Is There Such A Thing As Meritocracy Of Content?

This post was inspired by an interesting conversation in our customer community, about the meritocracy of content. In consumer social networks, we’ve grown accustomed to the notion of a stream: sometimes a very rapid stream that carries all of our messages, allowing us to see and respond to each other’s musings, while missing some other ones. Think of all the times that you put something on Facebook or Twitter that gets a ton of traction. Now think about all the times that you hear crickets. Both are possible, and both happen.

Are things the same or different in an internal social network like Yammer? Admittedly, it’s also a stream that delivers status updates, questions, answers, Activity Stream stories, and other content for your colleagues’ eyes. But does the way we consume and treat this stream vary, as reasons and norms for engagement are different in an internal network setting? Should we rely on discoverability of deserving content, helped by a dash of temporal and topical serendipity? Or should we make sure that people see what they need to see, because, after all, it’s their job?

In our customer community, one customer suggested that due to the size of her network, she often feels pressure to ensure that everything gets answered. Because she manages a 21,000-person Yammer network, she often misses members’ updates. As a community manager, she wants to make sure that threads get addressed, especially if they are coming from newbies who post for the first time. Engaging with newbies has been proven to be key to network health. At Yammer, we crunched through some numbers and discovered that if a newbie gets a comment to his / her first post within the first week, he / she is 41% more likely to come back and engage again. Naturally, community managers want to boost engagement and optimize the likelihood of newbies coming back. To do that, they need to find all the threads by new users that haven’t been addressed. As it is, new users’ posts are more difficult to find by relying on serendipity, as they don’t have many followers to begin with (especially in large networks where following everyone is not an option.

In that same conversation, another customer pointed out that a social network like Yammer should not be used as an inbox, but rather a stream. With a dash of serendipity and popular endorsement, some threads get responded to, while some don’t. “If a message hasn’t been commented on…does it really need to be commented on? The collective would seemed to have spoken, in many respects,” he said. He posits that having a stream encourages users to be more responsible about what they post and be more deliberate to “bump up” their question on Yammer for participation.

In thinking about it, I consider both viewpoints to be right, and not mutually exclusive. It all comes down to is the purpose of your community. Are you there to foster better sharing / conversation? If so, you can probably rely on the “conversation meritocracy,” allowing some content to get elevated democratically. In this model, the responsibility for finding and processing content is shared:

  1. The original poster needs to craft the message in a way that stimulates conversation and helps people decide to answer: “If I answer, does that make me appear an expert to my colleagues? What’s in it for me?” The poster also should take the responsibility of posting to the right group, using the right taxonomy and mentioning the right people in the thread to ensure attention. The poster should also take action to “bump up” the thread if some time has passed and the thread didn’t generate traction.
  2. The observers who don’t intend to resolve or answer the question, should somehow “vote up” the content to make sure that the target audience sees it. This can include “liking it” or placing the potential answerer’s name in the comment or in a private message. If I am followed by a lot of people and “like” a message, it will be seen by larger pool of people. If I know who can help answer this question, I can drop their name into a comment.
  3. The answerer (the end recipient of this content) has the final responsibility to help if he / she can, or pass it on to someone else.

By contrast, in some community situations, there is a need to ensure that everything has to be answered. An example would be a support / QC network, or group inside your network where everything has to be answered. In that case, you want to make sure you are “on the ball”, catching all messages and encouraging the community to help you catch everything that needs a response.

Whatever your use case, it’s all about creating a vision and setting up expectations upfront. Do you plan to answer each post? Say so explicitly! Do you plan to casually monitor? Say that as well.

What do you think? How do you approach this in your network? Do you approach it as a stream or try to answer everything? Have you set expectations from the beginning? What are they?

Photo credit: alancleaver_2000