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Handbook of Community Management - Book Review

1 February 2021
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover


The book "Handbook of Community Management: A Guide to Leading Communities of Practice" is written by Stan Garfield, a long-time knowledge management leader specializing in communities. Published in 2020, this book serves as a comprehensive guide for managing communities, offering concepts, tools, tips, and even letter and email formats for related processes. It can be considered the definitive resource for community management.


The book thoroughly examines both internal and external organizational communities from various angles. Consequently, the content might be repeated, but this redundancy serves a purpose. Each chapter covers everything related to its topic, making it accessible even if readers haven't read previous chapters.


Here is an outline of the book's contents:

1. Introduction - Knowledge Communities

2. Establishing New Communities

3. Operation of Communities

   a. Ongoing Operation

   b. Measurement

   c. Race

   d. Infrastructures

   e. Program Manager

   f. Culture

   g. Platform

4. Mindfulness to Avoid Pitfalls


It is worth noting that the summary mainly focuses on internal organizational aspects and presents key highlights, though not every detail and example is included.


This book is a must-read for anyone managing knowledge communities and will prove valuable beyond measure. However, its insights are not limited to knowledge community managers alone.


Introduction - Knowledge Communities

What is a knowledge community? Knowledge communities are groups of individuals who share a common field of interest, specialization, role, concern, problems, or passion for a particular subject. These community members enhance their understanding through regular interactions, consultations, idea-sharing, tip-sharing, accessing experts, problem-solving, knowledge transfer, learning, and fostering innovation. A knowledge community represents a fundamental component of any knowledge management program. These communities can be aligned with the "Working Out Loud" strategy. This growing movement encourages employees to discuss their work openly, communicate with others, help, learn, and apply new knowledge to their tasks.


Knowledge communities consist of people, processes, and supporting technological tools that facilitate sharing and progress toward their goals. They aim to foster both virtual collaboration and face-to-face meetings and conversations.


Key characteristics of knowledge communities include:

- Based on topics rather than organizational structures or specific missions.

- Primarily cross-organizational in nature.

- Driven by voluntary participation.

- Designed for continuous existence, not limited to a specific time frame.

- Promote interactivity, enabling the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and information (documents).

- Rooted in shared interests and passion for the subject, with less emphasis on formal responsibilities.

- Managed by experienced community leaders.

- Rely on digital platforms to facilitate interaction among members.


A closer examination of these characteristics highlights that knowledge communities are distinct from work teams, social networks, or technological tools.


Types of knowledge communities can be classified as follows:

1. Outside of organizations: Focused on topics, roles, industries, sectors, or geographical locations.

2. Within an organization: Based on experiences, organizational affiliations (though not always recommended), locations (when information depends on geographic context), languages, events (e.g., new employees in the company within their first year), interests, and support groups.


Understanding these aspects underscores the versatility and value of knowledge communities in fostering collaboration, learning, and knowledge sharing across different domains.


Establishing New Communities: The Establishment Process

The process of establishing a community should be well-controlled and structured. It is recommended to follow these steps:


a) Initiation by a Sponsor: The community's establishment should begin with a request from a sponsor, typically a senior manager within the organization. The sponsor plays a vital role in ensuring the allocation of necessary resources, administrative time, and the appointment of an active community leader.


b) Justification for Community Establishment: Before proceeding, assessing whether creating the community is justified is essential. The factors to consider include:

   • Clearly defined common topic or activity (broad in scope).

   • Differentiation from other existing units, avoiding geographical basis as a primary criterion.

   • A sufficient number of potential members, preferably a minimum of 100 and ideally at least 200 members.

   • Identification of a suitable and committed community leader with the necessary time and passion to manage the community effectively.

   • Agreement between the sponsor and the leader to assess the community's health periodically.


The Following Steps in Establishing the Community:


1. Defining the Community's Topic: Clearly outline the area of knowledge the community will focus on.


2. Selecting an Effective Community Leader: Choose a leader who possesses expertise in the subject matter and demonstrates passion and the ability to promote the community.


3. Goal Definition: Establish both business and operational goals for the community. Business goals should outline the expected outputs from the community's activities, while operational goals should specify measurable indicators for the first year (as detailed further under "measurement").


4. Publicizing the Community: Promote the community through permanent catalogs and influential publications to attract potential participants.


5. Building Critical Mass: Focus on recruiting and engaging enough members to form a first critical mass within the community.


