Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

External Collaboration Needs to be Managed!

By Dennis D. McDonald

On October 16, 2007 Matthew Ingram posted Jay’s lessons on news “crowdsourcing”. Ingram described some of the difficulties reported by Jay Rosen in “Assignment Zero,” an experimental attempt to involve “citizen journalists” in creation of a story for

Rosen reports on an experiment that is a terrific lesson on how to collaborate with a group of volunteers. While the experiment is written up in the context of “citizen journalism,” the lessons are relevant to anyone interested in extending his or her reach to include people beyond the usual borders of the organization.

I left this comment on Ingram’s post:

This is really interesting and seems to point out that such efforts need to be managed. Is anyone surprised at that? It also reminds me of what happens whenever a volunteer effort among geographically distributed individuals needs to be coordinated. Usually a small core of individuals emerges who take it upon themselves to shoulder the burden of leadership and coordination. With today’s systems, though, the numbers of people and decisions can be increased by orders of magnitude, and this increases the likelihood of people veering off in the wrong direction; this in turn increases the need for oversight and management.

I think about such issues whenever I read pundits who evangelize about using social media and social networking technologies to “involve the community” in activities relevant to the sponsoring organization. Just as it’s bad for executive management to pigeonhole “web 2.0” technologies as simply better ways to “get our message through to the customer,” it’s equally bad to underestimate the responsibility you shoulder when creating an electronic environment in which — you hope — customers, members, supporters, or just plain folks will engage in meaningful dialog in ways beneficial to your organization.

Over the years I’ve been involved in many group and volunteer activities. All these comments ring true. People differ in terms of their motivations, their interests, their available time, and their willingness to take a leadership role.

People are also smart. They know, when an online social network is sponsored by a corporate entity such as a Nike, a Wal-Mart, or a Kraft Foods, that there’s usually a “catch.” So it’s natural to ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” when deciding to join any group, be it a corporate sponsored forum or an individual’s Facebook group.

There’s a big difference between setting up and operating an official corporate blog, and establishing a social network based “community” in which — you hope — conversations will occur that drive marketing strategy and product development. Managing expectations is a major component of this process, as I’m sure the “Assignment Zero” folks found out.


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