5 ways Communities best Networks

We’ve noticed among some organisations a move to host their “communities” on social networks like Linkedin and Facebook. In some cases this may be misguided, especially if you are seeking to become a social business. Don’t get us wrong, there are some very successful groups on those social networks and perhaps surprisingly Facebook hosts a multitude of active business groups. The successful groups deliver mutual value – they serve the purpose for which they are created. How do we match purpose to platform and where to create communities? In many cases, an internal community remains the better choice to serve specific business and cultural change objectives.

Purpose

In serving the purpose for which they are created, we need to have defined that purpose, right? We can see that many Facebook groups are relatively small, and do have a common set of connected interests, so it’s not just about network size. Here the purpose might be to have a low maintenance way to keep in contact and share information.

On the other hand for other purposes network size itself is very important, and large numbers create a valuable asset. Here Twitter might be used for quick feedback, or event promotion, and Facebook might be used to more intimately connect with people via a personal Facebook page, business page and private groups. For brands like Coke, the community is not about deep levels of engagement, but rather about highly branded, mostly one-way communication with small doses of customer interaction/feedback.

However if the purpose is to achieve some shared business goals, and share fate and motivation, and to seed and promote the transformation to a social business, then hosting your community on a public social network probably isn’t the right solution. Sure, Facebook has some great uses. You can build an audience pretty quickly. The issue is not to avoid Facebook / Linkedin etc. The issue is not to build a community on it for the wrong purpose. These are wonderful outposts for internal communities, but are not the vehicles for all communities.

In general subscribers in your social network are subscribing to your streams of information to consume your thought-leadership, expertise, or marketing offers. In your community, which can be more private, the conversations are more candid and you can leverage employee, customer and partner input to improve the organisation (the social enterprise), the customer experience and satisfaction with your products and services. This applies even in specialised internal communities such as Talent Communities because those communities expect to be able to connect widely and openly and easily across the organisation - which means that the organisation has to be able to support this kind of interaction - culturally and technically.

In summary, to answer the question of what platform to use, you have to first define community and what that means to you, your organization, and your goals (and especially your social enterprise goals).

Community chatting group of peopleInternal communities shape social business

Here are 5 reasons why internal communities often best networks:

  1. Communities are focused on a common goal or objective - not just a relationship or marketing;
  2. Communities allow true collaboration – finding, refining, storing, sharing information;
  3. Communities can be linked to workflow, help streamline processes, and provide operational advantages;
  4. Communities can be private – for example according to corporate identity and access regimes; and,
  5. Communities can be tools for cultural change and social enterprise enablement.

If you’ve ever searched for something you once saw flash by in a Linkedin Group then you know that it’s hard to find, and then you need to file-tag-bookmark it yourself in order to find it next time. Same for Facebook. Adding to that information, refining, and building on it, takes more than just scanning through the comment thread.

If you’d then like to share that information within your organisation, and manage and monitor that sharing, and develop actions and outcomes, then you’re not going to find the external social networks very helpful. If your goals and purpose embrace these needs, then you need to have an internal community.

The crux of this is that communities which are linked to business objectives, which link to existing systems and workflows, have a much better chance of not only surviving but thriving. Increased discoverability also makes for much better employee or community interaction, as information is not scattered and lost. To support that need, the platform may need to provide features such as privacy/permissions, document collaboration, file-sharing, tagging, following/subscribing, federated identity management, database integration etc. which are not available from groups on social networks.

Internal community fundamental to organisational transformation

Reasons #1 and #2 are strong reasons, but the killer reason is #5.

If your ambition is to break down barriers, to become more transparent, to engage with your stakeholders in a more open and collaborative way and things that really matter to the future of your organisation as a social enterprise, then:

  • You have a massive challenge ahead of you, as you undoubtedly know; and,
  • You need an internal community, because you won’t achieve this with “a Linkedin Group”.

The journey to becoming more social, in order to be able to build social into your business and business goals, is a tough one. In isolated cases it may have started and succeeded through an evangelist in PR or Marketing, but in the vast majority of cases they would have given up. Even with the appointment of a Social Media Manager the brief rarely extends to cross-organisational leadership.  An internal community facilitates the whole-business journey to social.

That this is true is validated by the likes of EMC (EMC Does Social Media From The Inside Out via @adamcohen), and IBM, Cisco, or CSC with their C3 Community, to name a few successful stories.

If you have no purpose then it doesn't matter

Let’s be brutal about this. If you’re thinking “well, communities are just something we need to do for our members/customers/partners” then go ahead and use social network host. After all, anything will do for this activity since it has no particular purpose except to be seen to be doing something.

