Posts Tagged ‘Enterprise Social Networking’

ESNchat-smallOne of the most satisfying things I’ve done professionally in recent years is to start the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in September 2013, to see it grow through the 13 months I hosted it, and now to see it have new life and new leadership going forward through The Community Roundtable (@TheCR). After sensing a void in the world of enterprise social networking in the summer of 2013, I started the chat to provide a regular, free, vendor-neutral place where practitioners and enthusiasts involved with businesses’ internal social networks could share insights and help develop the field of enterprise social.

My friends at TheCR were receptive to the idea of them becoming the leaders for the chat when I approached them in August 2014. They kindly agreed to take on the challenge and as of October 2 they have been the very capable facilitators of the chat. Now that a little time has passed since the transition, I’ve had time to ponder the journey of that 13 months. I’ll share a few simple reflections on the experience here.

I recall the first chat on September 12, 2013. I had secured the domain name and the Twitter persona, discussed it with a number of people in the field, and started promoting it as best I knew how (which wasn’t very well in hindsight). I recall how nervous I was before that first chat wondering if anyone would show up. Had I done all this planning in vain? Was it going to be a giant failure that embarrassed me publicly? I was jittery as the hour approached from the uncertainty of it all.

Thankfully, people showed up (phew – that was a relief)! We had a great discussion and the chat was immediately an important part of my week and an opportunity to try to move the needle of enterprise social networking forward in some small way.

While the subject of enterprise social networking is near and dear to my heart as the community manager for Humana’s ESN, this effort was never under the auspices of my work. It was just Jeff’s little effort for good or bad, for success or failure. I never counted a single hour of the time devoted to #ESNchat as time working for Humana. That makes it all the more satisfying now that over a year later we typically have about 40 participants, hundreds of tweets, and excellent conversation every week.

I am thankful for the 225 participants we had over that first 13 months and I enjoy seeing new faces every week in the chat. I am thankful for the great archive of topics we have accumulated over time and continue to build under TheCR’s leadership.

There were a couple of surprises and disappointments along the way. For example, I woefully underestimated the amount of time per week it took to host a one-hour Twitter chat. I didn’t track the time in detail, but my best guess is that it took on average about an hour a day seven days a week due to the planning, archiving, promoting, and notifying participants of updates. That was a bit more than I bargained for, but it was time well spent.

The only real disappointment I experienced in the 13 months hosting is totally my own doing in that I did not bring to fruition the ESN Handbook I envisioned as a collaborative effort among participants. Given the existing commitment of time just to pull off the chat (along with other work and volunteer activities), I couldn’t get the handbook done. There’s a collaborative ESN Handbook eBook/website out there just waiting to be created and annually updated for some entrepreneurial group (hint, hint).

Now that I’m a regular participant in the chat with no leadership responsibilities, I get to experience weekly what those 225+ others have experienced rather than frantically trying to host the chats and simultaneously take part in the conversation. Frankly, it’s a bit more fun now for me and a lot less stressful.

One of my key lessons learned for 2013 was to take risks. When I wrote about that end-of-year lesson, I had #ESNchat in mind. It would have been easy to bemoan the absence of such a free, public forum for ESN practitioners. It would have been easy to think someone else should do it. It isn’t easy for introverts like me (yes, I’m an introvert) to put myself out there so publicly and try to start something that could go down in flames quickly. But I gave it my best shot and with the regular participation of many talented, knowledgeable professionals whom I have come to know and respect, we succeeded.

Now when I sit back for a moment in chats led by TheCR, when I see new faces introduce themselves, when I read the kudos from participants who benefit from the chats, and when I develop new professional relationships with fellow ESN enthusiasts, I smile a quiet but very satisfying smile like a proud papa watching his child grow up and go out into the world on his own.

Chats only succeed when there are multiple people chatting. I may have started it, but only through others’ involvement has it continued, and I am grateful for each participant. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. Where will it be in one year? Two Years? What innovations will TheCR introduce (such as the #ESNchat Mini-Decks they’ve already introduced)? What actions will come from the chats? What takeaways will be implemented in businesses of all shapes and sizes that make a positive difference in those organizations’ internal communications and social collaboration?

