Communities and coffee – We need more virtual baristas!

Coffee HomerIn Denmark we generally have very clean water so we are used to drinking straight from the tap. This also means that we have very few water coolers – let alone virtual ones. We also drink coffee – lots of coffee – and since this rarely comes out of any taps we rely heavily on coffee machines so it is quite understandable that we also talk about these essential appliances in our daily lives.

So where am I going with this talk about domestic appliances and various kinds of drinks and how is this in ANY way related to social business? I’ll get to that – humor me for just a little longer…

When you talk social business it doesn’t take long before you get into the way things are organized and the next step is often where you talk about community management. It’s easy to agree that it is an important role but defining exactly what it takes is not something that is set in stone. The definition of a community manager is getting better but if you ask me, we are not quite there yet.

Here’s where the pieces fit together: A few weeks ago I was taking part in an online group discussion about enterprise social networking and what these tools can do for an organization like ours and of course someone introduced the idea of the virtual coffee machine. The immediate response from a colleague was: “OK – So we have a virtual coffee machine. Are you then also going to train virtual baristas?”

At the time I took it as a clever comment but somehow the expression stayed with me and I kept coming back to it. There was something there and the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that this is exactly what a community manager is – A virtual barista.

A good barista knows exactly what it takes to make a great cup of coffee, the amount of beans, how fine they should be ground, how much water you need, etc. etc. The great barista also knows YOU and remembers your preferences when it comes to coffee and sometimes he (or she) also remembers your name – in other words you are recognized as an individual who has individual needs. The product is still coffee but by making small adjustments and asking the right questions ensures that you get exactly what you need. In addition to this they also know how to serve your drink in a way so it looks like a small piece of art. The barista doesn’t care a whole lot about how you drink it but he cares about delivering a good product that makes you – the customer – happy.

Compare this to the community manager. We talk about how these people must possess skills when it comes to the tools we use but also people skills in order to be able to identify the places where someone may need a little friendly nudge or other kinds of encouragement. All this while remembering what the end goal is all about and that is to make sure that a visit to the local coffee shop (ie. the community) adds value to the organization and that the customers leave with a positive experience after having accomplished the task that prompted the visit in the first place.

Next time you go and get yourself another coffee I urge you to think about the difference between a ‘cuppa’ served by a trained and friendly barista and the black stuff that comes out of the monstrous machine in the coffee room: What kind of community management model do you have? The bland one-size-fits-all that nobody really likes but gets because this is what we have, or the one where you recognize the needs of the individuals and spend the time it takes to get to know the other person’s need? Latte Macchiato or Nescafe?

…oh… and by the way: Both Christian, Thomas and myself love a good cup of coffee so if our paths should cross, don’t hesitate to invite for a little coffee-chat 🙂

Digital Workplace consultant at Grundfos

Posted in Adoption, Barriers and challenges, Leadership

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