building professional peer communities

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  1. 1. Patricia Seybold GroupTrusted Advisors to Customer-Centric ExecutivesBuilding Professional PeerCommunitiesAn Interview with Vanessa DiMauro,Principal, Leader NetworksBy Matthew D. LeesVice President and Consultant, Patricia Seybold GroupUNAUTHORIZED REDISTRIBUTION OF THIS REPORT IS A VIOLATION OF COPYRIGHT LAWDirect link: Box 290565, Boston, MA 02129 Phone 617.742.5200 Fax 617.742.1028
  2. 2. Patricia Seybold Group / SpotlightBuilding Professional Peer CommunitiesAn Interview with Vanessa DiMauro, Principal, Leader NetworksBy Matthew D. Lees, Vice President and Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group January 11, 2007BACKGROUND: PROFESSIONAL PEERCOMMUNITIESIn our reports Enabling Customer Communi-ties1 and Best Practices in Engaging CustomerCommunity Members,2 we covered various aspectsof customer communities, groups that are builtaround the members interest in, and use of, particu-larcompanies products and services. But othertypes of online communities also warrant attention,not least because of what can be learned from themand applied to customer communities.Professional Peer Communities (also known asCommunities of Practice), for example, are builtaround a specific topic, industry, or discipline. Theyshare many characteristics with customer communi-ties,but have important differences as well (such assize of the community and restriction of membershipeligibility, among others).To explore these other types of online communi-ties,especially Professional Peer Communities, wespoke with Vanessa DiMauro, principal of LeaderNetworks. Vanessa has been a virtual communitybuilder for more than 15 years, having done innova-tivework with organizations such as EMC, DCI, andCambridge Technology Partners. Her experience ininteractive learning environments, knowledge man-agement,and social networking gives her a uniqueperspective on why professional peer communitiesare important, what they have to offer, and how bestto develop them.1 See See PROFESSIONAL PEERCOMMUNITIES ONLINEQ&A with Vanessa DiMauro, Principal,Leader NetworksPATRICIA SEYBOLD GROUP (PSG). What got youinto the online community space?VANESSA DIMAURO. Well, my first job out ofgraduate school was working for TERC, the Techni-calEducation Resource Center. That was a govern-ment-funded think tank that studied science andtechnology in school settings for the National Sci-enceFoundation. I worked on a really innovativegrant project called Labnet, that created an onlineprofessional development community for physicistsand researched its implications from both social andtechnical perspectives. (This was back in the daysbefore the Web.) Labnet was a social experiment tolearn the boundaries and advantages of professionalcollaboration in an online environment.We sent a bunch of teachers and physicists these300 baud modems (they came in a giant box!) andthey participated in this research project. We wouldhave them undergo professional development activi-ties,do knowledge transfers, and do all these won-derfulthought-leadership initiatives online, and thenwe would study them to find out what happens.After it was deemed a success, we transitionedthat community to America Online, when AOL wasjust starting up. It became one of the GreenhouseProjects in the early 90s.Since then, the past 15 years for me have beenlargely about building communities. I did extensiveconsulting on community building while at Cam-bridgeTechnology Partners, built a number of ex-ecutiveand professional communities, and recentlylaunched a boutique community consulting companyCustomer Scenario and are registered trademarks and Customer Flight Deck and Quality of Customer Experience (QCE) are service marks of thePatricia Seybold Group Inc. P.O. Box 290565, Boston, MA 02129 USA Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  3. 3. 2 Spotlightcalled Leader Networks where we enable companiesto build online communities for their customers orconstituents. Specifically, we focus on helping com-paniesfigure out revenue models for online commu-nities,how to best serve their core constituents, thetypes of content needs their users have, the sponsor-shipor marketing opportunities, and how to createand deliver on trusted relationships with their com-munitymembers. We also help companies figure outthe key metrics and measurements for determiningthe returns on the community. Community buildingis definitely a passion for me and I can honestly sayI have seen almost every permutation of communityover the many community-building experiences.Early Research IssuesPSG. What were a few of the key issues your earlyresearch looked to address?VANESSA DIMAURO. Just aswe can see in todays businessworld, theres always the prob-lemor the puzzle of how youIn traditional forms ofknowledge transfer, shadowingand training