Enterprise Social Networking: real world learnings

On Friday we had a round table discussion related to enterprise social networking (some may refer to enterprise 2.0). Some best practices from real world projects emerged, and there were some excellent questions that raised the discussion level.

Thanks to Bertrand for contributing to this list. Check out his advice on this blog post

For those unfamiliar with enterprise social networking, I would describe it in a nutshell as web-based solutions that connect employees, business partners and customers by forming engaged virtual teams and communities around specific business objectives. No doubt some of the academics and purists will disagree with this, but hey it’s my blog and I’ll say what I want to 😉

Real world lessons learned

Have an achievable business goal

A business social network with no goal eventually fails. Projects where people “just want to try it out” usually fail because there is no common goal or shared values. A group of people without shared values/goals is not a true community.

The justification is not always the same as the goal

For example the goal might be to improve communication and performance of a distributed team, but the financial justification could be around reducing costs. In this case, reducing costs is not the reason for doing it, but it keeps the FD happy.

Start small

If you start small, you don’t have to find a lot of money to get started. Whether you build something yourself or buy an off-the-shelf product, you should be able to get going for less than £25K (remember if you build it yourself it’s people’s time, hardware, software etc. so it’s never “free”). Even tools like Ning and Yammer, although not really “enterprise-class”, are good options if you have no particular goal and just want to mess around with some of the concepts.

Find champions

Champions will be the ones that make it happen. In an enterprise there will be many different initiatives, and each one should have a person that drives and engages their community or group. This is very much along some of the ideas behind tribal leadership.

Get executive buy-in

If you’re an executive, don’t buy a social networking tool “for the generation Y employees” without participating yourself. Exec involvement massively increases participation because people are driven by the visibility. If your peers know that you did something great that’s partially motivating. If our CEO knows, now that’s a motivation.

A social network without people has no value

Therefore participation is key. Focus the energy of the group around the goal, so as to drive participation. Combining the launch of your social network with a physical event is a great way to do this.

Define and explain what people are expected to do (for example are people required to come up with new ideas, ask questions, share their best practices?

Measure Frequently

Prepare to adjust & tweak

people are not 100% predictable, live with it don’t fight it. if you’re measuring what’s going on, you can adjust to it.

Expect the unexpected

things don’t always go as planned. sometimes people do things in a different (and better) way to what you expected. embrace that and people will know that they are empowered

Some interesting questions?

    1. should you have a “gardner” – someone who grows the community but also removes “weeds”?
    2. along these lines – does moderation in an internal context inhibit contribution? i.e. why would I contribute if someone can override me?
    3. should there be a strategy to change “lurkers” (people who read) into active contributors?

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