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Taking the Next Step: Going From a Grassroots Enterprise 2.0 Community to an Official One

December 18, 2012

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Stairway

As your grassroots community takes the next step to becoming an official one, what challenges will you face?

Way back in 2008, microblogging and enterprise collaboration platform Yammer launched at TechCrunch50. A week later, I became member #1 of the Yammer network at my old firm, a 25,000 person consulting firm with offices all over the country. That started a three-year journey into the world of Enterprise 2.0, including growing our Yammer community from 1 to more than 7,000 when I left, consulting with dozens of organizations and government agencies, managing our official award-winning collaboration community, attending and speaking at Enterprise 2.0 Conferences, guest blogging over at AIIM, and writing a whole bunch of blog posts.

Over the years, “Enterprise 2.0” has evolved from fringe buzzword to an massive industry. The change agents who risked their jobs and reputations to start these networks a few years ago are being held up as innovators and leaders. Organizations that were loathe to spend any money on something as “soft” as collaboration are now spending millions to create robust internal communities on their Intranets.

But with this evolution comes a host of challenges as well. Official communities that began with large budgets are struggling to maintain their success with diminished resources. Passionate evangelists have left without anyone to take their place. Grassroots communities that sprouted up using freemium versions of these tools are trying to transition to officially sanctioned tools.

It’s these communities – the ones trying to migrate from free, unofficial, grassroots communities to official, integrated ones – that face some tough challenges now. There’s often an influx of new members, unfamiliar with the culture. Community mores and processes that worked with a smaller community don’t scale. Community leaders who emerged are replaced with community leaders who are named by leadership. Senior leadership pays closer attention to the conversations that occur, exposing some of the more frivolous discussions that may take place. And usability may suffer as the technology gets integrated into other systems and secured more than ever before.

As these communities make this transition and start anew, officially, I wanted to revisit six of my old Enterprise 2.0 posts to serve as reminders for those people responsible for these official migrations.

Dance with the one that brung ya. As organizations begin turning these grassroots communities into official ones, there’s a tendency to also name “official” leaders, community managers, and admins. Organizations may hire new people to take on these jobs, or they may move existing employees into these roles. While having a dedicated team and resources to manage the community is undoubtedly one of the benefits of formalizing the community, don’t forget about the people who have brought the community this far.  These are the people who, without a formal policy, budget, or title have acted as referees, mentors, teachers, cheerleaders, and janitors for the community, all while also performing their “real” job. These people built and managed the community because they were passionate about it, not because they were tasked to do so. Involve them. Formalize their roles. Get their support. They’ve built up the community’s respect out of what they’ve done for it, not because they have a fancy title. They evolved from users to community managers to role models.

Don’t take the social out of “social media.” Social networking has always been and will continue to be a vital part of any organization, whether it happens online or on the softball field. People who work together don’t just talk about the work they do. Sure, that constitutes the bulk of the conversations, but people also talk about the game last night, share war stories about their kids, or complain about having to work late or the parking situation at the office. All those interactions build up over time, eventually creating trusted relationships among people who work closely together and often leading to more effective collaboration. Social networking platforms just allow us to extend those relationships to more people than ever before. The sooner managers realize that, the sooner they will recognize the benefits that such tools can provide.

Embrace the LOLCats. If you want to create a vibrant culture of collaboration, you need to be OK with pictures of LOLCats, posts about the NFL playoffs, arguments about Apple and Android, and criticism of company policies. What will follow is that these stupid, silly, foolish discussions will lead to relationships, questions, answers, and finally, very cool innovations, products, and solutions that will save you money, win you awards, and really and truly create a social business.

Don’t overthink the tech. Once an organization decides to go from freemium to premium and dedicate actual resources and budget to creating these internal communities, there’s a mad rush to start implementing all the cool features that weren’t available before. Integration with existing systems! Advanced administrative controls! Mass distribution of invitations! Before you get all worked up over all of this cool new tech, remember the three most basic rules – make it fast, make it accessible, and make it reliable. Get your newfound IT resources using the tool themselves so they can identify potential bugs, glitches, and feature requests first, before they negatively impact the rest of the community.

