Communities: The Hub of Social Collaboration

March 13th, 2012Social Business

Ask any knowledge and collaboration strategist what the driving force is behind successful enterprise collaboration and they will undoubtedly say “communities”. I’ll venture further to say that it is company-sponsored, strategic communities that make social collaboration most successful and valuable to the business enterprise. This is not to say that organic communities do not play an important role in social collaboration – they do. My point is that strategic communities strengthen knowledge transfer, expertise, and growth, and foster innovations in areas that matter most to the business. Unlike organic, informal communities, strategic communities require an infrastructure that closely integrates company subject matter expertise, authoritative knowledge content, education and training, as well as external market data in order to be truly effective.

However, creating a model for strategic communities may require significant investment of time and resources.

First and foremost, it requires planning.  Positioning strategic communities to support a company’s market areas of strength, target industries, and key employee roles, and aligning them to business objectives and goals is essential.

Second, developing a framework for enablement and evolution is critical to sustaining a successful community environment.  Effective frameworks include a project plan, a communication plan for socializing the purpose of the community in order to attract and retain members, and a culture transformation plan to help employees understand the value of community participation.

Third, communities must be well managed.  I like to use an analogy created by my former Booz Allen colleague, Walton Smith, who likened communities to gardens, each requiring a gardener to “seed, feed, weed and harvest.”  Too often companies launch communities with a “build it and they will come” mindset.  Employees may come, but will they stay and engage?

In order to sustain and attract new members, communities must provide ongoing value. Community managers play a pivotal role in keeping communities viable and helping them grow.  They engage subject matter experts who can provide the right answers to questions at the right time and transfer knowledge and best practices to help community members evolve their skill sets. They seed content and motivate members to share and engage with each other through newsfeeds and community webinars. They promote the exchange of ideas and harvest and repurpose valuable knowledge. They also capture metrics to measure community growth and effectiveness.

Finally, communities cannot be successful without employees who are enthusiastic, engaged and willing to share.  This is where culture transformation comes into play. Successful strategic communities have clearly defined key benefits areas and related use cases to illustrate how community involvement delivers value to its members as well as to the business. Nothing drives behavior change more than a colleague’s positive experience with a new tool, a process or community involvement. Savvy community managers capture and repurpose these success stories to drive membership, increase adoption and validate business value.

Strategic communities that are well-planned, properly enabled and effectively managed can significantly impact the success of social collaboration within the business enterprise. Just ask the next knowledge and collaboration strategist you meet. Better yet, take a look within your own organization and assess how strategic communities can play a role in the success of your social collaboration efforts.

Tags-   Collaboration Communities Social computing