Posts Tagged ‘ESN’

Brenda Rick Smith

Brenda Rick Smith

Note from Jeff: One of the smartest things a manager can do is hire great people and then get out of their way. With that in mind, I am thrilled to have Brenda Rick Smith as a new colleague on my team at Humana to serve with me as a community manager for our enterprise social network, Buzz. To say that I am thrilled to have her is an understatement. Her expertise, work ethic, communication skills, insights and humor make her a great addition to an already fantastic team. It is, therefore, with joy and gratitude that I am pleased to share this space for a guest post from her on what she learned in her first month with us at Humana. You’ll want to follow Brenda on Twitter at @brendaricksmith.

Here’s Brenda…

On March 2, 2015, I started my dream job. I became a community manager for Buzz, the social network for Humana employees, under the leadership of Jeff Ross.

Here are three things I’ve learned in my first few weeks on the job:

People crave community. There’s no getting around it – humans are social creatures. We are built to seek the comfort, wisdom, joy, drama and myriad other things that come from interacting with our fellow human beings.

Buzz has hundreds of groups covering just about every conceivable topic and interest. People pop in to ask questions (Should I upgrade to the new chat/conference software? How do I set up an email persona?), solve problems (Why is my pedometer not recording my steps properly?), get advice (What kind of wearable fitness tracker should I buy?), share victories (Here’s a before and after picture of me. I lost 100 lbs!) and seek support (Do we have a support group for coping with sickle cell anemia?)

I love watching people connect with each other. Buzzers freely offer advice and help. They are quick to praise and celebrate. For each message and comment, a need is met. For some, it’s the need to be heard and validated, and for others, it’s the need to be helpful. For everyone, these connections are a reminder that we aren’t left all on our own, but we can depend on each other.

Never underestimate the power of good documentation. When I arrived, Jeff presented to me a document that detailed daily, weekly and occasional tasks. With that document in hand, I could quickly master the basics of my job. When I had a question, I could refer back to the document and get it answered.

That simple document empowered me. I didn’t have to be dependent of Jeff for every single bit of information. It reduced the number of awkward “Wait…tell me how I’m supposed to do this again?” conversations we had to have. It set me up to have early successes, too. I felt good about myself and my new role when I was able to come in on day two and actually perform some meaningful work, thanks to the documentation.

Because I didn’t have to struggle with learning all these new basic processes, I’ve been able to get my feet on the ground and tackle other bigger projects pretty quickly. My mental resources haven’t been drained by these basic tasks.

The lesson here for leaders is simple: as much as possible, document what it is that you do. Jeff launched Buzz, and has grown and managed it solo for five years. I’m sure it’s been tempting for him to put off documenting his regular tasks because it takes so much time – a resource that’s been in short supply for him. But by taking the time to document what he was doing, he made it possible to share his load. That’s an investment that will pay off for Jeff, for me, and for Buzz in the long run.

Community takes courage. My first few days on the job, I was surprised at just how much I saw people sharing. Why would people share so much – personally and professionally – on an enterprise social network? I quickly came to the conclusion that people share so much because they trust their colleagues, and they trust this organization. They feel safe.

It also takes courage and maturity for an organization to truly embrace community. Associates might say things that are uncomfortable to hear. They might voice truths unartfully. They might even voice untruths.

But the reality is those things are going to get said anyway, whether it is in an online community, in an email, or in a water cooler conversation. Isn’t it better to have those conversations in the open, where others can benefit from the discussion?

It speaks volumes to me that Humana is willing to provide this type of platform for engagement, and that so many Humana associates embrace it.

I’m delighted to be part of this team and this organization. And most of all, I’m thrilled to play a small part in shaping a 42,000-member community.

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!

Time to Take #ESNchat to the Next Level!

Posted: September 24, 2014 in #ESNchat
Tags: ,

ESNchat-smallI’m very pleased to announce that as of Thursday, October 2, 2014 the good people at The Community Roundtable will take over ownership of my weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat. Some of the great benefits to the #ESNchat community will include the ability for @TheCR to have multiple people involved with leadership of the chat, more extensive promotional efforts behind it than I personally have been able to provide, expertise from years of research and organizing conversations between community practitioners, and a much broader network of practitioners and enthusiasts than I bring to the table, while still maintaining the ESN vendor-neutral position that has been so important to the success of #ESNchat. We got a taste last week in my absence of how well TheCR’s Hillary Boucher can host a chat, so we will all benefit from more of Hillary’s leadership along with others from TheCR.