Temper the passions. As you move from an unofficial to official community, there will be a mashup of “stars” – the champions who became the unofficial community managers and those who will be designated official community managers in the new community. These stars and their passions bring both positives and negatives to the community. While these active champions will be responsible for a majority of the content, answering questions, posting content, editing pages, and creating topics, they can also skew the content to suit their own agenda and create a chilling effect on opposing viewpoints and topics. Left unchecked, they do have the potential to take over the community – its members, its content, and its discussion. The key is in channeling their energy and enthusiasm and focus it on helping grow the community as a whole, to include topics other than social media and technology.

Remember that this is about change management, not technology. Getting people to change the way they work takes time. To maintain the momentum, make sure you clearly communicate what problems the community is helping people solve. Help users see how the community will help them in their day-to-day lives. Get senior leaders to lead by example and engage with the community directly using the tools they’re already supporting in their emails and Powerpoints (even if it means occasionally being wrong). Provide meaningful, useful content every day, to every single user. Design the technology for the end-user, not for the IT department or for some senior leader. And finally, evolve the community based on the community’s feedback. Allow them to see how their feedback is shaping the future of the community.

As these organizations make the transition from unofficial, grassroots communities using free platforms to officially integrated communities on expensive, licensed platforms, some will succeed in scaling that sense of community to better the organization as a whole. Other organizations will see bureaucracy and old ways of doing things destroy the very communities they’re trying to scale. To avoid the latter, remember that this is still a community you’re building, not a new IT platform. Sure, it may sound great to talk about the thousands of users or the 90% adoption rate in conference presentations and blog posts, but that’s sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gains. Stop chasing the numbers and stay focused on your business goals. Slow and steady wins the race.

If your organization is going through this process, what other challenges are you facing? What other strategies and tactics have been helpful in maintaining that sense of community?

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Klout for Enterprise 2.0 Networks is a Bad Idea

July 19, 2012

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"The performance review of the future will include services like Salesforce.com's Chatter and its Influencers feature, which measures how much weight you carry among your peers"

This is a quote from a recent Fast Company article discussing how enterprise social networks behind corporate firewalls are using Klout-like tools to measure how "influential" you are within your company and it terrifies me. I then read "Enterprise Social Networks, Performance Reviews, and Company Culture," on the Social Media Club DC blog that rightfully (and thankfully!) takes issue with this idea of ranking people's influence on these internal networks. I left the following comment there that illustrates why I believe trying to assign influencer scores within the confines of a company's social network is not only a terrible idea, but that it can virtually torpedo any chance that that network has of being successful. 

"People like things like Klout because they ostensibly allow you to stop wasting all your time talking to the little people who don’t matter, having meaningless conversations with non-influential people and actually creating relationships with people – you can cut through all that crap and maximize the reach of your messages simply by using this little rating system!!! (as a side note, I need one in real-life too – little did I know that my best friend’s reach and influence are really low and I should stop hanging out with him and instead make new friends who can optimize my conversations better). I don’t blame Salesforce’s CEO for taking advantage of this laziness that exists among his customers, but I can’t see how in any world, things like this being a good thing for creating collaborative organizations. As Shirky said in the video, you can’t eliminate all the fluff and get just the brilliant ideas. Communities don’t work like that. People don’t work like that. Enterprise social networks don’t work like that. Instead of trying to find easier ways to identify influencers so you don’t have to actually take the time to participate, try spending five minutes a day reading some of the posts and actually talking people – that’s going to be the easiest way to identify influencers, and hey, it’s got the side effect of maybe making you an influencer too."

Maybe the folks at Salesforce aren't just trying to take advantage of the public's laziness and weird fascination with "influence" scores. Maybe they truly believe they're helping these organizations filter out unnecessary content and focus on what and who matters. In that case, let's explore just a few of the unintended consequences that will occur, thereby destroying the very network this feature was created to help.

