Organizations must give a lot to receive the benefits of incorporating an online community into their business strategy. This includes devoting resources, upping transparency, and creating a culture of collaboration. Whether it is an internal social network or an online customer community, the driving force behind the success of a corporate community is employee buy-in.
The ProCommunity podcast recently featured a conversation with Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable on why businesses must be willing to give up some control in order to get the tangible value that online communities can deliver in a business environment.
The following outlines how corporations can slowly change their culture to increase buy-in for the online community strategy.
Before you invite all of you employees, customers, and partners into your online community, you must gain an understanding of the social dynamics within your target audience. You don't really know if your culture will accept your social business plans until you experiment.
Unstructured non-work related activity helps people get comfortable with the tools, sharing, and collaborating. Begin by incorporating social collaboration into a non-mission critical initiative in your business where employees can get a feel for the platform and how others in their ecosystem may react to their participation.
"If you don't have a comfort level around
unimportant topics, you are never going to
get a comfort level around important topics."
- Rachel Happe, The Community Roundtable
Companies can't expect an employee's behavior in a company-owned social network to mirror their behavior on other public or private social networks. The differences between internal and external online communities are in the motivators (why they do it) and constraints (the consequences of being seen by others). In internal online communities, both employees and managers have a much higher level of sensitivity around the motivations and constraints that exist.
It is likely that using online communities to achieve business goals is just as new to senior management as it is to those responsible for translating company goals into a social business strategy. As a result, many executive teams are ill-prepared to guide the transformation. This can lead to sending mixed messages to employees about how, when, where, and what to share online.
Employees have personal brands. They know that the way in which they appear to their peers and managers can have an impact on their careers. In both internal and online customer communities, senior management must give people permission and a lot of encouragement to participate.
Even in a down economy, there is a good chance that your employees would change jobs and leave your organization if they could. That is just the nature of working for somebody else. Do you think this makes for a happy, engaged team?
Use some of the knowledge sharing and information-currency in your social business initiative to empower your employees. This can go a long way to boosting motivation and job satisfaction.
Along with a lot of effort, building an online community takes time. To avoid adding pressure to show results too soon, set your time horizons appropriately and make sure that stakeholders from the boardroom to the trenches are aware of the strategic plan.
Corporate online communities change the cost structure of how many customers and segments a business can support and target. Internal communities can also speed up the rate at which high quality work gets done by helping teams to "work out loud." In both situations, managers at all levels must take deliberate steps to help their culture adapt as significantly as the organization is changing technology and business processes.