Employee communities, internal social media platforms built for employee engagement by the employer, can be a wild success and source of innovation or an incredible flop. I have seen examples of both first hand. So how do you make your employee community an engaging place that workers will care about?
There are three primary tactics for building a powerful employee community:
1. Usefulness and relevance to day to day work, and a genuine value placed on engagement by senior leadership
3. Passion for community and real opportunities to make a difference through it
Usefulness, Relevance, and Value
Leaders must make participation in the community useful to achieve the day-to-day work of the employee. This may mean diverting conversations away from email and onto message boards. Really progressive companies may want to get rid of email ENTIRELY and use only their internal social networking platform for messaging. To do this of course, your system would need to have the functionality to tag, sort, and archive in-mail messages, but the key to abandoning email for community discussion platforms is changing the behavior of employees to have primary discussions on public or private threads rather than on fragmented email chains.
Expectations in business today are not always reasonable. We’ve all heard that “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to online communities. Fostering true engagement and participation means making what goes on in the community relevant. To be relevant, the conversations, content, and other activity within the community need to translate to real-world objectives, action, and results. Any community platform you build for your workers is a tool – just like putting in a phone system didn’t start making employees innovate, putting in a community with fancy tools is just the first step; it will not cure your innovation problem. What a community platform can do, however, is level the playing field for ideas to be heard. That is what we mean by relevance.
Beyond the day-to-day behaviors moving to new tools, is the work product on your system valued? When people put out ideas on the community who champions them? Do you have a way of measuring the best contributions (not just the most)? All these questions hint at the value placed on what goes up in the community and the value extracted from it. Again, these are just tools. Let me say that one more time: these are just tools. They have the potential to change the way we work and add incredible value, but only if we first see how our old tools can be replaced.
Money is one of the last on this list. The most powerful incentive is when someone believes what they are doing is important. Without this our efforts in a community or the very work we do just seems aimless. How can you make what is going on in your community important? This is the million dollar question, but a good place to start, what is important about the work you are doing now? What are the goals of your company? How you better reach them by using your community to communicate the mission, objectives, steps, and progress? These questions all go to making the work you do on your community focused and important.
Beyond this, the community is a place where senior leaders can become real to employees, much the way celebrities have used social media to interact with fans. Try having an executive write a regular blog where he solicits feedback and responds to comments received. Another tactic is to create an innovation lab forum, where employees are invited to submit ideas for new directions the company can take the business in. The highest rated ideas can be green lighted and those individuals or teams chosen to work directly with top level people to make them happen. These are just some examples of non-tangible incentives that resonate with employees. Give them a stage.
Passion and Making a Difference
Find your cheerleaders early. Even better if they are people others in the company already respect. Create a team of superusers, not just in name. Make it part of their work to meet regularly, grow the group, and lay out a clear path for others to join their ranks (this is not so much an exclusive club as it is a milestone). These users are the ones along with senior leadership who should be listening and fostering engagement in the community. Hiring a dedicated community manager is also a good idea.
Passion that doesn’t translate to change is just enthusiasm. An organization needs to commit to the new course that the group conscience of the company begins to plot. Your community is worthless if it can’t change things in your company. If you are “the decider” ask yourself: am I just going to do what I want anyway? If so, your community exists to give the illusion of progress. And what a shame, because it will be a missed opportunity to take your business to the next level that you know it needs to hit.