In this post, I think about some of the basic ingredients of a good online community, and describe what I’m going to try to do to engage more with the SAP Community.
I was re-listening to a great episode of the Coffee Corner Radio podcast on my trip over to the mothership yesterday (I’m over in Walldorf this week helping out at a partner workshop and then of course attending and speaking at UI5con, hurray!) The episode was Jakob Marius Kjær and Simon Kemp ‘s interview with Craig Cmehil on the SAP Community.
Craig has his head screwed on right, and what was said in the interview resonated very well with me, in particular the conversation about engagement online. I co-created the SAP community back in the day, when it was born as the SAP Developer Network (aka “SDN”), so there will always be a part of me that wants to see the community survive and thrive.
The community has been through some good times, and some bad, but I feel that we’re on an upward curve, especially thanks to the goodwill of core participants, and of course to great initiatives like Coffee Corner Radio. Moreover, I think that Craig’s leadership is just what the community in general, but the online community in particular, needs. I’m saying this as a long time observer of Craig as much as a colleague and good friend.
Before SDN, I started an SAP practitioner mailing list “merlin” in the mid 1990’s. Merlin merged with Bryan Thorp’s “sapr3-list” mailing list some years later to become SAP-R3-L, and I know that some readers will certainly remember that mailing list!
Aspects that keep a community healthy
While managing the mailing lists, I was working away from home on various projects, and I remember particularly my evenings in the Skean Dhu hotel in Aberdeen where I spent a couple of hours every evening after work, on my Sanyo laptop (with its built-in 2400baud modem!), administering and nurturing the conversations. In the context of today’s challenges, those memories can be distilled into simple aspects that make for a good and healthy community.
The Sanyo MBC-17NB. Pic courtesy of vintage-laptops.com
There will always be those who come in directly, looking for someone else to do their work for them, even do their Googling for them, and then leave with no warning or goodbye. This is not particular to the SAP Community – you see it everywhere. But as Craig intimated – let them be. In my view, they have no manners, but we won’t be able to change their ways, not all of them, anyway.
On the flip side, there always has been, especially if not more so today, a backbone of sharing that has been the mainstay of the SAP Community. I’d like to concentrate on that, and suggest that there are a couple of things that only serve to amplify and encourage such great interaction.
Acknowledgement and engagement
The first is something I’ve mentioned already – manners. It doesn’t take much to say please and thank you, and simply acknowledge one’s fellow Community members. And for such a small amount of effort, the return is immense. During the podcast episode, Craig, Simon and Jakob talked about recognition, being something that people enjoy and perhaps are driven by. This is true, and very good. But I think there’s a more basic form of that, which is acknowledgement. If someone is making the effort to engage with you, reply to a question, make a comment, they can be acknowledged by a simple gesture, whether that’s a reciprocal comment, a like, or an upvote. If folks’ efforts are not acknowledged, there’s a chance that it will discourage them over the long term from engaging and contributing further.
The second is engagement. I see this as very closely linked to the acknowledgement I’ve just outlined, but perhaps more active and more “indiscriminate”. Whereas I framed acknowledgement in the context of a direct conversation, say, a question and answer thread between a couple of Community members, engagement is the collective and open set of actions available to us all, whether we’re in a particular conversation or not.
The current incarnation of the online SAP Community affords us different ways to engage. At the macro level, there are activities such as sharing thoughts and knowledge in blog posts. Asking questions and providing answers in Q&A.
At the micro level, there are simple actions that cost only a second, but all add up. If you read a blog post that you enjoyed, you can “like” it (with a button at the top of the post). Similarly, you can “like” a comment to a post. In the Q&A area, there are comments as well as answers, and you can “like” a comment there too, as well as upvote an answer. You can also downvote an answer; don’t be afraid to do so if you think that’s the right thing to do – but consider adding a comment explaining the downvote, so the recipient understands why.
There’s also a level in between, a level where I’d place engagement actions such as making comments on blog posts or in Q&A.
There are many folks that engage like this as a matter of course, and I take my hat off to them. While the SAP Community platform software is the base, it’s the people who are the living, breathing spirit, and I think there’s a balance that we need to try and maintain – encouraging these people to continue to engage, and welcoming & encouraging net newcomers too.
I’ve resolved to try my best to do my part. To acknowledge, to engage, to be polite, and show manners. All that is in my gift. That’s what keeps communities going – acting by example. I hope you’ll join me.
This post was brought to you by the sunrise over the SAP mothership in Walldorf, and some OK tasting coffee from the breakfast area in the hotel. Definitely OK enough for me to want another cup.