  1. People become less willing to help their colleagues unless they get "likes" for it
  2. More time is spent on identifying and sharing interesting, but ultimately non-work related things to increase their "influence" at the expense of their actual work
  3. People may actually become less likely to comment and like other people's content because they don't want others to get higher scores than they doBringing Klout to the Enterprise? Get ready for the interns to become more influential than your C-suite
  4. #TeamFollowBack appears on internal networks
  5. Posts that lower the barrier to entry that actually create the sense of community disappear because they don't positively impact influencer ratings, meaning fewer and fewer people feel comfortable sharing anything
  6. People will game the system and quickly figure out which types of posts result in the higher influencer scores
  7. Leadership becomes even less engaged because hey, why waste time actually talking to people when I can just look at the ol' leaderboard to determine who matters
  8. Criticisms, often the most valuable posts of internal social networks, would disappear as there would be no incentive to comment or like those posts, much less make them yourself

Thankfully, the commenters over at Fast Company see the flaws in attempting to quantify people's using organizational influence using an internal social network. Unfortunately, despite all the criticism of tools like Klout on the open Internet, there seems to be a demand somewhere for tools that reduce actual people and relationship to numbers. So, I have no doubt that we will begin to see influence features embedded into internal social networks with increasing frequency. And, even more unfortunately, just as marketers and social media gurus have propped up their own Twitter follower, Facebook likes, and Klout scores at the expense of the community as a whole, we will see similar situations behind the firewall as well. 

Rather than creating features based on proprietary algorithms targeted at leadership who don't use the platform, Enterprise 2.0 vendors should instead be focused on creating a transparent rewards system that encourages collaboration and communication. There is a place for gamification and rewards on these internal networks, but they should reinforce and increase collaborative behaviors, not selfish ones.

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What Kind of Online Community Do You Have Behind Your Firewall?

January 23, 2012

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As CIOs and Chief Knowledge Officers bring tools that have been used on the Internet – blogs, wikis, microblogs, profiles – behind the firewall, they tend to expect the same results. "We'll have our own Wikipedia!" Or Facebook…or Twitter – you name it. Unfortunately, as many have already discovered and many more will continue to discover, successful communities are dependent on many variables, from the accessibility, speed, and reliability of the technology to your community managers. Despite the newsletter articles, blog posts, press releases, and conference presentations, many "communities" are nothing more than a new version of the same old Intranet, only with shinier tools.

So, if you're deploying social tools internally, what kind of community is your organization creating?

  • What group/community receives the most visits and/or posts on a particular day?
    1. The Intranet development team
    2. The Social Media/Web 2.0/New Media Community of Practice
    3. The Android/iPhone User Group
    4. An group focused on the core mission/operations
  • On any given day, what % of your organization participates (reading or contributing) in your community?
    • Less than 10%
    • 10% to 49%
    • 50%-74%
    • More than 75%
  • Senior leadership participation can best be classified as:
    1. Shhh! Don't tell them or they'll shut this site down!
    2. Big Brother-ish
    3. Lurking, but not active
    4. Active and insightful
  • If someone posts, "I can't get my email to work on my phone – help!" What kind of response will they get?
    1. Total Silence
    2. "Call the help desk at 1-800-555-5555"
    3. "What problem are you having – maybe I can help?"
    4. "Many people have had issues with this so we created a wiki page to walk you through how to set it up the right way"
  • Your CEO announces large-scale layoffs. You visit your online community later that day – what do you find?
    1. "I'm not going near that one!"
    2. Complaints and criticism
    3. Praise for leadership and the difficult job they have to do
    4. Balanced, professional discussion containing constructive criticism, ideas, and empathy
  • Most of your employee profile pictures look like:
  • Someone publishes a blog post highly critical of a senior leadership decision – what's the reaction?
    1. Trick question – all posts have to be approved by management and that never would have made it through
    2. The administrators delete the post and send a note to the employee's manager
    3. Other employees leave comments recommending that the post may be unprofessional and warrant some editing
    4. The senior leader in question posts a comment himself thanking the employee for his feedback and explaining the rationale behind the decision
  • You create a wiki page for your team containing the text of a report you're working on. What kind of edits can they expect to receive?
    1. Yours and yours alone, since no one else your team understands how to make the edits themselves
    2. Your project team's edits because no one else can access the page
    3. No edits, but you do receive several comments and questions on the page
    4. A wide variety of edits ranging from minor to major and coming from your team as well as from people you don't know
  • Your boss asks to review the latest version of a document you've been working on. You sent her the link to the wiki page where it's stored. What's her response?