6. Initial Planning: Develop a plan for meetings and content to kickstart the community's activities.


7. Digital Platform and Virtual Meeting Organization: Choose an appropriate digital platform and establish means for organizing virtual meetings.


8. Commencement of Community Calls: Initiate the community's activities through initial calls and interactions.


Note: Stan Garfield advises against small and geography-based communities when the professional topic doesn't depend on location. He also suggests avoiding exclusive communities for specific issues and encourages using tags to prevent overlapping content between different knowledge communities within the organization. By adhering to these recommendations, organizations can foster effective, well-structured communities that drive knowledge-sharing and collaboration.


Operation of a Knowledge Community: Ongoing Activity

The community leader, often referred to as SHAPE, plays a crucial role in promoting continuous engagement within the community, aligned with its predefined goals. SHAPE stands for:


S - Schedule: The leader schedules and organizes regular events, such as monthly lectures or seminars, to maintain a lively community.


H - Host: Hosting video calls, webinars, and face-to-face meetings allow for meaningful interactions and discussions among community members.


A - Answer: The leader ensures that questions are promptly answered, discussions remain relevant, and community behavior remains appropriate and respectful.


P - Post: Sharing valuable information with members on the community site through discussions, blogs, or newsletters, keeps the community informed and engaged.


E - Expand: The leader focuses on expanding the community's activity, attracting new members, fostering diverse content, and encouraging discussions.


Furthermore, it's beneficial for each community leader to have another leader as a backup. This arrangement ensures continuous support for the community and helps maintain its momentum.


A Community Leader's Responsibilities include:

- Advertising the community to attract new members.

- Defining goals, tracking community activity, and encouraging active participation.

- Ensuring every question receives an answer and that discussions are meaningful.

- Curating relevant and valuable content for the community.

- Establishing trust among community members.


Remember, a community that stagnates can be challenging to revive. Therefore, it's essential to maintain continuity and keep the community thriving.


The traits of a Community Leader are diverse and include being flexible, strategic, calm, people-focused, creative, collaborative, curious, dynamic, influential, a problem-solver, and personable.


Member Expectations: SPACE

S - Subscribe: Members should subscribe to notifications to stay updated on community discussions.

P - Post: Active participation involves raising questions, providing answers, and sharing ideas.

A - Attend: Engaging in community events and activities fosters meaningful connections.

C - Contribute: Members can contribute content to the website or accompanying newsletters.

E - Engage: Actively engage in lectures, discussions, and interactions.


Another abbreviation, SAFARIS, represents specific actions that can be taken within the community: Share, Ask, Find, Answer, Recognize, Inform, and Suggest.


It's crucial to recognize that not all members will be equally active (the 90:9:1 rule). Some will actively participate, while others may quietly benefit from shared knowledge. As long as members are present, reading, and gaining value from the community, they remain valuable contributors.



To gauge the health and effectiveness of knowledge communities, we use the ACME framework, which stands for Activity, Content, Membership, and Events. The ACME measures are as follows:


A - Activity: Communities should exhibit ongoing activity, with at least one post per week, and all questions should receive an answer within 24 hours.


C - Content: Regular content creation is vital, with at least one document, message, blog post, or newsletter shared within the community every month.


M - Membership: Each community should aim to have at least 100 users within three months of establishment, followed by steady growth every quarter after that.


E - Events: Communities must hold at least one video call, webinar, or face-to-face physical meeting each quarter. These events should be published on the community calendar and attract a minimum of 10 participants.


To assess the health status of each community, we recommend using a traffic light method (green, yellow, red) based on their activity level.


Additionally, at the overall community level, we should monitor progress toward meeting the goals outlined in the annual community plan. Furthermore, avoiding redundancy among communities is crucial, ensuring that similar content topics don't overlap.


Some measurement tips include:

- Tracking and communicating progress helps identify areas needing improvement and fosters ongoing engagement.

- Publishing measurement results create positive pressure for community activity and motivates community leaders.

- Be cautious of indicators that might encourage unnecessary activity, such as creating communities without a genuine need.


By employing the ACME framework and using measurement wisely, we can foster thriving knowledge communities that continually grow and enrich the collective knowledge of their members.



The topic of incentives sparks a lively debate concerning their feasibility and effectiveness. Below are different types of incentives to consider, tailored to suit each organization:


1. Employee Performance and Salary Increase Plan: Linking community activity to an employee's performance evaluation and salary increase plan can motivate active participation.


