Posts Tagged ‘Online Communities’

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.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

Tip10ForSuccessfulESNAfter sharing nine previous tips on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN), we come to a subject that has been near and dear to my heart for decades – training and learning. I was a professional educator/trainer for over 30 years before switching gears in 2009 to a different path. I am confident and very experienced, therefore, in the subject matter of this post.

For the first nine ESN tips, see the links at the bottom of this post. For now, let’s concentrate on tip #10:

Train, train, train.

Helping users become familiar and comfortable with the use of your ESN can take place from a number of angles. Let’s consider a few…

1. Train new employees. There is no better way to introduce new employees to your company and its culture than to encourage them to dive into the ESN. It is where they will learn the most about the company from unfiltered and unsanitized sources. Tell them in orientation sessions and documentation about the ESN and make sure they know how to establish an account and access it. HR should have a role in this, but so should the teams that welcome their new employees.

2. Welcome new account holders and give them a next step. Every day I send a welcome email to those who have established an account on our ESN in the past day, giving them a little info about it, why we have an ESN, and a few of the major links they should know about. I make sure in the email that I give them one specific call to action to take the next step. For me, that’s clicking a link to take them to a group I lead on the ESN for newbies – a place where they can ask their newbie questions and play around without any fear of doing something they think will embarrass them. It’s important to get new users to do something and not just start lurking so that they more quickly participate and become an active part of the community. The more quickly you can get them to post a message or comment or complete profile data, the better.

3. Train for various roles. Consider the major categories of people who will use your ESN, why they are motivated to use it, and then prepare helpful material and live sessions to help those audiences succeed in their ESN use. For example, I hold monthly training sessions for several groups of people: those who serve as group admins, those who use it for project management, those using it for idea challenges, and those using it for dated/timed town halls. I’ve also held occasional sessions with leaders in groups or one-on-one to discuss how they can benefit themselves and those who report to them through effective use. Particular business areas would do well to train their people on ways specific to their areas and how use can benefit their work processes and outcomes. A combo of live sessions and readily available documentation is needed here.

4. Train for different levels of expertise. As long as people continue to come and go from your company, you’ll have an ongoing need to train newbies in the tool, both in the “why” and the “how.” Introductory training shouldn’t attempt to cover everything because that’s too overwhelming. Break up the subject matter into reasonable chunks than people can digest before moving on to more advanced uses when they are ready. A good community manager will want to replicate himself/herself as many times over in the enterprise as possible, so building the community management skills of your greatest users, advocates and enthusiasts will help scale growth far more effectively than hoarding the leadership role by oneself.

5. Use a variety of methods. We have readily available for our ESN users quick reference sheets, longer documentation, short videos, recordings of longer training webinars, live virtual sessions once or twice a week, one-to-one mentoring as needed, tips included in weekly broadcasts sent to all users, instructor-led classroom sessions upon request, booths at major events, and of course many eyes looking at questions asked on the ESN throughout the day to answer random questions posed by users. People don’t magically know how to use your ESN just because you made it available or because you did one or two things once upon a time to train them. The need is ongoing and people have different preferences for how they learn. Recognize that fact and attempt to meet the need from whatever angle the user may approach whenever they may be ready. And don’t get discouraged when, after all your attempts, you occasionally hear someone say “It’s too hard to use” to “I don’t know how to .” After four years, 35,000+ users, over a million ESN posts and countless training opportunities, I still hear comments like those every month without fail.

6. Publish a calendar of live training and links to on-demand resources. I always have the next few weeks’ live training calendar prominently displayed on our ESN home page right above a number of additional clearly labeled links to on-demand resources. I record and keep links in that same place to the most recent live webinars so anyone can view at their leisure any of the training we do. I publish in a weekly broadcast details of the training opportunities scheduled for the next week. I post details in an ESN broadcast message about each and every training session as soon as it is scheduled. For those sessions, I make attendance as easy as possible by not requiring anyone to register in advance and by intentionally not using the company’s learning management system (LMS) to host or track completions.

