Doesn’t it seem like we talk a lot about social media as a tool for sales or marketing? It certainly is a great channel for that in the right context, and the right usage. I’m curious how many folks who talk about building a community for their customers have thought about building community for their employees. Take that external viewpoint and turn around… apply it internally… what do you think could happen?
The idea is nothing new, and actually pre-dates "social media" by a long time. We’ve all been part of special groups within other organizations. I’m sure the companies you’ve worked for have had groups that range from bowling leagues to cross-functional project groups, to cost-reduction purchase management councils. Groups take many different forms, but these examples don’t really represent "community" as we use the term for social media.
I was reminded during the "Behind The Firewall" chat on Twitter last night (#btf every Thursday at 8pm CT) that IBM had done a lot of this work in the late 90s using Lotus Notes. That was probably one of the first packaged tools available that allowed for both free form and structured interactions.
Businesses have been looking for ways to build more productive teams. Social Media, er… I mean collaboration, (no they’re not the same, but many folks confuse the issue – we’ll roll with it for now), is one of those methodologies that can accomplish multiple tasks. If you remove the technology portion for a minute, and the marketing perspective, you can start to focus on solving business issues. This is where social media can prove it’s adaptability to an organization.
Building community inside most large organizations is difficult, but no more so than building community in a public forum. You have several different interest groups, and numerous points of view in every organization, these aspects and others make up the great diversity that companies can draw on to power their internal communities. Building collaborative environments that allow for socialization of profiles and interaction enables employees to find like-minded folks elsewhere in the company. These folks are having conversations about work, life, projects, challenges, problems and much more. These conversations already take place at the "water cooler", in the cube farms, on the loading docks, in the lunch room and anywhere else employees feel comfortable talking.
That’s the key to it too, comfort level. Providing an environment that people can speak their mind can be a larger productivity boost than a time waster. Create that space using social media tools & ideas, and let folks have a venue for conversations about work, conversations about non-work life, and a anonymous sounding boards that let folks give feedback and even vent frustrations a little bit.
Collaboration is a key piece of the puzzle to be sure, but make sure to include the social part too. "Social" is not a four letter word, and is not exclusive to non work life. We all socialize professionally at work, collaborating on increasing sales, and satisfying customers in one way or another. If everyone is "on the same team", how effective is that team without getting to know each other better? Let those relationships grow organically within the employee population rather than trying to mandate it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Photo credit: torugatoru