There is no way of knowing the answer to those questions, but I am quietly confident that such applications will be made and the impact will be significant over time.

Thanks to all who joined me in the venture. Continue to join me and so many others weekly on Thursday afternoons at 2pm Eastern time as TheCR leads us into the next phase of ESNchat. The future is bright!

ShiftInDirectionIt is with pleasure and a healthy amount of reservation that I announce a change in my career focus at work. For the past several years I have been primarily focused on growing and managing our company’s enterprise social network (ESN). This has been a tremendous joy for me and one that I will continue to lead for a while to come. To have the opportunity to play a part in changing the way a Fortune 100 company communicates internally has been a wonderful challenge. We’ve made a lot of progress, but still have a long way to go. Big ships don’t turn around quickly.

Along the way, we’ve seen a growing interest in the potential of online communities outside the company. Several lines of business within the organization recognize the potential of online communities for their constituencies. This value is not just from the standpoint of how the business might benefit, but because of the value of community and relationships in helping achieve the community members’ own goals related to health, well-being and other aspects of life.

It is because of this growing trend toward online communities and the need for effective community management of such communities that I am happy to see my role recently expand to include consulting with lines of business and managing our current and growing team of community managers. In a nutshell, my focus now shifts from internal social networking to building online communities of all types, providing the most effective community management and business results possible.

Community management has long been a tremendous passion, of course, in my role as community manager of our ESN. This shift will allow me to dive deeper into the profession not just for myself but for those people I supervise and others with whom I consult. It is a welcome enhancement to my role.

One of the things I appreciate about my company is the opportunity to reinvent oneself from time to time. Being an employee isn’t just about doing what makes the employee happy, though. It is about matching the right person to a role in such a way that the person is effective and fulfilled while also providing the greatest possible benefit to the company. I might have been quite content continuing in my ESN focus for a long while to come, but I think I can do more for my company in coming years in this new capacity. It’s not about me in a company of 50,000+ employees; it’s about what is best for the business and the customers we serve.

Coming weeks and months will reveal more about what this change means, including ownership and leadership of the weekly Twitter #ESNchat I founded a year ago. I will soon hand that off to an excellent professional organization equipped to take to it to new level of effectiveness. You’ll hear more in coming weeks about that.

One final note… I don’t believe much in coincidences. Some of you are aware that I occasionally spend a week of quiet solitude and reflection at a monastery in Kentucky. My last such week was in early July. I came away from that week feeling like I was ready for a change, although I didn’t really know what that change might look like. So I do not consider it a coincidence that the very first day back to work after that retreat was the day my manager approached me about this possible role change. After a few days of pondering it, I was ready to make it happen. That is, in fact, the second time in five years that a desire for a role change has taken flight the very day I returned to work following my “Monk Week” retreat of Bible study, prayer, listening and reflection. That is not a coincidence.

I am grateful for new opportunities, for an employer who allows and encourages them, for a superb manager whom I greatly respect, and for good people to work with who make each day a pleasure.

Onward and upward…

12TipsForSuccessfulESNOver the past several weeks I’ve written a dozen blog posts, each centering around one tip for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN). This post is a simple listing of the links to those 12 posts. I’m sure I’ll revisit the subject and make modifications from time to time. For now, though, these represent the most important tips I would offer to those seeking to have a successful experience in starting or improving an ESN.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from them. I would love to hear your feedback via comments on any of the tips.

Tip12ForSuccessfulESNIn this final post in my series on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN), I draw on my learning background and goal orientation. That said, tip #12 is:

Never be satisfied – keep growing.

This is true in a variety of areas for someone who has responsibility for a company’s ESN.

First, let’s consider the area of technology.

No platform is perfect. We’re in better shape in 2014 than several years ago in the capabilities of software and in our understanding of what is possible and wise technologically. Still, community managers and others responsible for an ESN must always be on the lookout for big and little changes in the platform that help the company accomplish its objectives better and that can also improve the user experience. Work with the platform vendor as needed to suggest changes. Give your users an easy way to suggest changes that you then vet and perhaps pass on to the vendor.