7. Be an advocate for informal, social learning over formal. Formal learning teams in many companies – especially large companies – still tend to think they need to control access to learning behind an LMS. I don’t know if that’s in part to be able to justify their existence by documenting how many completions they see, or through unnecessarily extending the corporate need to track some learning (such as annual compliance training) to all learning. Regardless, I just want people to learn and to be able to do so in the easiest manner possible with as few barriers as possible between them and the information they seek. The sooner companies jump on board the informal, social learning bandwagon to develop the knowledge and skills of their users, the better off everyone will be. As far as I’m concerned, learning management systems can die today and the world will be a better place because of it. Long live informal, social learning! It’s how most learning happens, anyway, and it always has been. Just ask any caveman.

So there you have my take on some considerations regarding the ongoing need for your people to know why and how to use your ESN. Be versatile. Accommodate user preferences for style, time commitment and specific needs based on role or current expertise. Always look for gaps in knowledge and be creative in finding ways to fill those gaps.

Never forget tip #10: Train, train, train.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

Tip9ForSuccessfulESNIt’s time for tip #9 in my 12-part series on my best advice for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN). This one is related to tip #8 which is “Integrate your ESN where people do their work.” However, that tip focused on the applications and workflow to which people are accustomed. This tip is more about a combo of the behind-the-scenes ease of access as well as the mobility of it. Tips 1-8 are listed at the bottom of this post. Here is tip #9:

Make it easy to access.

Of course the integration into other apps discussed in tip #8 is an important part of making the ESN easy to access, but here I want to mention a couple of other specifics that aren’t related to particular applications people may use.

First, ease of access is affected by the simplicity of the login process. Assuming workers have to log in to their work environment, there is really no good excuse for making them continue to log in to additional work-related destinations throughout the day. Few things irritate employees more than having to spend time logging in again and again throughout the day into various systems and applications – especially when nearly all of them are securely behind the company’s firewall in the first place. Such additional logins are considered a gross waste of time.

Therefore, go through whatever effort is required to implement single sign-on processes between your ESN and other internal systems. Work with vendors as needed to do so. If you have not yet decided on an ESN for your company, save yourself some pain and eliminate from consideration those that do not allow for signing in to their product by virtue of a single sign-on process which knows and uses the person’s network or other defined credentials. If the ESN is to be used throughout the enterprise, embedded into numerous systems for the sake of access and workflow, then you must eliminate the burdensome hassle of requiring the user to log in multiple times and places in order to use the ESN.

Another major means of making the ESN easy to access is to enable mobile access from the user’s personal and work-issued mobile devices. I realize that there are many types of businesses that are hesitant to enable mobile access to internal resources as a matter of protecting information, but with an increasingly mobile workforce, it is unreasonable to work in 2014 by 20th century practices and standards. Do you want your executives or other workers who are always on the go to be a part of your ESN? (You should – see tip #3.) Then you must have mobile access to your ESN. Do you want to take advantage of flexible work hours and locations expected by today’s workforce? Then meet their expectation that they will be able to get to the resources they need to do their work on the personal devices they carry with them at all times.

Many companies have the luxury of less stringent rules and laws protecting data, and those types of businesses may have a hard time understanding why other companies don’t just open things up and let their people work anytime, anywhere on devices of their choice. But for those of us in highly regulated industries, we know that it’s no small decision or process to enable mobile access to data. That means you’ll have to bring together people from the right business areas, IT, legal and elsewhere to make sure constraints are known and reasonable compromises are made in order to reach the necessary outcome of mobile access. It may take a while to implement, but it can be done securely and in a manner that maintains a good user experience. Anyone who claims otherwise just isn’t willing to see anyone’s view but their own.

So tip #9 is really an extension of tip #8. Making ESN access easy combines the integration of tip #8 with additional access issues of tip #9 such as reducing logins via single sign-on and especially allowing mobile access on personal as well as business-issued devices.

Tip #9 is Make it easy to access.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

Tip8ForSuccessfulESNThis is part 8 of a 12-part series on tips for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) at your business. Links to the previous 7 tips are at the bottom of this post.

Tip #8 is an extremely important one if your ESN is to really make a difference in how your company gets work done. Here’s the tip:

Integrate your ESN where people do their work.

There are two aspects of this integration to consider – (1) integration into the software and tools people use daily in their work, and (2) integration into the processes by which that work occurs. First, let’s consider integration into other software and tools.