But if you’re thinking “there’s a dynamic here that we all need to get to grips with, I don’t understand it, but I think that it could have a big impact on how we do business and how our employees relate to each other” then you need kick off with internal community - within the framework of some business goals and expectations of what a social enterprise entails.

If you're looking for more ideas on business benefits read this slide from Rachel Happe at the recent IBM Connect 2012 conference, she outlines efficiency and value benefits of a business community (via Luis Suarez).

The Community Manager is not the Social Media Manager

Once you appreciate the power of internal communities for this purpose, you may then ponder the role of the community manager – and understand that this community manager is different from a social media manager. Both require content generation and content management, real-time response to address positive and negative feedback, building and cultivating relationships, identifying and nurturing influencers and evangelists and crowdsourcing intelligence about the brand or services among other things. But the rules and dynamics of engagement are different as Rachel Happe explains so well.

The social media manager, for a start, is engaging through different tools and with a different purpose. Often the external network is focused on the most viewed content and most active members and highlighting the most popular things. Whereas the community manager, using a different set of tools, might want to bring to life content with the least feedback or members with the least participation.

Communities are about maximising engagement and relationships to encourage learning and with it, behavior change, all focused on business outcomes. This has to be supported by a community manager which, as Leanne Chase says "is more than a role, a discipline". The former tasks are not social media, and therefore the discipline is certainly not a social media manager. Most importantly, the community manager has to be totally attuned to the organisational change issues and the cross-organisational nature of a community as a route to social business transformation.

While the biggest challenge is people, the actual platform – the technologydoes matter. Software allowing employees to easily produce, collect, structure, analyze and publish data is key to wider adoption. You will easily find pockets of users willing to participate in “social experiments”; but to rally EVERY employee you will have to include business applications and processes in your internal social platform.

Social connectivity is also important, but the best social intranet is not the one providing the most social features, but the one which ties the most business processes and data to employee’s social behaviour. It is a long path to become a social enterprise, including the social integration of information, knowledge, data, applications, processes and communities, but this should be your ultimate goal to fully leverage your internal communities.

Hear what David Weinberger says, technology pundit and author of "Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room":

"Now the fundamental fact of knowledge is not that there's a set of experts who talk with one another, but there's a network. The network itself becomes where the knowledge is. That network overall has more value than any particular participant."

In which case doesn't it make sense to make your Community as efficient and effective and as embodied in the work flow, systems, information rules and culture of your organisation as possible?

Conclusion

To achieve social business transformation you have to have an internal Community (social intranet), for other purposes whether you use a community or a network depends on your goals, choose wisely.

How do you define community versus network?
How do you see communities playing a role in the successful transformation to a social enterprise?
What frameworks and methodologies, in your experience, best guide this process?
What is the role of community manager versus social media manager?

Please comment below.

WalterA

See also our Slideshare presentation Company "Owned" Social Networks

  • http://xeeMe.com/AxelS AxelS

    Great post and very comprehensive insight into the magic of online communities.

  • http://www.rinku.co/ Ben Widdowson

    Hi Walter,

    Great article. The following point particularly struck me as the key to Social Business.

    “The crux of this is that communities which are linked to business objectives, which link to existing systems and workflows, have a much better chance of not only surviving but thriving.”

    In my opinion the currency of business is data, therefore any solution or initiative which focuses on integrating user communities with enterprise data stands a great chance of succeeding.

    Ben Widdowson
    http://www.sabisu.co

  • http://twitter.com/wendysoucie Wendy Soucie

    I have a number of professional groups considering use of LinkedIn, Facebook and a private community. This really helps breakdown the thought process for me to help guide them better. As always Walter, you provide a tremendous boost to the ecosystem with this share.
    Wendy
    xeeme.com/wendysoucie

    • http://walteradamson.com Walter Adamson

      Thanks Axel and Wendy, we appreciate your feedback.

  • Pingback: Sleeping giant - Social Business stirs in 2012 - Lotusphere IBM | iGo2Group

  • http://walteradamson.com Walter Adamson

    Ben,
    Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay on responding – Disqus had placed your comment in spam.

    Agree. The more people find a community useful in doing their job the more likely it is to prosper. And that means having the community connected to their data and workflows. The leading community platforms are putting a lot more effort into their API capabilities to make such integration easier.

    Walter

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  • http://twitter.com/ChristineAH Christine Herbert

    Thank you for the great article. This