2. Advancement Requirement: Making community activity a prerequisite for career advancement can encourage employees to engage in knowledge-sharing initiatives actively.


3. Tangible Incentives: Offering tangible rewards or benefits for active community involvement can be strong motivators.


4. Recognition: Acknowledging and publicly recognizing the contributions of community members can enhance their sense of accomplishment.


5. Thanks (from friend to friend): Peer-to-peer recognition and expressions of gratitude within the community can foster a positive and supportive environment.


6. Ranking and Comparative Competition: Introducing rankings and competitions between and within communities can stimulate healthy competition and drive participation.


7. Worn Out: The concept of "worn out" badges can signify a member's expertise and level of contribution within the community.


8. Measuring Individual Impact: Recognizing and measuring the impact of an individual's contributions can encourage meaningful participation.


9. Health Reports for Communities: Regular health reports can assess communities' overall health and engagement levels.


10. Business Contribution: Evaluating the community's impact on the organization's success and strategic goals can reinforce its importance.


Each organization should carefully consider the most suitable incentives that align with its culture and goals. A thoughtful approach to incentives can enhance community engagement and foster a vibrant knowledge-sharing environment.

Infrastructures: The Role of a Program Manager

In organizations that offer knowledge communities as part of their knowledge management services, it is essential to have a designated role responsible for managing all knowledge communities. This role can vary depending on the level of community activity within the organization, ranging from a full-time employee in highly active settings to the organizational knowledge manager in others.


The duties of the program manager include:


1. Improving Organizational Performance: Working alongside senior management to institutionalize a culture of sharing, consulting, asking questions, providing answers, and recognizing the existence of communities. Additionally, promoting the business justification for these communities.


2. Knowledge Communities Plan: Defining, maintaining, and implementing a comprehensive knowledge communities plan across the organization.


3. Application of Knowledge Management Principles: Applying knowledge management principles, encompassing people, processes, and technology within the communities.


4. Incentive Schemes: Defining incentive schemes to encourage engagement and participation within the knowledge communities.


5. Periodic Reporting: Providing regular reports on the state and health of the communities.


6. Action Plans: Implementing action plans related to establishing, promoting, or supporting knowledge communities.


7. Leading by Example: Demonstrating effective community management through personal involvement in a thriving community.


8. Leadership Development: Guiding and supporting community leaders, administrators, and support staff.


9. Overall Management: Overseeing all aspects of knowledge communities, including conducting measurements, surveys, and campaigns to encourage participation.


10. Active Participation: Encouraging participation and actively engaging with the communities.


11. Moderation: Handling inappropriate posts, managing duplicate documents, and addressing inactive or same communities.


12. User Management: If not automated, managing user removal for those who have left the organization.


13. Collaboration with Other Organizations: Facilitating communication with corresponding colleagues in other organizations.


Traits of an Effective Program Manager:


1. Positive Attitude: Demonstrating positivity in training and handling exceptional situations.


2. Personal Attention: Providing individualized attention and support to community members.


3. Discretion and Flexibility: Defining rules while maintaining discretion and flexibility when necessary.


4. Proactive Promotion: Taking proactive measures to promote and enhance the community’s success.


By having a competent program manager with these traits, organizations can foster thriving knowledge communities that contribute significantly to their knowledge management efforts.


Culture: Nurturing Knowledge Communities

The culture of knowledge communities is essential and requires attention at two levels: the overall program management culture and the culture of participation and sharing within individual communities. To foster thriving knowledge communities, the following recommendations can be implemented:


At the Organizational Level:

1. Shift to a Culture of Knowledge Sharing: Encourage a transition from a culture of "knowledge that needs to be known" to "knowledge that needs to be shared." Emphasize the value of sharing knowledge across the organization.


2. Cultivate Trust: Build a culture of trust (Mutual Trust - ML) within the organization, where individuals feel comfortable sharing their insights and expertise.


3. Link Participation to Contribution: Establish a connection between community engagement and contributions to the organization. This linkage reduces concerns that sharing knowledge might lead to job insecurity during challenging times.


4. Recognize Time Investment: Highlight that participation in the community is an investment of time rather than a waste. Emphasize the long-term benefits of knowledge sharing.


5. Create an Inclusive Environment: Develop and demonstrate an inclusive community environment. Encourage open discussions and ensure people feel safe to ask questions publicly.


At the Community Level:

1. Thoughtful Friend Approvals: Be somewhat selective in approving new community members. However, once approved, trust their contributions and give them maximum confidence when sharing and writing. Only intervene if there's a breach of trust.