It’s likely that most workers in businesses prior to the launch of an ESN have established places online where work happens – software applications, email inboxes, intranet resources and more that they switch between during the course of the day to perform their various tasks. If an ESN is introduced as a completely separate destination which they must go to outside the workflow to which they are accustomed, then there is likely little motivation – much less need – to go there. If I can still accomplish everything that is expected of me at a level of proficiency acceptable to my manager and myself without using the ESN, then why should I bother unless there are other non-work advantages to going to that destination?

If an ESN is being sold, for example, on its merits of improving communication or simplifying processes, then it needs to be readily available where I’m doing my work and not something that takes me away from my primary applications in order to use it effectively. That is why it’s vital to integrate the ESN into places like the intranet landing page that users see multiple times daily, or into those internal sites where teams store documents and manage lists throughout the day (such as SharePoint), or embedded into other specific applications where ESN communication can serve a purpose like user assistance or approval processes, or even integrated into the long list of email inbox folders for those still holding on to the inbox and the way of managing their work.

At my company, we currently have over 200 integrations of our ESN into other sites and tools where people do their work. It is deeply embedded into our intranet landing page – a giant leap forward in ESN exposure which doubled the rate of growth that existed prior to that integration. Every article on the intranet has a corresponding discussion thread in the ESN along with icons to like or comment on the article from the intranet home page. A recent question by our CEO in one of those articles resulted in over 100 comments in the corresponding ESN discussion within a day. The link to the ESN main application is the very first work-related site link on the Intranet home menu. In addition, we have over 200 SharePoint sites that have embedded discussion streams from the ESN, mostly tied to particular interest groups created on the ESN, although sometimes based on hashtags used or the posts of specific people. We have two other major web-based internal applications used by thousands that embed the relevant user group ESN stream into those products so that users can ask their questions and get live assistance directly from within those applications. Anyone who wishes to have their ESN groups and streams embedded into their email inbox folders can also open a help desk ticket and get that added (although I don’t push that since I think we’re too email dominated in our environment as it is).

The point is that you don’t want use of the ESN to be available only as another destination, although many companies (mine included) will still see the bulk of their activity from those separate ESN web apps. So the first and a very important aspect of integration which must be planned and continuously executed and improved upon is embedding those discussions into where people are already doing their work daily.

The second aspect of integration has to do with processes. This is where we change our ways of working to intentionally use the ESN in processes in place of previous ways of doing things. For example, instead of those ungodly reply-all email chains that clog up inboxes, are hard to find when you need them, and waste the time of so many who don’t need to be on the recipient list, why not post the question or discussion topic on the ESN? That way you can share the discussion link with stakeholders so they can participate in the discussion if they wish, and then you have at most one email that goes out – none if you do the notification solely via the ESN. Those who want to participate in the discussion can do so without clogging up the inbox of others not interested.

For another example, consider the various approval processes that occur with different work tasks. How complicated do those tend to be? How many tools are involved? How many emails are involved? Why not have a simple discussion in an ESN – private if it must be – where stakeholders can easily discuss and document their approval without unnecessarily complex, time-consuming sequences taking place elsewhere?

Of course, ESNs are a natural for leaders who are progressive, open, transparent, and who want to lead their people to be aligned around a common purpose, values and strategy, engaging in two-way conversation regularly with employees at all levels of the organization. You can’t do that reasonably via email or top-down, controlled communications. You can only accomplish that in live, in-person settings or the online equivalent of those via ESNs, virtual town halls, etc. Leaders who make good use of an ESN to change the tone and process of communication will have a strong, lasting impact on the satisfaction of employees and their consequent success together as a team.

If you have not yet invested in an ESN solution with a vendor, then make sure any solution you consider provides flexible ways of being integrated into many other kinds of applications where people do their work. It will be critical for adoption and for making the ESN pervasive throughout the organization. Always keep working to find more places, more business areas, more tools and applications where the ESN can be embedded so that its use becomes an expected, normal part of daily work life.

In terms of processes, keep your eye out for opportunities to improve the way work happens by changing archaic, complex, confusing, time-consuming processes into simpler discussions that happen in one easily accessed place via the ESN. Don’t just tack on the ESN to existing ways of working. Take advantage of its functionality to replace and improve the way work happens.

Unlike some of the other tips in this series, tip #8 is one you will continuously need to have in mind and work toward. You will never completely arrive and be done with this process. There will always be room for improvement, but being the advocate and change agent around this effort at integration will leave a significant mark on the organization as work is accomplished by people throughout the company more efficiently and effectively.