classes dontalways translate well to thecan bring fragmented specialiststogether to share information.While the technology changesrapidly, many of the drivingforces for successful communityremain constant.Some of the issues that we grappled with were:How do you create mentor programs for people witha lot of experiential knowledge? How do you getknowledge transfer to take place online?For example, theres frequently a need to takeexperts and help make their tacit knowledge explicit.In traditional forms of knowledge transferweknow it even in todays business worldshadowingand training classes dont always translate well tothe online world. But what better way than to use anonline environment to get senior people, very knowl-edgeableonline world.experts (in this case it was businesses, butit can extend to any senior professionals), to articu-latethe foundation for their thought processes anddecision making? This can lead to very effectiverelationships that require little work and reap greatrewards for an organization. Online was one of thebest channels for doing so. That was really the basisof the research.PSG. What did you see in the very early days of theWeb that led you to think You know what, thisonline community thing is something we should belooking at, because theres something powerfulhere?VANESSA DIMAURO. Online communities are agreat opportunity to extend the relationships thatcurrently exist in the real world. In the early days ofthe Web, we were able to use telecommunications totranscend time and geography. Bringing people to-getherfrom around the world via email and collabo-rationtools was such a revolution that its value wasimpossible to miss. It was all very exciting, and theexcitement of the opportunities hasnt wavered. Thepopularization of social networking, online gaming,and other online and mobile experiences just rein-forcesthe opportunities to leverage technology as anadditional relationship channel.PSG. Continuing in a historicalcontext, with this group ofphysicists and other profession-als,you saw the promise of theonline space for sharing informa-tion,for learning, for transfer ofknowledge. In the real businessworld, thats all important, buthow did this progress fromsomething theoretical to something practical?VANESSA DIMAURO. When the Web happened, theworld went crazy. And thats when business com-munitiesstarted to crop up. The first business com-munitythat I really got deeply involved with wasCambridge Information Network, which was a divi-sionof Cambridge Technology Partners. And in thatcommunity, the puzzles and the practical applica-tionswere very, very similar. The Web was happen-ing,and there were thousands and thousands ofChief Information Officers (CIOs) who needed tocreate a community of practice to come together toshare information and best practices to learn how tonetwork and communicate, and to create supportiveecosystems.That transition was very natural, to go from atheoretical sort of research project to a practical ap-plication,because there was a need. There was aneed in the real world, as well, for people to cometogether and convene, because there was no old-boysA Research Service 2007 Patricia Seybold Group Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  4. 4. Building Professional Peer Communities 3network within technology. The CIOs needed toshare information and grapple with what the Webwas doing to their business.This community really struck a chord with theCIOs and we quickly grew it to be about 7,000 ofthe top CIOs around the world. This community sup-portedthe changing role of the CIO, generated sig-nificantsponsorship revenue, and was deeplyvaluable to the community members (and to Cam-bridgeTechnology Partners). We eventually sold thecommunity to EarthWeb in 2000, but many of themembers still meet online regularly seven years later.Dealing with Sensitive IssuesPSG. When youve got executives and professionalsfrom other organizations, par-ticularlycompetitors, how doyou recommend that the sponsorof the space deal with sensitiveareas, such as topics related tocompetition? How do you getpeople to open up and talk aboutthings when there are other peo-plethere who are in competitiveJust like a person wouldntstand up in a room full of10,000 of their peers and sharea secret, or ask a question thatreveals some of their intentions,they wouldnt do so in anonline environment.businesses?VANESSA DIMAURO. The keyrequirement that surrounds theformation of any professional orbusiness-to-business community is that there needsto be a burning imperativea driving needforpeople to share information. In the creation of anyprofessional community, that need must outweighany of the confidentiality issues that bring up reten-tionof information. When dealing with executives,its always a safe bet that they have a deep sense ofwhat is appropriate and inappropriate to share. Theydidnt get to be executives be