Corporate social networks have been extremely popular in the past few years as more companies have realized the importance of connecting employees together to collaborate on projects. I recently spoke to Connie Bensen, who is one of the leading experts in internal social media communities. She leads Global Community Strategy at Dell and recently launched the Dell Social Business Connection. Her blog has been recognized by Forbes.com as one of the top 20 best marketing and social media blogs by women and she was a 2009 Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. She is someone recognized as making her company more successful and productive because she understands the importance of collaboration. By using internal communities like Yammer to foster collaboration, idea creation and relationships, employees are more productive and happier. When I was working at EMC Corporation, we used Jive Software for our internal community called "EMC ONE." We were able to grow the community by using a lot of the advice that Connie told me about in my interview with her. She goes over how communities are formed and how employees can make the most of them.
Dan Schwabel: Based on your experience as a community manger, what are some ways to ensure employees are active in the community?
Connie Bensen: Every community should be created with an objective or two in mind. That should be clearly articulated in the community. Getting people to participate is the biggest hurdle. It's easy to build a community and the success of it isn't dependent on having the cheapest or most expensive of technology. As you can imagine, it's about getting people to participate.
Here are five steps to encouraging engagement in a community.
1. The first step is to seed the community before launching it. Ideally it's best to have brand advocates or passionate community members do it. (Please do not pay for people to do this aspect because they won't continue engaging post launch)
2. Upon launch, invite your most passionate community members to adopt the community and welcome new members. Empower them with moderation abilities and some higher level responsibilities. Overall, make them feel special so that they'll take pride in the community and encourage people to join and return.
3. Newsletters are a great way to remind people to return to the community. Send out a newsletter on a regular frequency that provides updates and information on the community. Use it to spotlight community members. Recipients will appreciate the reminder and click through on the topics that interest them the most.
4. The community manager should participate in social channels where potential community members interact. This provides an opportunity to invite people to visit the community when it is appropriate in the conversation topics. People will appreciate the direction because the community will be meeting a business need or pain point that they have.
5. For employees, the best way to get them to participate in the community is by creating an executive deck and marketing the purpose and benefits of the community internally. If the reasons are compelling then people will participate and continue to do so if it's gratifying and relevant to their business objectives.
DS: Can you tell me a story of the impact an online community had on an employee's career and the company's bottom line?
CB: When I joined Dell in 2011, I was asked to put a new advocacy program in place because the forums were a brand dumping ground littered with complaints. It was important to shift away from quantity of posts and focus on rewarding quality of posts and engagement by community members. At the time I mentored a Dell team member that would be leading the program part-time. After the pilot program ended in 3 months we achieved a tipping point where the advocates were able to answer the majority of questions and we had a process in place so the remainder were answered. This meant that 100% of the questions were being responded to! And we had an advocacy program in place with 75 enthusiastic advocates, this person's role shifted to being a full-time program manager for the advocacy program. He provides training for moderation, programming, ensures that the advocates are happy and engaged. He researches their requests and in return they provide 90+ % peer support in the community.
The company's bottom line is affected because all of the posts on the support forums mean that much less demand on the call center. Since the new advocacy program was put in place, a number of the call center team have been trained and certified in social media so that they can also assist in the support forums and support channels. This has allowed Dell to reach many more people in the social channels and reduce the number of phone calls.
DS: What are your top three tips for employees to engage in their company's social community at work?
CB: 1. Get to know the community first. Spend some time reading their posts and understand their needs and frustrations. Once you come to understand those then you can start building relationships with them.
2. Make a habit and build it into your daily/weekly routine. It should be like checking email or checking for phone messages. (the frequency will depend on how much time you spend there)
3. Champion your community internally and share the wins and business return.
Becoming familiar with your company's internal community, its resources and how your community manager successfully keeps it active is key to improving your own collaboration skills and productivity at work. Don't ignore this valuable resource; get involved, and take what you learn from utilizing your company's internal community to improve how you manage your own role more effectively.