Despite their much-celebrated potential, companies continue to struggle to get internal online communities off the ground. A 2014 Altimeter Group Survey suggests that less than half of the enterprise social network tools deployed end up being used regularly by a significant number of their target audiences. To help companies leverage these powerful tools more effectively, social media expert Kristine de Valck shares her insights around what it takes to build more effective, higher-value enterprise social networks.
Strengthening cultures and communities: the high purpose of any ESN
Kristine explains that a first step to leveraging enterprise social networking tools effectively is to have a clear idea of what value you want to get from them. “Internal online communities are of course an excellent way to document and share latent knowledge, but you miss out on their real potential if you don’t make use of their possibilities for creating emotional, relational ties,” says Kristine. “ESNs are powerful tools for creating a ‘we feeling’ — an in-group feeling versus an out-group feeling — to reinforce cultures and communities. This is a high value purpose for any enterprise social network, whether the objective is to strengthen a community of senior leaders or increase connection across the organization.”
Capturing attention: sharing the purpose
In an online community, members benefit from the opportunity to share widely with each other across departments, hierarchical levels, and geographic locations. “As in real life communities, while there is often no obligation, per se, to participate, membership requires effort: you give and you take. Members benefit from each other,” Kristine explains. “The community focus can be understood in contrast to platforms like review sites, where there are many users but few contributors.” Drivers and obstacles to building an engaged community differ to varying degrees depending on the target audience and larger corporate context. For example, power, ego, and authority tend to be bigger concerns within a community of senior leaders than a community of R&D engineers. Similarly, there will be different obstacles to building digital communities within an Internet startup like Netflix and a bank like HSBC. At the same time, however, there are key success factors that remain consistent.
Gaining a critical mass of users: start with why!
For an online community to gain a critical mass of users, the value to their intended audience needs to be very clear. This is the “why” of the community. According to Kristine, co-creation along with the targeted audiences is a good way to ensure the network doesn’t miss its mark. In Kristine’s words, “If you want people to use the network, co-create it with them.