    1. Can you attach the file and send it to me?
    2. I couldn't figure out how to make any changes so I've just included them in the attached MS Word file
    3. She makes her edits as comments to the page
    4. She edits the page directly
  • The conversations that occur within your community most resemble:
    1. An empty room
    2. A board meeting
    3. Happy hour
    4. The hallways at the office
  • It's Friday night and you just discovered that you have a TPS report due first thing Monday morning. To do it, you need some examples of similar reports that have been produced by other teams. Where do you head first?

    1. You email your immediate team
    2. You send a blast email out to multiple distro lists asking for help. After all, at least one or two people have to respond, right?
    3. You search your Intranet with every keyword you can imagine
    4. You search the TPS forum and post your request there

Do you have a better idea of what kind of community you're building? Healthy communities aren't just about collecting users – they're about interactivity, a positive atmosphere, usefulness and more. Why do you log into Facebook every day? Not to play with all of the cool features, but to interact with your friends and family. Internal communities should have some of these same qualities – they need to have a purpose and be based around human interactions, not the latest technology.

If your score was 16 or less, you don't have a community, you've got the man cave of a new dad. The place is filled with the latest technical toys but no one is around to use them. From the Xbox to the pool table to the fully-stocked bar, you had envisioned many nights partying with the boys watching football, but now that you have a new baby, the only thing all those toys are doing is collecting dust…just like your blogs, wiki pages, and profiles.

 

If your score was between 17 – 24, your community most resembles China. You've got a lot of users (primarily because people are forced to create profiles), but very little sense of community. People talk with one another because they have to, and only when they need something. Conversations are guarded and transactional, and information is protected even more closely as trust between individuals is lacking. Non-work conversations are prohibited – none of that "social networking" stuff here!

 

If your score was between 25 – 33, your community is most like a high school full of people still trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are, and how to communicate with each other. The adults are confused by the kids, the kids are kind of wary of the adults, but they all co-exist fairly peacefully. Diverse cliques form early and often – iPhone enthusiasts, social media geeks, developers – all with different goals and reasons for being. A few individuals stand out and connect these cliques across the entire school. Social conversation occurs, but is often forced, as people are trying to fit in and test the boundaries of what is allowed and what isn't.

 

If your score was between 34 – 44, congratulations! You've got the makings of honest-to-goodness social business community. People willingly share information freely across geographic, administrative and cultural lines not because they have to, but because they realize that by pitching in and helping, everyone benefits. Conversations run the gamut – some days, they're about LOLCats, but on other days, they're focused on how to best create a culture of innovation. They are overwhelmingly professional in nature, but the content is also overwhelmingly informal. People are only vaguely aware of the number of abbreviations following someone's name and the titles that precede it, but hold the value an individual brings to the rest of the community in high regard. Employees willingly (and often) spend their own time and money to improve the community, whether via handing out awards or creating new features. And most importantly, this sense of community exists both online and off. From the conference room in the morning to my couch late at night, I know I'm not just an employee number, I'm a valued member of a community that depends on me.

I took this test for my own company's social Intranet tools, and I discovered that we're most like a high school. We still only have a fraction of the firm using the tools on a regular basis and the relationships between staff, management, and senior leadership are in that awkward stage where we're all still trying to figure out how to talk with one another.

