Ciena Cozies Up to Its Partners

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Tell us a bit about your organization. Ciena is a global communications-equipment company that builds network solutions for service providers and enterprises worldwide. If anyone is using Triple Play—Internet, phone, and cable television—their information is running over our hardware, using our software, and managed by our services. 

Why launch a partner community? We’ve been trying new things with social media in the past 12 months. We’ve managed to get a social media policy developed and launched throughout the company. On the intranet site, we have social media tips and tricks for all of our employees. We now have people on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and we’re seeing [the company] pushed out into other areas on the Web, which is great. 

We knew we wanted to produce a community. When we started digging down…we [began] to understand that we needed to start with a small, select audience—not just go out and try this with everyone [we] know. The partner audience is our test community. We plan to launch a customer community, as well. 

Also, building a community was really about us making sure we continue to be an innovator. Ciena has always prided itself on, “We aren’t the largest telecommunications provider, but we’re specialists in our space.” We also wanted to improve the partner experience. Our existing portal [was] somewhat dated so we sought to…give [partners] direct access to the people they really wanted to talk to. 

Why did you choose Mzinga? We walked through between 12 and 15 vendors…, what we had internally, external tools, white-label [social networking] providers, and custom-built solutions. We ultimately chose Mzinga for its broad base of tools. 

What results have you seen? We blew our membership goals out of the water. We said we wanted 50 to 100 partners to join within the first year, and now we’re around 400 [and] we’ve been steadily increasing. So, from a membership perspective, we’re seeing great numbers. However, we aren’t seeing the level of engagement that we’d hoped for—that’s what we’re working on now. Partners are coming, they’re reading stuff, but they aren’t actually posting. 

From an internal perspective, we’re really seeing the positive changes inside the company. We did a product launch recently with social media content written before the launch. It was organized with structured posts on all the online channels. We’re seeing approval from legal and corporate communications. They aren’t backing off from this anymore. 

We keep partners abreast of upcoming events with us and with the industry. We make sure our bloggers are really on top of industry trends. Right now, mostly it’s a reading resource, but we want to cross that chasm and do more in 2010. We’re planning a series of community events with chat sessions with partners and we’ve budgeted to get personal sessions set up, including a live partner Meetup. 

How do you hope to improve engagement? And how do you plan to measure it? We have [key performance indicators] for the community. We also use Omniture for analyzing activity in addition to Mzinga. I have an analytics person and we report community statistics to the business on a quarterly basis. We’re watching the trends. We’ve found that people are spending twice the amount of time on the community than on the corporate Web site. 

With regard to driving engagement, we’re shifting our focus in a number of places. Instead of trying to recruit more authors, we’re trying to focus on the four to six who have really taken to it. We’ll have biweekly posting sessions to drive conversation. We also have promotions for members and authors. With those, we’re trying to drive ownership inside Ciena. We’re also hoping to build connections [among partners] and build rapport. The community has also let us become more philanthropic. We’ve done new-member promotions where, for example, we’d donate to One Laptop Per Child when individuals join the community. We’ve also worked with Engineers Without Borders. 


How old is the implementation? The partner community went live in November 2008. 

Who was involved in the decision process? The Ciena executive team. 

What was your best idea? Starting with a small audience to test-drive our community approach. 

Biggest surprise? Engagement takes time. 

Unanticipated challenges? Being more global. One of our challenges is in creating global content. Many of our partners are spread out around the world, yet we don’t have authors in those different regions generating content. We’re trying to do it all from corporate and cover all our bases, but that’s proven to be difficult. 

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