If you did your homework well when selecting an ESN platform, you should be able to stay with it for a long while to come, but keep pushing for improvements. A vendor who rarely provides updates will not meet an innovative company’s needs for long. If you decide that there is no alternative but to change platforms, do so, but understand that there is great pain that accompanies such a drastic change. Only change platforms if there are overwhelming business reasons for doing so. Likewise, don’t stay locked in to a platform and vendor that refuses to evolve.

The user experience is another significant area you should always strive to improve. This is, of course, related to the technology improvements mentioned above, but it isn’t limited to that category. Identify those who have a knack for seeing and using the software from the viewpoint of a new user or another particular audience and take seriously their feedback. Listen to what is said repeatedly over time about negative aspects of the user experience and address those issues. Most workers don’t have the luxury of a lot of extra time on their hands, so be diligent – even aggressive – about championing changes that improve the user experience so that they will enjoy it and want to return. One of the great things about an ESN is that you usually don’t have to go out of your way to solicit opinions or to get volunteers for some user experience initiative. You’ll probably find a large, willing group of volunteers eager to help in response to a simple post on the platform.

A third area worthy of continuous effort at improvement is that of deeper integration of ESN use – both in its physical presence across various platforms as well as in the day-to-day processes and work flow that guides so much work that happens routinely. As was suggested in an earlier post in the series, the most successful ESN will not be the one that is its own separate destination apart from the tools and processes where people normally do their work; it will be the one easily accessed in the tools people use and in the normal workflow of how that work gets done.

Lastly, be sure to grow as an individual along the way. Make use of internal and external resources to continuously expand your knowledge and grow professionally. I cannot imagine a life without continuous learning. I have several go-to resources for learning about ESNs in particular or social media in general. For example, I’m a big fan of Rich Millington and his advice given at Feverbee.com. I also have memberships in the professional organizations The Community Roundtable and SocialMedia.org. I will be blatantly biased, though, and say that my favorite ESN resource is the weekly Twitter chat I host – #ESNchat! With a different topic each week, many knowledgeable professionals contributing to the discussion weekly, and archives of that great content going back to September 2013, you will find a wealth of existing info and a tremendous opportunity for continuous learning weekly by taking part in the chat. Use the ESNchat menu at the top of this page to explore more and then join us each Thursday afternoon from 2-3pm Eastern time on Twitter by following and using the tag #ESNchat.

We don’t stop learning once we’re out of school or just because we’re no longer pursuing formal degrees or certifications. We continue to learn because we’re built that way as human beings. To quote a few lines from the children’s musical Education Rocks:

Never stop learning. Never stop growing.
Never stop seeking the brightest star.
Never stop moving from where you are.
Never stop trying. Never stop reaching.
Never stop doing what you can do.
Never stop growing your whole life through.

If we possess that attitude about learning and growing and constantly improving ourselves, I suspect that will translate into the same intention to continuously improve the areas of our work for which we have responsibility – ESNs or otherwise.

Tip #12 is Never be satisfied – keep growing.

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See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

Tip11ForSuccessfulESNI suspect this 11th tip in my 12-part series on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) is talked about more often than it is actually done – at least in a meaningful way. Tip #11 is:

Set goals and track progress.

That sounds simple enough, but determining which goals to set may not be as easy as it sounds. Tracking the accomplishment of the goals may not be easy, either, depending on how well the goals were written in the first place. There aren’t a few suggested goals that I or anyone else can tell you that will necessarily be appropriate for your business and its use of an ESN. Companies may well have different purposes behind their ESN implementations, so the results they track need to coincide with the reasons for implementing their ESN in the first place.

Some goals will likely center around the easy metrics of growth and adoption, but that doesn’t necessarily prove business value. It suggests value, but it doesn’t prove it. Other metrics may require a lot more work to document – sometimes more work than those involved determine is worthwhile, especially if similar metrics are not already tracked for non-ESN forms of communication.