(note: this isn't meant to be used as some formal "diagnostic" or "roadmap" or anything of the like so please take it for what it is – a fun way to gauge how well your community is actually acting like, you know, a community)

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If You Want a Culture of Collaboration, You Need to Accept the LOLCats Too

January 5, 2012

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"Even with the sacred printing press, we got erotic novels 150 years before we got scientific journals."

– Clay Shirky at TED Cannes in June 2010

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people in the business, Clay Shirky. I particularly like it because it illustrates the period many organizations find themselves in when trying to integrate social media internally.  Before wikis were used by the Intelligence Community to develop reports on IEDs, people were creating user badges to show off their favorite NFL teams. Before my own company's Intranet won any awards, we had people talking about how they enjoy skinny dipping on their profile. Before our VPs starting using Yammer to communicate with the workforce, we had groups of Android geeks and fitness gurus.I'm telling you this because if you're implementing any type of social media behind your organizational firewall, you should prepare yourself, your colleagues, your bosses, your senior leadership for this one inexorable truth.

If you will freak out when you see this on your Intranet, you're probably not ready for a social intranetIf you want to create a vibrant culture of collaboration, you need to be OK with pictures of LOLCats, posts about the NFL playoffs, arguments about Apple and Android, and criticism of company policies.

Accept and embrace this fact now and your communities have a much better chance at succeeding. Or, continue thinking that things like this are a waste of a time and are unprofessional, and get ready to pay a lot of money for a system that ultimately no one uses unless they absolutely have to.

Unfortunately, "social" seems to have become almost a dirty word in the workplace, conjuring up images of employees whittling away their time on Facebook, talking to their boyfriend on the phone, or taking a three hour lunch break.  Let's all agree now to stop trying to take the social out of social media. "Social" interactions not only needs to be OK, they need to be encouraged and rewarded. Shirky explains why at the 5:33 mark of the below TED video:


Shirky says:

The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing. And someone who makes a LOLcat has already crossed over that gap. Now it’s tempting to want to get the Ushahidis without the LOLcats, right, to get the serious stuff without the throwaway stuff. But media abundance never works that way. Freedom to experiment means freedom to experiment with anything.

The same principle holds true when talking about social media and the business world. There's this tendency on the part of senior leadership to want to skip the blogs about company policy workarounds and the wiki pages detailing where to get the best burritos near the office and move right to co-creating methodologies with cross-functional teams and crowdsourcing initiatives that save millions of dollars. It doesn't work like that. Collaborative communities don't just start innovating because you build a website and send a memo. Just like we had to experience erotic novels before scientific journals and LOLCats before sites like Ushahidi, we will also have to accept the fact that your employees will be talking about fantasy football and what they're doing over the holidays before they're going to be ready to use those tools to conduct "real" work. 

This makes intuitive sense though, doesn't it? Isn't posting about fantasy football or your favorite lunch spot a lot easier (and less frightening) than uploading that report you've been working on for three weeks? If someone doesn't like your favorite restaurant, who cares? If, however, someone criticizes the report you've spent weeks writing, that's a little more intimidating.  Once you've taken that step – that step from doing nothing to doing something – it's a lot easier to take the next step and the step after that. After engaging in that conversation about your favorite burrito, it's suddenly easier to join the conversation about the new IT policy. Then, maybe you upload a portion of the report you're struggling with to see if anyone can help. Viewed from this perspective, even the stupidest posts and most worthless conversations have value, because they provide a safe, low risk means for people to dip their toe in the water and take that first step. It takes time for employees to feel comfortable using these social tools at work. If you give them the ability to grow and learn together at their own pace, your community will become much more scalable and sustainable.

So embrace the LOLCats, the fantasy football threads, the lunch discussions, and the custom avatars – at least your employees will be creating and sharing something with someone else. Because what will follow is that these stupid, silly, foolish discussions will lead to relationships, questions, answers, and finally, very cool innovations, products, and solutions that will save you money, win you awards, and really and truly create a social business.

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