How Can Community Managers Break Down Silos?

Infographic via The Daily SEO Blog
Infographic via The Daily SEO Blog

At last month’s SF community manager UNconference, we finished off the day with guided discussions based on attendees’ questions. I had a question that had been burning in my mind for quite some time, and I finally had an excellent venue in which to ask it:

How do we, as community managers, most effectively work with the rest of our organization and within our own teams? 

I was immediately taken aback by how many other community managers struggled with this question day-to-day. It’s on our minds constantly.

I was sitting in a circle with about a dozen other community and social media professionals, and two of them (Ayelet Baron and Jure Klepic, both with really inspiring and motivating Twitter feeds, just sayin’) immediately prompted me with the following two sets of questions:

  1. Who are your key advocates in the company? Who is already tuned in to you?
  2. How is your team organized currently? How do you get information from other teams?

I knew the answer very clearly to the first question. My boss is one of my biggest advocates, as well as his boss. That has been a huge source of encouragement for me. But the answer to question two is more puzzling, and I suspect this is the case for many community managers. I know how I get information, and I’m not particularly thrilled about it. I usually get updates through:

  • hearsay (the most annoying form of information gathering)
  • my boss cascading down information (probably my preferred method given these options)
  • running into someone in the hallway
  • All Hands meetings in which I get general information

None of this is very formal. None of it is institutionalized (except the All Hands meetings). None of it is very effective either. I have a sense for the solution to this problem: I have to speak up. I have to ask for the information. I have to hold meetings and get input and ideas from all other parts of the company, as Chris Heur suggested. This is doable and will be done. But what about when I don’t even know what I’m missing? I can’t ask each and every time I need a piece of information, especially if I don’t even know that information is available.

So I know I need buy-in and participation from a couple key departments, including marketing, product, and legal. But what would be even better? Break down those silos completely, as Jure Klepic argued (well, I think his words were, “That is total bullshit.”) They don’t need to exist. They serve very little purpose except to boost people’s egos. They are antiquated and they are likely holding your entire organization back.  After all, the community is part of the product and the product is part of the community. Easier said than done, of course, especially in a growing company, but that’s the ultimate goal. Everyone should have access to information and should be empowered to use it. I told my boss this last week, and he agreed wholeheartedly. He’s struggling with it just as much as I am. People need to talk about this stuff. It needs to be out in the open so we can break it down.There’s no reason to stay in our little compartments and get frustrated with one another. We’ve got a community to strengthen. We’ve got a product to improve. We’ve got money to earn.

So I leave with these questions, and I am really eager to hear others’ input:

Have any advice or anecdotes about how you work within your larger organizations? Or how you broke through the silos to get to the other side? When did you feel like you were finally in the right place?

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3 thoughts on “How Can Community Managers Break Down Silos?

  1. Personnaly, I try to empower one person in each BU. In the best cases (s)he will be in charge of internal communication on the intranet because he knows his own BU better than me.
    So I try to share my vision of the collaborative enterprise and I give them all the tools that facilitate their own work.
    I plan a monthly meeting and I give figures to pilot everything and they give me feedbacks.
    The difficulty is this is an added task to their daily job.
    They really like when I built a personnalized homepage, it allowes them to differenciate from the others while keeping a common framework.
    I considere that my job have to disappear when everybody will understand how to communicate with new communication technology…
    (sorry for my poor english ; )

    1. I like this idea: have a monthly meeting with all the different departments/stakeholders to share one another’s roadmaps/feedback/concerns, and see where these intersect and prioritize from there. This way, you’re all clued in to one another’s urgent tasks. I think that’s the key here: information-sharing. Also, making sure everyone takes part in the social aspect of business is essential.

      I wonder if/which companies use wikis or other ways of collaborating on their tasks without having to meet face-to-face regularly? I think monthly meetings are fine, but any more than that and things get out of hand…

      Thanks for the input! Your English is great. I wish I could speak French 🙂

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