Tip #8 is Integrate your ESN where people do their work.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

Tip7ForSuccessfulESNThis is part 7 of a 12-part series on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN). These 12 tips are ones that after careful reflection I promote as vital to the success of the ESN I’ve managed for a Fortune 100 company the past 4+ years, and I believe they have applicability to other organizations as well, large and small. Here’s tip #7:

Encourage business and non-business content.

If an ESN is about accomplishing business objectives via connecting people, being open and human and transparent, and building relationships with others around areas of mutual interest, then it is important that we not only allow but encourage ESN users to have conversation and fun in such an online community just as we hope it happens in the face-to-face experiences of employees who work together. What business would ever impose a rule that says “No talking about non-business, personal matters while at your desk” (or on the phone, or via email, etc.)? What employee would remain in such an environment for long?

We want employees to develop meaningful relationships at work. That adds to the experience and encourages longevity when there is a sense of community and friendship among those with whom we spend so many hours of a typical week. There is value in sharing personal aspects of our lives that help others get to know us. It’s hard to dislike and distrust someone with whom you connect on a personal level around shared interests and passions. Understanding more of the people one works with increases the likelihood that those individuals will work together well on projects that arise where both are stakeholders.

Yes, there can be frivolous content shared on an ESN just as there is on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media platform. But guess what? That same frivolous information is shared face-to-face and over cube walls and walking down a hallway and sitting in a break room every day in businesses, and we don’t think twice about it happening in those contexts. In an age where more and more business relationships are virtual, where there is less face-to-face and more online interactions dispersed across worldwide participants, we must not only allow, but openly encourage that same level of non-business sharing and development of relationships on an ESN. With greater numbers of workers having flexible schedules and opportunities to work at home some or all of the time, the need for simple, human interaction at a personal level remains and must be satisfied if we are to be content at a deep, personal level.

In the early days of my company’s use of our ESN, I was copied on an email chain that made its rounds among upper management before it ever made its way to me. In the email, one manager who didn’t want any non-business discussions at all on our ESN sent an email to a VP asking “Why don’t we just ban any of that kind of discussion?” Fortunately, the VP’s simple, one-line response was “because that’s not the way of the world.”

We do have certain content that HR does not allow – for example, anything that is considered solicitation to buy, sell or trade personal items or to invite employees to external events not officially sponsored by the company. While I disagree with that policy as unnecessarily restrictive and I hope that new or newly enlightened leadership reverses that policy, I am required to enforce it in my role for now. Other non-business subjects, though, are allowed – even the hot button issues around politics and religion, although the discussions have to occur in groups set up for the purpose and participants have to follow the guidelines for treating others with respect along the way.

It’s been interesting to see the mix of business/non-business content on our ESN through the years. We’re able to measure it because I tag all groups as being primarily business or non-business and we created a utility that categorizes the content accordingly. In the early days of 2010 after its launch, the typical mix was 55% business and 45% non-business. That was OK, although I would have liked a higher business percentage out of the gate. That split contributed to the misperception that what happened on the ESN was worthless chatter. Over time, though, we’ve seen that split continually inch more in the business direction. It soon shifted to 60/40, then 65/35, and the first five months of 2014 have seen a split of 71% business and 29% non-business. I believe that the shift is occurring as more and more people realize the business value of the platform and start shifting more conversations and business processes to the ESN. While the initial draw to the ESN for some may still be the Dog Lovers or Music Lovers groups or one of hundreds of other non-business groups, it appears that once they are there they discover other business value and dive in to those opportunities.

Businesses invest in enterprise social networks because they believe an ESN can help them communicate more effectively and efficiently, and because they believe there is business value in making that investment. We certainly want the majority of what happens on our ESN to be business/professional in nature and it is. But we also want to recognize the newer, virtual means of working that consumes such a large part of many workers’ days, and acknowledge that the human, interpersonal aspect of work is still as important as ever. If work is becoming more virtual, then so must be the relationship building and the non-business, fun moments that bring us together or give us a much needed break from the routine.

If you have those skeptical about allowing non-business content on an ESN, I hope you will share some of the above rationale with them in your effort to implement tip #7 for building a successful ESN:

Encourage business and non-business content.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series: