Engaging the Internal Community
How to drive adoption of social media at the enterprise level.
Posted Jun 26, 2010
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Successful internal communities don't just appear out of thin air. To help your employees engage with each other, you've got to give them an easy way to form groups, share information and resources, and gain insight into real-time conversations across the organization — even around the globe. That's where social business software comes in.

At EMC, we've seen firsthand how powerful social business software can be. In just over two years, our employees have used our internal platform to create 160 active communities and 110 active groups. They've become better informed, more involved and engaged, and more efficient — in fact, they tell us they can't live without it.

But results like these don't come easily. To ensure success for your internal community-engagement initiative, you've got to win over two essential constituencies: the decision-makers who'll sign off on it, and the users whose participation will make or break it.

First, the executives. To earn their consistent support, you've got to do several things:

  • Define your goals in a specific, concrete business case. At EMC, this included engaging employee communities on a global scale, breaking down silos, and connecting people with people and with real-time resources. Be realistic — instead of promising specific cost savings, focus on things you know you'll be able to deliver, like reduced duplication of effort and less time spent looking for information. And be realistic about your budget, too — while social business software is less expensive than most enterprise solutions, it's not free.
  • Anticipate objections. "This isn't a business tool — it's a social platform!" Well, of course it's a business tool — but you'll want to have a well-thought-out explanation ready. Often it's just a matter of identifying and explaining the use cases that are most relevant to your potential critics — the "what's in it for me?" part. Once they understand exactly how the new platform will help them, they usually get on board pretty quickly.
  • Don't try to shoot the moon. You're never going to get 100 percent participation; there will always be people who don't have the time, energy, or interest to learn a new tool, or who feel uncomfortable communicating across the organization. Just identify the people who are right for it, and make sure they get the best chance to experience it.

Once you're ready to roll out the platform, it's time to tackle the next big challenge: user adoption. Again, success is all about keeping it simple and being realistic. Focus at first on the one thing that's most germane to the problems that keep users up at night. As people get comfortable, you can start highlighting additional areas and uses — or, more likely, users will start to seek them out on their own. A few other key points:

  • Make it easy. Make sure you've got a simple, welcoming, intuitive interface. Provide a dedicated area that explains how to get started — everything from creating a user profile to deciding whether to use a blog, wiki, or discussion thread for a given purpose, and how to create each. People will refer back to such resources frequently, and it's a great way to help them get comfortable.
  • Be flexible. Start relatively small, in terms of users, and let the initiative grow virally as people experience its value and tell their peers. Don't overhype the platform or make it a huge companywide push — that just scares people; instead, use specific use cases to draw people in.
  • Have fun. Encourage a certain amount of social activity in your platform — say, 20 percent. We've set up a "watercooler community" as an entry point for new contributors, as well as a place where regular participants go for activities such as organizing groups to go to a ballgame, posting vacation photos, or trading anecdotes — the kind of thing you do around a real watercooler.
  • Don't underestimate the need for training. Yes, the platform's simple — but you still need to walk people through it. Podcasts, webcasts, "lunch'n'learns," optional in-person training — it's all part of the mix.

Like most social activities, the communities formed using social business software soon take on a life of their own. You can foster and guide this growth by spotlighting particularly valuable use cases and providing follow-on training, but often you'll find that the best ideas come from your employees themselves.

After all, that's the whole point.


About the Author

Jamie Pappas (pappas_jamie@emc.com) is a strategist and evangelist for Enterprise 2.0 and social media at EMC. As manager of social media strategy, she works closely with internal constituents including EMC executives, public relations, marketing and communications, active and prospective bloggers, active and prospective community managers, and users of the company's EMC|ONE internal social media platform


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