This has been a great journey for me that began in the summer of 2013 when I started searching for a free online gathering place for Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) practitioners, vendors and enthusiasts. While there were some closed communities provided for those who use specific vendors, I wanted more than that in order to help nudge the industry forward. There needed to be a place where anyone using any platform could meet with others and discuss specific ESN topics of interest, learning from each other and building up a repository of content that could help many others along the way. Therefore, #ESNchat was born September 12, 2013.

Since its inception we’ve had about 230 wonderful people take part in the chats, currently averaging about 30-40 participants per week sharing hundreds of tweets each chat. Each week sees us adding a few new people. Some participants on the other side of the globe even ended up spawning a new chat of their own at a time more convenient to them. I’ve met an incredible network of people from whom I have learned much and will continue to learn from in the years ahead.

But I’m just one person who has been doing this in his free time outside of work and all my other volunteer activities. It may not seem like much of a time commitment to host a one-hour chat weekly, but there is a lot more that goes into it than meets the eye with planning topics, securing featured guests, archiving chats, sending reminders out about coming chats and posted archives, other ongoing promotional efforts, plus the other residual impact of requests for interviews, consulting, speaking engagements, etc. – all of which I love, of course, but which tends to cut into time which should usually be devoted to other things. I never got around, for example, to working with chat participants to co-author an ESN Handbook we discussed earlier in the year due to sheer limitation of time for more #ESNchat work than I was already doing.

Additionally, my role at work has recently expanded to not just be the community manager for our ESN, but to lead a small team of community managers who also have responsibility for our external social media, plus I’m now working with internal lines of business to consult with them as they stand up external online communities for their focused audiences. My work focus, therefore, is shifting more to community management for internal and external communities as well as launching new external-facing communities while still continuing to manage our ESN. As such, I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to devote so many hours per week purely to leading #ESNchat when ESNs are no longer my sole focus at work.

Since TheCR will be able to share the load of all that needs to be done among multiple people, I feel better about their ownership of it going forward. That’s why I approached them with the idea last month. I’ve been a member of TheCR for years and am continually impressed with the quality of their people and all they do. While they, of course, have paid membership (which I recommend) for those who want those benefits, #ESNchat participation will remain freely available to all as any Twitter chat should be.

Here’s what to expect over the next couple of weeks:

  • I’ll still host the chat on September 25 as I usually do. The topic will be Favorite ESN Resources.
  • Hillary Boucher and others from TheCR will co-host with me the chat on October 2 as we take a look back at what has transpired in #ESNchat to date and consider where we all want it to go in the future.
  • My final role as host will be at the end of the October 2 chat, after which TheCR will immediately assume ownership.
  • We will communicate with participants as soon as we can about the location of resources like chat archives and any website information about the chat. Related to that, I’ll be transferring ownership of the esnchat.com domain for them to use as they see fit. It currently points to a section of my blog, but that will change soon.
  • I have no plans to remove the existing chat archive links from my blog or to change the availability of the Storify archives from my account there, although I will not continue to personally archive future chats after the handoff to TheCR. They will assume that task as they see fit.
  • I want to create an ebook PDF compilation of all the chat archives from September 12, 2013 through October 2, 2014 that I will make freely available to all once it is complete. That will be a nice way to package up and give away my gift of a year’s ESN content to this wonderful community.

I cannot thank enough those of you who have come into my life over the past year as a result of #ESNchat. I started the chat solely to try to nudge the industry forward and I think in a small way we’re doing exactly that. I’m grateful for the speaking and other opportunities my role in the endeavor has provided, but those, too, take time that I ought to be devoting elsewhere. The journey has been amazing.

I’m not going away, though! I’ll still be a regular participant as a practitioner and… well… a proud papa can’t just walk away from his baby! So thank you to my faithful #ESNchat friends for making every Thursday from 2-3pm EDT one of my favorite hours of each and every week. Continue with me as active participants in what I know will be a great second year for #ESNchat under new leadership. Let’s all do what we can to keep moving the needle in the right direction so that enterprise social networking grows and makes the significant business impact for our companies and organizations that we all know is possible with this great form of communication.

You can read TheCR’s post about this development here. Onward and upward!

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.