As I've blogged about before, I see social networking for businesses as encompassing four quadrants: public social media, social CRM to collect data, social software in the workplace (intranet) and externally facing social software (an open online community). As I detailed in that post, there are many opportunities for companies to leverage multiple social networking elements, especially through an online community.
Publicly facing social sites, like an open community, are especially powerful and offer businesses the ability to interface with customers ‘where they are,’ to monitor what's being said about your brand on those sites and to incorporate that feedback into your organization's overall communications strategy. This transparency not only helps you create a better product, but ‘helps members and customers help themselves’ by allowing them to ask and answer questions as a community.
Although these are powerful tools, it’s easier said than done to get an online community started. Unfortunately, you can’t just set one up -- even if it’s on an awesome platform -- and expect everyone to hop online at once.
That’s where culture fits in.
In order for your organization to reap the benefits of a community, the culture needs to evolve away from the traditional command and control way of doing business -- a mentality generally at odds with new collaborative platforms and technologies -- to one that’s more collaborative and open. It's one thing to launch a community, or establish a company presence on a public platform, but it's another to effectively integrate it into all aspects of an organization’s operations. In order for an organization to effectively deploy community across the board, the organization must, itself, become social as well.
How do you create a social culture?
I wish this was an easy, simple task, but it can take time to create a culture that readily accepts an online community -- and knows how to use it. But the good news is it can be done.
Much smart commentary has already been written about the cultural changes necessary for a business to become "social." For instance, I enjoyed this post, in which the author laid out a straightforward path for creating the culture you want.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Decide what your goals for community are. Why do you want to start a community? Is it to connect members with each other so they can share knowledge? Or to reduce customer service costs by allowing customers to help each other? Knowing your goals will help you streamline the community’s purpose and pitch the idea in a meaningful way to future participants.
- Assess your organization’s current culture towards collaboration in general, as well as social networking. Do people already collaborate naturally, or is your organization siloed, with independent working? If your community launched today, how well received would it be? Knowing what your current culture is like will help you plan the community’s launch and educate your organization so they use it.
- This wasn’t mentioned in the post, but I think it’s important. When you finally launch your community, start small. Although you’re excited and want everyone involved, sometimes it’s better to start off with the few and dedicated rather than a large mix of people, many of whom are ambivalent or even detractors. As these first members begin creating a strong community culture, bring more people into the fray, and they’ll catch on more quickly than they would’ve otherwise.
Don’t forget about buy-in
Creating a social culture is just part of the puzzle, though. It’s important that you get buy-in from the organization as a whole -- they need to be excited about the community and see how it will benefit them as well. When pitching the community to people in your organization, tie it in with their goals. How does a community help them achieve their five year vision?
Since this is such a rich topic, I wanted to be sure to leave you with a few more resources. Below are a couple links that I found helpful and think you will, too:
- How Culture Can Impact the Success of a Social Business
- The Cult(ure) Of Personality: Social Business Readiness & Culture
- Maddie Grant, guest contributor on Higher Logic
I'm sure I missed a ton of other great posts, books, articles and other resources - please feel free to add more in the comments. This is a topic that I'll definitely be exploring more in future posts, so be sure to subscribe or follow via email (on right sidebar) if this is a topic that interests you.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2013 has been updated for accuracy, relevance and freshness.