I love social media. I love technology. For me, they just go together; they’re like a hi-tech version of peanut butter and jelly. I adopt a new tool/service/application out of pure curiosity. I love they way this ecosystem integrates, the content is truly separated and mobile from the format. Because of this I, and many of you, get to weave threads (our thoughts, interests and views (pedestrian at times)) – our personal brands, if you will – through the loom that is the internet. That turns us on. We love social media. We love technology.
For us, the ROI is simple, inherent, maybe it’s in our DNA. For others, investing time and effort into social media requires a little more arm twisting. It’s not as easy for them to see what they’re going to get out of it. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze for them.
That’s fine. No skin off our nose. There are roughly 300M people worldwide with broadband connections. I think we’ll find plenty of contributors to the social media fabric making it more than worth our while to participate.
But what if you don’t have those kinds of numbers to draw on? What if you’re in a much smaller population? What if you’re looking to implement communities at work, school, maybe in your town or church. You can’t afford low adoption rates if the online community is to be successful. And if you are planning something like this for the workplace you risk having the plug pulled on your project and any social media gains being set back months and maybe even years. Back of the line, please.
So, what does it take to put together successful online communities? I’d like to list some of the highlights from my experience, various presentations I’ve attended and articles I’ve read on the subject. Hopefully, these practices will guide you in the right direction .
IBM recently gave a presentation at work, focusing on what to do to make our Connections pilot successful. While this isn’t the slide deck they used, slides 20 – 22 contain some of the key points they made.
Here are are their five steps to successful adoption followed by my comments.
- Active and visible executive sponsorship – I get this, I do. Not many corporate initiatives are successful without executive sponsorship. However, I will argue the point a bit in that when it comes to an initiative requiring a grass roots type of effort, as community building generally does, executive sponsorship can be threatening. It’s almost like a father telling his daughter, ‘I don’t want you to date Johnny.’ Well, is there anything that would guarantee the daughter falling head over heels for Johnny better than dad’s official denouncement? In many ways, leadership plays the role of the parent and the individual contributors that of the daughter. I think the role of leadership, in this case, needs to be that of a silent partner. They should understand the technology is a good thing, sign the PO’s and if anyone asks they should give a thumbs up. If you want to build a community, you have to leave it up to the community to build itself.
- Dedicated Resources – totally agree here. But, to echo what I said above, these resources need to silently enable the community, almost like a guardian angel. They need to listen and react instead of dictate.
- Well Orchestrated Program – true, true. There needs to be a vision & charter for this type of implementation. While you want to give your community freedom to branch out in the direction they desire, you need to have a scope defined to direct you in your effort.
- Frequent and Open Communications – what better way to manage and communicate a social media implementation than by using social media. Eat your own dogfood. One big trend I’m noticing in the project management world is the increasing use of wikis to manage projects. It provides transparency and communication to anyone interested and is a great use of the tool.
- Employee Participation – Duh. Ok, it’s a little more complex than that. This one particular bullet is probably worth a blog post in itself, and it will be my next one. A key point to think about now is identifying Ambassadors. These are the people that, instead of the upper management dad-types, will be the ones bringing the message to the people. They will help start the grass roots movement.
Dan recently had a coversation with Seth Kahan, speaker, author, Fast Company blogger & online community builder. Definitley check out the post, but here are the hilights, followed by my comments.
- Strong Business Benefits – Ah. The classic business case. Definitley a must, especially for those not sold on the idea of social media in the enterprise. Lots of different ways to quantify this in terms of cost reduction and productivity improvements. Revenue generation is a bit of a reach, but not out of the question. Many people argue the merits of this business case. This topic is also deserving of its own post.
- Attention to Community Area Concerns – getting back to the 2nd IBM bullet. You need to be listening to the community, reacting and then enabling. This will show you care and build trust with the participating members. They will not forget that.
- Participant Payoffs – controversial topic here. I’ve seen studies showing that participation does enhance community participation, but once the payoffs are gone so is the participation. I think it’s important to drill a little deeper here and have the payoffs tied into the participant needs, so they’re related and not arbitrary. This is actually a major issue at work, and no real progress has been made. I’ll keep you posted.
Seth gets into 10 additional rules for creating strong communities. I’m not going to list them here; I’m already bordering on plagiarism. However, I think it’s important that you read them as they are a strong complement to the steps listed so far.
Gartner has published a very good six pager on the topic: Seven Key Characteristics of a Good Purpose for Social Software
The underlying theme of this article is that you can’t simply put software tools in place and then expect your community to come; you need a purpose. We will refer to this as the Field of Dreams approach. (One startling stat in this artile – 70% of attempts to form communities fail. eek)
OK, here’s what Gartner says. You know the drill.
- Create a Magnetic Community – gets back into the participant payoffs.. Instead of giving someone a Starbucks gift card for having the most posts, strive to make participation in the community the benefit itself. People will come back if their job is made easier, and maybe even more fun, by participating in the community.
- Aligned – Same thing as IBM’s Well Orchestrated bullet? A little bit. What Gartner is getting at is making sure the purpose for your community is aligned with the business strategy. They offer two kinds of alignment, Direct and Indirect. It’s good. You should read it.
- Low Risk – Your goal here is adoption. So, as tempting as it is to go down in history as the guy who changed the culture at stodgy, conservative engineering firm X you should instead just get some small wins. Focus on low risk over high reward. Build the momentum slowly. Couldn’t agree more, especially after seeing paltry results from Big Bang approaches.
- Properly Scoped – see my comments in IBM’s Well Orchestrated Program bullet. The only thing worth adding here is to start small. Don’t try to hit it out of the park, we’ll take base hits for now.
- Facilitates Evolution – if you do everything right, at some point the culture will change and your communities will expand in number and scope. While starting small is good, you need to be ready for expansion. If participants want to innovate and run into road blocks you will have a major setback on your hands.
- Measurable – this sounds like something right out of the Six Sigma handbook. But, it’s absolutely true. Choose your metrics wisely, as you can only improve upon what you measure.
- Community-Driven – Another no-brainer? Yes, but it must be acknowledged. This ties into the major theme that communities must be self-perpetuating. If communities are only vital because the enterprise is manipulating them, the value proposition. Remember, the enterprise has to back off.
OK. That wraps it up on this end. I think we’ve covered some great community best practices. Lots of issues identified for further discussion in subsequent posts.
Have any best practices of your own? Disagree with any of the experts I referenced above? Let me know what you think.