Here’s another learning from my recent travels across the country. It has to do with community, and regional participation.
I happen to live near and work in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area, and we have a very good, active social media community. Because of this, its been easy for me to focus locally and (kind of) forget how many other large and small urban centers also have great communities. That’s been the biggest learning as I’ve meet folks from all corners of the U.S. and around the world.
We all have vibrant social media communities, but they’re all different. Some areas seem to be better at marketing, some better at technology or funding. Regardless of the size of the city, the interest and enthusiasm always seems to be bigger than you’d think… and that’s the really fun part.
So my question to you this afternoon is what you’ve been doing to support that community and help it flourish. The benefits of understanding what social media can do for individuals, businesses and your physical communities is growing at an impressive rate. Its more than simply mainstream usage, it’s about people (society) adapting to new ideas and tools that support those ideas. It’s cultural change which can be challenging for some organizations and individuals, and this is where you can help your community.
Getting involved in your local community is the best way to make things happen. Find out what the need is and work on filling it. It may be getting people together at meetups, answering questions, or maybe training. In any case, participating with your local community is as important as keeping up with the new ideas and tools that come out every day.
Picture courtesy Sri Dhanush
I had the great opportunity to talk with Pamela Muldoon, host of Next Stage Business Radio. Our own Social Media Breakfast (SMBMSP) was highlighted as the organization of the week and I got to share some insights about our organization on Saturday, January 23rd, 2010.
Next Stage Business Radio brings “local and national experts, business owners, and thought leaders for tips, techniques and resources on starting, building and maintaining a successful small business” every week.
You can download the whole show at http://www.nextstagebusinessradio.com/archived-programs.html for the next few weeks.
Below is the segment of the show where we talked about SMBMSP.
For all of us experienced in social media with the concepts of sharing and open dialog deeply rooted in our ethos, this comparison probably doesn’t mean as much as it could for folks who don’t engage in social computing. I’m simply looking for ways we can all help explain some of these concepts to our overworked managers and VPs.
(Heh, ‘social computing’. That’s a nod to the corporate interpretation of social media – or it is in some ways. Mostly they like to say “collaboration” because its more professional sounding. I find it interesting that the moment the word ‘social’ is dropped, the reaction tends to be “we don’t pay people to socialize!”. Never mind that work itself is an accepted social construct designed to make labor for wage a palatable and productive arrangement. But I digress.)
Anyway, sometimes the easiest way to help people understand a concept is to compare it to something they already know or can intuitively envision. That’s where the Goodwill Ambassador comes in. In the social media sphere, we’ve developed the Community Manager (a role which perversely doesn’t “manage” anything) who is tasked with engaging customers. Nither the community or the conversations within require management of any sort. Rather they require participation. That participation has several aspects, ones that are quite familiar to people from any generation.
A goodwill ambassador brings a smile and cheer, they answer questions and facilitate getting answers. They often bring a sense of calm and reason, that you’ll be heard and understood. The concept of a goodwill ambassador is easy to digest and brings folks initially apposed to funding such a role as Community Manager around to a realistic perspective and frame of reference. For today, we have a need of these people who bridge the gaps between marketing and customer service, bringing personality and a voice to the organizations they represent.
Are you ready to share some goodwill with your customers?
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
Building community is but one piece of a fulfilling day.