In another organization I belong to, a question was recently posted about establishing the business case for an ESN and which baseline metrics might be used to measure against 6, 12, or 18 months down the road after implementation. Here is my response to that question (slightly edited):

I would ask why is the ESN is being put into place to start with? What are the goals? If those are defined, then that’s what needs to be measured. They won’t all necessarily be easy to measure, though.

For example, are you planning on using it to replace other one-way communication channels, to reduce the number of help desk tickets, to provide a place for random questions to be answered, to allow for leader/employee direct communication, to reduce time spent in formal training classes, to speed up the onboarding of new employees, to reduce email, to reduce face-to-face meetings, to reduce travel costs, to change the way approval processes or product development planning or ideation happens, or to provide new capabilities not currently being met any other way?

If you want to track those and compare the ESN results with previous methods and numbers, then that means you have to track those items in the current, non-ESN environment so you know whether or not you’ve really improved anything. We all know, for example, at our company that our ESN is a great place to get questions answered quickly, and I track that metric weekly, but nobody ever tracked how long it takes to answer questions via email or phone tag or face-to-face, so what I’m left with is a claim that it happens X amount in the ESN, but with nothing to compare it to other than anecdotes.

In the end, I’m not big on tracking ROI with an ESN because I think it’s a required form of communication in 2014, and as such it needs to exist and be used just as we expect email or phone calls or face-to-face meetings to happen, and nobody ever tracks the ROI or has to justify the existence of those means of communication. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject about a year ago: “Quit Holding Social Media to a Different Standard,” and here’s a recent article from Carrie Young on the subject, too: “Social ROI = Return On Insanity.” On the pro side of calculating ROI, TIBCO Software recently commissioned Forrester to do a study of the total economic impact of using their tibbr ESN software. I don’t know a public link to that, but I have the PDF.

At our company, I track growth and usage, the percent of the company using the platform, the percent of users who are active (meaning they’ve posted in the past 30 days), and the “sense of community” perceived by members according to a monthly survey I send to thousands. I have goals related to some (but not all) of the above. Later this year I’ll document uses of the platform mapped to our five corporate values. I report how many other apps and places it’s integrated into. I don’t, however, do anything to track ROI. In the words of our CEO, “I don’t know what all the numbers will look like [in terms of cost or ROI], but I know having 50,000 people on the same page moving in the same direction is pretty important to me” and “Sometimes you do things just because they’re the right thing to do.”

I know that doesn’t give you the kind of efficiency tracking suggestions you asked about, but I think once enterprise social networking is no longer the new kid on the block we won’t be asking those kinds of questions anyway. We’ll just accept it as the expected form of communication it is and go on about our business of using it to communicate and work as effectively and efficiently as possible. Meanwhile, I would say pick any metrics important to the business that can be reliably tracked and that are related to the stated purpose for having the ESN, and use those.

In my role as community manager for a 36,000-user, growing ESN, I certainly have some regular metrics I track as mentioned above. I do not, however, consider it necessary that I set or track accomplishment of goals across the business related to our ESN. Different departments and business areas will have their own reasons for using the ESN. Those reasons do not originate with or have to go through me just because I’m the community manager. I assume those areas are more than capable of determining appropriate ESN use without my assistance, and they can track its results if they wish. (Of course, I always consult when requested with areas wanting assistance in determining effective ESN use.) I’ll track other results of interest to me.

One simple thing we’ve done on our ESN for several years is use the hashtag #buzzsuccess (our ESN is called Buzz). We encourage anyone to add the tag to a thread whenever some ESN-related success happens, regardless of how large or small the success. Participants have adopted that practice faithfully to the point of #buzzsuccess being consistently one of the top hashtags used. I frequently search for uses and highlight one in my weekly broadcasts, keeping the fact in front of people that successes happen regularly.

I encourage you to set specific goals that are related to the objectives of the business and that reflect the company’s core values. I encourage you to track and openly report on progress (I post all metrics I track to the ESN for all to see). However, don’t feel like the metrics you track must match those you hear about from other companies. Do what is important and meaningful for your business.

Tip #11 is Set goals and track progress.

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See the following posts for previous tips in this series: