In today’s virtual world, close to two-thirds of Internet users – 2.3 billion people – participate in social networking, according to a Nielsen report. On-line communities play a major role in how individuals and organizations conduct business and make purchase decisions. In fact, 70% of Fortune 100 companies have launched internal social networks, but many companies still struggle with proper execution of the vision.
Defining and structuring a community
A community is a group of people who share a specialty, craft, role, profession, passion, interest, concern, or a set of problems. In many large companies, employees may feel disconnected, lonely, and lost in a sea of information. They turn to their internal on-line network to gather information and stay connected, despite geographical and functional boundaries.
Graphic 1: Summary of key steps to be taken when implementing a collaborative on-line community
By sharing “collective intelligence in a collaborative manner,” companies empower their employees to find innovative solutions and help ensure customer satisfaction.
Certain roles and responsibilities must exist to support an effective, functioning internal community of practice:
• Community leader – Drives activity, implements governance rules, and encourages member collaboration.
• Core team members – Act as advocates who support the community leader.
• General members – Interact with their peers to share interesting and relevant content.
• Community sponsor – Promotes the group within the company, encourages openness and free thinking, and ensures alignment with the company’s global strategy and resource allocation.
Best practices for implementation
Community leaders often face behavioral challenges and technical issues that make it difficult to enlist new members. Following these critical best practices can determine success or failure:
• Acquiring sponsorship to help anchor the program within a company’s culture and business goals.
• Writing and publishing the community charter to define member roles and promote engagement.
• Identifying success factors to set appropriate expectations and overcome obstacles to success.
• Communicating and educating to help members understand the community’s goals.
Advancing a community’s success requires gathering and publishing performance information. Formal metrics help quantify the value of a community and should measure these activity categories: adoption and participation, engagement and satisfaction, and publication of success stories.
Making the cultural shift to virtual networking
In 2012, Schneider Electric President and CEO Jean Pascal Tricoire posed a rhetorical question to employees: “What if Schneider knew what Schneider knows?” The company set a goal to create 30 active communities, and as of February 2014, had reached 97 communities representing 15,000 employees. This change in corporate culture relied upon four principles:
1. Collaboration starts by sharing
2. Sharing starts by giving time, knowledge, and expertise to others
3. Information that is not shared is lost
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Build upon what’s been done
Collaboration leads to an innovative customer solution
A Schneider Electric employee used internal on-line communities to solve a unique customer need.
• Challenge: Assist a utility customer in creating an electricity substation that would be mobile rather than fixed.
• Solution: The employee posted his request to an internal on-line community for help in designing, assembling, and implementing a mobile solution. Within 24 hours of posting the request, he received three responses, which grew to 25 within a month.
• Results: Based upon collaborative advice, the employee and his team learned more about the marketplace and not only built a solution that fit the customer’s requirements, but also created a new Schneider Electric solution for serving other customers.
Communities enable employees to feel empowered to solve problems and positively impact customers. Knowledge sharing ignites conversations that build bridges across different departments within a company. Delivering internal efficiencies and external brand recognition is perhaps the greatest value offered by an internal on-line community program.