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Guidelines for Executive engagement


We're planning on training some of our Executive team for Community posting. We have external posting guidelines for our members and a couple of bullet points internally for employees to consider.


I am wondering if anyone has experience of training Executives, if so what guidance/guidelines would you share with them? Our Execs are known publicly by our users, so they'd almost be 'celebrities' for want of a better word in our Community. 


Some of our Execs are known publicly, so they'd almost be 'celebrities' for want of a better word in our Community. 


4 Replies 4
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Good question, Alan. I think I'd start with the same guidelines we recommend for any employee, namely:


Maintain a positive tone ("twice as nice as everyday life," so that you are not misunderstood).

Avoid sharing any information that isn't already public.

Avoid any forward-looking statements ("x will happen by y") or promises ("I will fix this for you.")  


Needless to say, there will be situations where you want to make an exception, but they should be just that -- exceptions, not the rule. Ideally they should come to the community manager if they have any doubt about what to say.


Having said all this, I should note that direct participation in forum discussions is only one of the possible ways to get the executive voice into your community.  I am reminded  of a post I wrote many years ago, called Three Ways to Show Up. Addressing the question, “How should our company employees participate in our community?” I discussed three ways to do it:


  • By participating directly in forums discussions, like a typical user does.
  • By participating in time-limited events, hosted in dedicated forums that are either archived or removed after the event.
  • By blogging.

For executives, these choices involve different degrees of obligation, effort, and risk (OER). Forum participation is the highest, because of the need to respond promptly (effort), the pressure to provide follow-up responses (obligation), and the unbounded nature of discussion (risk). Events are in between, since they typically have a defined topic (which reduces risk) and a defined time period (which reduces obligation). Executive blogs are the lowest in terms of OER, because you decide the timing and topic; can refine your message; have an approval or review process; and limit or moderate comments.


As I mentioned in my old blog post, I think one of the most effective ways for an exec to participate is to cherry-pick a hot topic in the forum and write a blog post about it. You’d be surprised how much credit an exec will get for doing this. The customer he highlights will feel acknowledged and validated, and other customers will give the exec credit for taking on the tough questions. Meanwhile the exec is choosing only the topics he/she has a good answer for. Wins all the way around.


Part of the decision may lie in how contentious the relationship is between customers and execs in general, between customers and this exec in particular, and around any particular issue you (or they) are considering engaging in. The most contentious issues might merit an approach like (b), since customers might feel they need to be heard (which blogs don’t necessarily allow).


On the other hand, if you already have a close and positive working relationship with your users, it may be fine to just give execs a few simple rules and let them loose. I just know, that's usually not the way it goes.


Hope this helps!

Great question and great answer by the always-on-point @JoeC.


One thing I'd add - it has to be your executives' decision to participate. I've found over the years that forcing them into an unfamiliar environment and hoping they have the personality traits required to have successful dialog with customers only leads to the opposite of your goals. Appropriate coaching can overcome some obstacles, but not all. Find the ones that are excited about it and have a knack for communication and go from there.

Thanks both - really great points. @JoeC love your article, I will definitely keep that in mind. 

Thanks so much. 

Great post - somewhat related topic, thoughts on how community can support an executive sponsorship program for customers? Concept here is to connect specific customers to company executives to facilitate relationships/key touchpoints?

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