a passionate environment for your community.

A little history: The other day I  got interviewed by Shel Israel for his The Living Enterprise (TLE) book.  He did a really nice job capturing what I have done in the last years.  When we talked for 2.5 hours I thought it was all about the SAP Mentor  initiative, not to create a profile of me. He did both SAP’s  band of  Mentors first and TLE Notebook: Mark  Finnern, the SAP Mentor’s mentor second.

Telling someone your story clarifies your thinking. I don’t remember  exactly when, but early on in SDN’s  life,  at a time when I could still read every forum post and answered  half of them, I realized that it is passion that makes a community come  alive.

Passion brings out the best in us. It is contagious. You want to hang  around passionate people, want to be part of the excitement. I would  start to introduce myself as Mark Finnern the SDN community guy focusing  on passion. It was the guiding principle behind many of the decisions  we made regarding features and functions on the site as well as the  things we did around it.

Here are 10 things I learned on the way to 2 million members on how  to bring out passion in your community:

  1. Give people the opportunity to express themselves,  to share what they are doing. This is why we allowed blogging for the  whole community and not only for SAP employees from day one in 2003.
  2. Thank them personally via email or even better pick  up the phone. Comment publicly to their blog/forum post, and mean it.
  3. Recognize the people that are are doing good work.  We highlighted them early on with pictures on our home page and a link  to their profile, so that people could check out what else they have  done. We implemented a point  system with ranking that showed the top 3 contributors in  every forum and tallied them in the Top Contributor  List. It was a daily little motivator: What is my rank and how many  more points do I need to be in the top 10? Little friendly competitions  developed. That this point system was so successful, that people try to  game it is a story for another post.
  4. Listen and act. Early on we created a SCN Support where our community would post improvement ideas  discuss them and when possible we would implement their suggestions.
  5. Have a water-cooler forum for people to hang out  and talk about more than just business. When you visit SAP’s Walldorf  headquarter most of the offices are 4 to 6 people to a room with  Kaffeeecken (Coffee Corners) on every floor. Not disturb the roommates  of the colleague your are visiting, you always end up in the Coffee  Corner to discuss, coordinate and also chat beyond just work. We ended  up calling the forum for people to hang out the About SCN.
  6. Have a handful of simple community rules that set  the framework for community behavior in our case it is the SCN  User Guide. Make these rules known, discuss them openly and be  timely in enforcing them. As a rule be wide open for everyone to join,  but give your moderators the best tools to easily deal with misbehavior.  We never implemented it, but it would be cool to have the opportunity  to change a user’s access right to read only for a week. It is like  going to jail, getting a cool off period, as one possible ramification  for misbehavior. A step before total deletion or guestification  as it is called within SCN.
  7. You know you have reached critical mass when your community develops  their own lingo.  Welcome and support it, but also be diligent about  making the new comers feel welcomed. Give them a chance to get up to  speed with the community culture fast by providing FAQs, and even your  own urban  dictionary. (You search  for guestification on Google and the first link is to our SCN  Urbaon Dictionary makes me happy)
  8. If you really want your community to gel, you have to bring them  together face to face, at least your most passionate community members.  For developers, customers or partners working with SAP solutions it is  totally cool to walk the halls of  the SAP headquarters. It is like  making a pilgrimage to SAP’s Mecca. If at the same time they can learn  cool new stuff that SAP is cooking up in their lab and get to know how  other folks are solving problems out in the market, then that is a  winner event. We created SDN  meets Labs. Later it developed into local SAP  Inside Tracks happening all over the world organized by passionate  community members. Which is another milestone that proofs how engaged  your community is. Once they develop their own local events,  you have reached advocacy.
  9. SAP  TechEd used to be totally focused on training, and people loved it,  especially the hands-on sessions. But if you didn’t like your session  and walked out, there was nothing else to do, you would wander the empty  halls of the convention center totally alone. We changed that by  introducing the SDN Clubhouse with couches and the best coffee around.  Again a place to come together and get to know each other.
    SAP Mentor Matthias Zeller summed our efforts up nicely. One year we  weresitting at the Las Vegas airport after another successful SAP  TechEd waiting for our flights, and he turns to me and said: You  know, you used to go to TechEd, enjoy some lectures, a couple of  hands-on sessions, maybe meet up with some colleagues for drinks in the  evening and that was it. Now with the clubhouse, community day and all  it is like a family reunion. You have succeeded with your community  creation effort if your members experience and embrace it as family.

We created the SAP Mentor  initiative to strengthen these family ties. For me this is the next  step in the evolution of community engagement a program around your most  passionate members. We give them status, recognition, bring them  together with our executives and with product managers and developers.  We also enable the sharing of their expertise for example with the  almost weekly public SAP  Mentor Monday webcasts.

Richard Hirsch commented during the SAP Mentor 2009 Higlights webinar  that one thing that really keeps us mentors synchronized and engaged is  Twitter. The cool thing is, that this synchronization is happening in  the open, as all of our tweets are publicly available. Just follow the SAP Mentor twitter list that is following all twittering SAP Mentors and you know what is going  on.

Keep an eye on the SAP Mentors, they are some of the smartest,  welcoming, genuinely passionate people you ever meet. Please engage with  us. The last thing we want to be or appear as is an elite inside club.

10. Was afraid that I wouldn’t have a 10th tip, but here is the last  and may be most important one: Be passionate yourself. Easier said then  done. I just love to create an environment for other peoplepne. It  really makes me happy to see them succeed. A general good rule for life:  Find out what makes you come alive and create your life around it. Not  that I totally reached that for myself, but feel fortunate to have done  my part to create this environment for passion.

(Cross posted from my own blog: http://finnern.com/2010/02/07/focus_on_passion/ as this is a big part of the SDN/SCN history I thought it should also be found here.)

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