LinkedIn and Community Management

Last night I was checking out Mario Sundar’s blog and saw that he recently helped kick off a corporate blog within LinkedIn. He is LinkedIn’s new community guy. First of all, I’ve had kind of an interesting batch of first impressions of LinkedIn (can you have multiple first impressions?).

I’ve only even been a member of LinkedIn since December. I admit that I failed to see the value of something that just lets you “link” to people, without having any metadata involved. Yeah… I’m linked to Chris Messina. So what? Does that mean I’m a fan of Chris? Am I a friend of Chris? Does Chris really know who I am? It’s really tough to tell.

I think I had a grand total of one connection until the news broke of Steve Ganz implementing hResume throughout the site. Brian interviewed him about it. I suddenly got a lot more interested in a networking site that showed an obvious appreciate of advanced Microformats. So, lately I’ve been keeping up with LinkedIn, actively updating a profile and sending/accepting requests for linkage goodness.

Back to Mario and the LinkedIn blog. Corporate blogs are interesting… there are some rules about corporate blogging that discourage talking about your products and becoming too much like brochureware. Like everything, I give this a big fat “depends”.

If Adobe blogged about its products, there may not be much benefit for the user. How often are updates being made to their software? Not really often enough. If you’re just going to blog about how wonderful your products are, then you could be doing more harm than good.

However, if you give someone on the development team at Adobe free reign to blog about the development process, why decisions are being made, tradeoffs, progress updates, etc., you could be onto something. That type of person is a “Community Manager”. A community manager is someone within the company that represents not only the company but the users of the company’s products. The community manager is a customer advocate who listens to customer wishes and demands—and makes good on them. The community manger focuses more on providing a successful product in the eyes of the users than a successful product based on the bottom line.

(Disclaimer: Adobe could even nave one of these… I really haven’t checked.)

A Community Manager could help a large software company, but how much I’m not sure. One guy or gal giving a view into the inner workings of a company is not going to trigger millions of dollars in sales—the type of blip that really gets noticed in these very large companies. But take a service like LinkedIn or any of the many other web apps out there. If a community manager helps bring in a fraction of that revenue, it could mean a huge increase for a smaller company.

Jeremiah has an excellent list of some of his favorite community managers. Jeremiah himself was a community manager at Hitachi Data Systems before becoming a PodTech rock star. The list includes folks such as Guy Kawasaki (one of the first and most well known tech evangelists) and Tara Hunt.

The point of this rambling post is that I’m going to have a chance to take part in community management soon. This has really been a dream of mine. I love designing and developing for the web. But there’s a reason my feed reader “must read” subcategory includes Brian, Tara, Jeremiah, and Chris, and not more traditional design blogs. It’s all about the user—you have to start with the user. How you’re going to pull off CSS rounded corners are just details once your strategy is in place.

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