2. Address Inappropriate Content Privately: Deal with inappropriate content and conduct privately through 1:1 communication instead of publicly shaming individuals.


3. Value Knowledge Sharing: Prioritize knowledge sharing over content removal. If the information is valuable, consider retaining it, even if it doesn't perfectly align with community guidelines (e.g., self-promotion as an answer to a question).


4. Encourage Contributions: Motivate opinion leaders and other valuable contributors to participate in community events, even if it requires effort to convince them. Their presence can significantly benefit the community.


By implementing these recommendations, organizations can foster a vibrant culture of knowledge sharing, nurturing dynamic and productive knowledge communities where individuals feel valued and empowered to contribute their expertise for the collective benefit.


A Supportive Digital Platform for Knowledge Communities

The digital platforms that support knowledge communities encompass three types:


1. Central Knowledge Site: This serves as a virtual hub for managing conversations and sharing content among community members.


2. Communication Software: Designed for virtual meetings, it facilitates telephone or video conferencing interactions.


3. Instant Messaging Software: Used for sending notifications and messages, such as emails, to keep community members informed.


When planning a knowledge community’s system within an organization, it is essential to establish infrastructure for each of these three types.


A comprehensive knowledge site should include the following components:


1. Shared Features: A catalog of knowledge communities and initial details about each community.


2. For Each Community: Specific components such as:

   - Discussion Area: For posting questions and sharing content, with options for responses and references.

   - WIKI Pages: A collaborative platform for creating and editing content collectively.

   - Blog Pages: Dedicated spaces for community members to share insights and updates.

   - Calendar: Displaying details of upcoming events and the ability to view past events.

   - Files: A repository for storing various media, including photos and videos.

   - Alerts: Notifications to keep members informed of community updates and activities.

   - Management: Tools for managing groups, analytics, and integration with the corporate portal.

   - Search Options: Enhanced search capabilities to find relevant information within the community.

   - Additional Social Features: Incorporating features like FOLLOW, LIKE, BOOKMARK, and more to encourage engagement and interaction.


Stan Garfield has compiled a list of software tools (as of 2020) suitable for digital platforms in various organizations, catering to clients and open communities.


By carefully selecting and implementing these digital platforms, organizations can create a robust and supportive infrastructure for their knowledge communities, fostering seamless collaboration and knowledge-sharing among community members.


Common Pitfalls to Avoid:

1. Taking on Too Much at Once: Avoid simultaneously overwhelming the community with too many tasks or initiatives.


2. Overemphasis on Technology: While technology is essential, it foster human connections and interactions.


3. Neglecting Time for Connecting People: Invest time and effort in connecting people at all levels within the community.


4. Excessive Planning without Real Experience: Balance planning with actual hands-on experience to adapt and refine strategies.


5. Ignoring Lessons from Others: Learn from the experiences of those who have already implemented knowledge communities.


6. Disregarding Face-to-Face Meetings: Physical, face-to-face interactions remain crucial for building strong community bonds.


7. Blindly Adopting Strategies from Others: Tailor approaches to suit your organization's specific environment and needs.


8. Metrics Without Action: Collecting metrics without implementing meaningful actions based on the data.


9. Technology-Driven Focus: Prioritize business needs over chasing the latest technologies and solutions.


10. Inconsistent Behavior: Lead by example and avoid expecting others to follow rules you don't adhere to.


11. Underestimating the Importance of Sociability: Recognize the value of social interactions for effective knowledge sharing.


12. Lack of Control Over New Communities: Avoid allowing a flood of uncontrolled new knowledge communities to form.


13. Overburdening People with Risks: Trust community members and avoid over-managing every associated risk.


14. Redundant Communities: Avoid creating separate communities for needs that could be met through existing ones.


15. Misjudging Community Size: Understand that smaller and more intimate communities may not always be preferable.


16. Imposing Membership: Encourage participation without forcing or coercing people to join communities.


17. One-Size-Fits-All Approach: Tailor knowledge management to each community's specific needs and dynamics.


18. Disregarding the 90:9:1 Rule: Acknowledge that active participation will always be a small percentage, and that's normal.


19. ROI Calculations for Communities: Avoid overemphasizing Return on Investment (ROI) calculations for knowledge communities, as their value extends beyond direct financial metrics.


20. Undefined Goals for Knowledge Communities: Clearly define goals before starting a knowledge communities program to ensure focus and success.

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