The "hit by a bus" test really intrigues me in relation to these Cluetrain-type community engagements and I was reading a post by Rich Sands which got me thinking. I highly recommend reading Rich's full post and especially the comments. My comments are re-posted below.
One point Rich makes:
"...For those companies, having a community leader “hit by a bus” is no big deal - there are others ready and willing to take up the mantle of leadership. Those same stars, if given latitude while they’re with you, and treated with respect when they leave, may remain some of the most ardent advocates of your company and its products..."I absolutely agree with the final point about the raving loony advocates. I've seen so many examples of this over the years.
I do feel that if the community leader gets "hit by a bus" that it won't be as simple as somebody else just easily slotting into their place. No matter what you do there will be a gap. We see it time and time again with sports teams where the star leaves and the replacement, although extremely talented and maybe even better than the original star, just doesn't make the immediate impact everybody would like. Things are different. It takes time for this new star to make an impact. It takes time for the team to adapt.
With community leaders who are the face of a company the same applies. There will be a loss. Things will be different. The organization can overcome it by not only having other "leaders ready to take up the mantle" but by having the progressive management relationships and support systems in place to adapt to this change. Remember: the only constant is change.
If you try to create a situation where these leaders can be seamlessly swapped in and out, it is no better than the bad old "command and control" world the Cluetrain railed against. Not only does the community interaction need to be an open and honest conversation, but so does the internal management approach.