12 Tips for Building a Successful Enterprise Social Network – Part 1

Posted: May 11, 2014 in Social Media
Tags: , , , , , ,

12TipsForSuccessfulESNI recently had the opportunity to present a session at the J. Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Philadelphia. The session was about building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) – an internal social network used by employees within a business. This has been my profession and passion for the past 4+ years, so I was pleased to talk about it and hear from others’ experiences as well.

The time for that presentation was limited to about 35 minutes of me talking plus time for discussion. I had more I would like to have said given the time to do so, therefore I am writing a blog series on the topic where I’ll have the chance to say more about each of the tips.

One of the nice things about preparing presentations for others is that it forces the presenter to gather thoughts that might not previously have been organized. Such was the case for me in this topic. I wanted those present in the session to have as many specific takeaways as possible, so I pondered my four years as the community manager of our company’s ESN and came up with my top 12 pieces of advice for others to help them have a successful ESN. The tips apply to those just thinking about having an ESN at work as well as companies who may already be several years into the effort. I’ll take them one at a time here. The tips come from having done some things well and from learning some things the hard way. I’m happy to share both.

Here we go! My first piece of advice is:

Have a full-time community manager from the start.

As a community manager, I am unashamedly biased on this point. I am convinced that someone needs to live and breathe and own the overall experience of a company’s ESN. A passionate, qualified community manager is that make-or-break person for the enterprise. I’m not overstating anything when I say that this tip may be the most important of all 12 I’ll share. That’s why I’m starting with it.

I know it isn’t always easy to convince businesses that a full-time person should be or can be devoted to the effort from the beginning. I understand the nature of resource constraints. I wasn’t allowed to be full-time as our company’s ESN community manager until three years and ten months into the effort. That’s crazy for a Fortune 100 business, but that was the case. I asked for it for nearly three years before it finally came to pass. Along the way I had to do double and triple duty as a SharePoint consultant and community manager/moderator for our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ external social properties. It was only as our enterprise social media team expanded that I was able to gradually pass on those tasks to others before finally being devoted solely to our ESN as of March 2014.

Tip1ForSuccessfulESNDid we grow without me being full-time? Yes. We did so well, in fact, that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing our story at conferences, via webinars and interviews for articles, books and industry research reports. But I know that we went from A to M in four years where we could have gone from A to Z if I’d been allowed to work full-time doing what I knew needed to be done to be the best we could be.

Community managers wear too many hats to let any of them gather dust unused in the closet. There are constant needs around advocacy, growing awareness and adoption, moderating content, training, consulting with leaders and business areas, analytics, reporting, support, planning, troubleshooting, connecting people, answering questions, working with vendors, partnering with other enterprise stakeholders, editorial content planning, preparation of user resources, being a participating member in the community, establishing relationships, governance, continuous efforts to improve the platform and user experience, and other things that most people never see and have no idea community managers spend their days doing. That’s a lot! It takes full-time attention to do all of the above and to run on all cylinders.

You may eventually be successful in your ESN efforts without a full-time community manager, but if you want to be successful sooner, if you want to mature your company’s efforts earlier, if you want to see the greatest return on your investment sooner rather than later, then you’ll have at least one full-time community manager from the beginning, even before the community exists.

Some suggest you should have one for each 10,000 users, so don’t assume that only one will suffice forever. With 34,000 users on my company’s ESN, I should probably have two additional full-time people working with me to do all that I envision for our ESN. I assure you I could easily put them to work doing meaningful work for the business.

If you’d like some research numbers that show the correlation of community maturity and value to those communities with full-time community managers, then I suggest you read the excellent State of Community Management report from The Community Roundtable released in April 2014. They have been doing this report annually for several years now and it just keeps getting better as the field matures and as there are more communities and community managers to survey in the research process.

So there you have my first and most important piece of advice – Have a full-time community manager from the start. Stay tuned for the remaining tips.

  1. Mary Beth Schuckman says:

    Jeff – Good read! I can relate to your comments and I even grabbed a few points for my resume! (Hope you don’t mind:))

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