Communities: The Hub of Social Collaboration

Community Matrix

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.

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About gloriaburke

Gloria Burke is a Knowledge Management & Collaboration strategist. Currently, she is Director of Knowledge & Collaboration Strategy and Governance at Unisys Corporation. In this role she is responsible for the development of the Unisys Knowledge and Collaboration strategic vision and implementation road map, which focuses in part on the exploitation social computing technologies to improve employee connection, knowledge sharing and collaboration practices. Gloria is also responsible for directing the management and evolution of “Inside Unisys,” the company’s intranet environment that hosts its authoritative knowledge base and collaborative work spaces. In addition, Gloria serves as the chairperson of the company’s Knowledge and Collaboration Advisory Council and Intranet Steering Committee. Prior to joining Unisys in 2009, she spent 14 years with Booz & Company (formerly Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.) as a Global Knowledge Manager, responsible for the strategy and development of the company’s global knowledge and collaboration platform and related business process applications. Prior to this, she has worked with LifeRe Corporation as its Investor Relations Officer. Gloria has more than 27 years of experience in administrative management, including M&A and regulatory compliance. She is a subject matter expert on Social Collaboration Strategy and Culture Transformation. In November 2012, Gloria was named by Information Week's BrainYard as "one of seven social media leaders of 2012". The content of this blog represents Gloria's personal thoughts and views on a variety of business topics and should not be interpreted as the views of Unisys Corporation.
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