Putting a Plan Into Action: Internal Social and Community Management Strategies at Work

Putting a Plan Into Action: Internal Social and Community Management Strategies at Work

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak at the J Boye intranet conference. During the conference I shared the story about how at Walgreens we’re using community management strategies to roll out a new social intranet, develop an internal social media program and build communities of practice. During my talk I shared this quote below which is from the internal communications lead, an influential person on the corporate communications team.

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The quote resonated with conference attendees and I thought I’d share more of the strategic backstory of that quote and explore some of the goals and tactics I’ve used and why you do need a community management and internal social strategy.

When it comes to community management these are the three goals I’ve had ever since I started at Walgreens:

1. Demonstrate to the organization what community management is and why it’s critical to the business.

2. Demonstrate how community management supports the broader goals for rolling out a new social intranet.

3. Have the key stakeholders and leaders understand and buy in to goals 1-2.

These three goals, which are part of a broader strategy, have been a welcomed beacon as I’ve had to steer the development, launch and growth of our employee communities through the choppy waters of change and many storms of uncertainty along the way.

I created those three goals knowing I was introducing new business concepts to the organization. I also created them with the future and the unknown in mind, because in today’s business environment the one constant within all organizations is change, and you have to be able to create a community management strategy that is solid and focused on answering the question “how do the employee communities support the business?” And your strategy must also be fluid, flexible, and adaptable to the ever-changing needs of the business.

But can and should you create an internal social media strategy? Is all the hard work of building employee communities worth it? Yes. And yes. And hopefully by the end of this post you’ll takeaway a few things you can use to do the same at your company’s journey as you aim to do the same.

If you want to change the world…

Introducing community management concepts, launching an enterprise social network (ESN) within a large organization, and having it all deliver real business value, is no easy task. For sure, I’ve had a lot of help and inspiration from others along the way.

There’s a favorite story I love to re-read that can be summed up by saying “if you want to change the world, don’t try to change the entire world at once. You must start first with yourself and then focus on those directly around you.”

I love that story because it makes things simple. It drives home the message that you must start small and begin from within and work outwards if you want to see lasting, meaningful and transformative change happen in the world.

I’ve always aimed to practice that helpful bit of “begin from within” wisdom in my personal life and it’s turned out to have a lot value in business too. So I decided to use this same wisdom to achieve my three community management goals. I first focused my attention on the influential people directly around me and then expanded my evangelization efforts from there.

How did I begin? What did I do?

Yes, there was already a general sense of buy-in about the value of internal social media and community management. That’s why I was hired in the first place.

But to take things to the next level, and scale the vision enterprise-wide and make the concepts of internal social and employee communities indispensable to the organization I knew I needed to go further.

I needed to deepen the buy-in and make it even more personal, valuable and meaningful for leaders, stakeholders and middle management.

So I began by sharing the concepts and value of community management in easy to understand ways with those around me in meetings, on internal road tours and in informal one-on-one chats. I focused on influential people in the organization like the internal communications lead mentioned above. Put simple, this was part of the strategy behind the execution work as I aimed for my three goals and and this work is what some call the iceberg effect of community management.

The Iceberg Effect is basically all the critical and often unseen work community managers do to grow communities and develop the program. You can’t see this iceberg effect work happening in the online network, but nonetheless these behind-the-scene actions are highly strategic and crucial to beginning, sustaining and growing employee communities and any communities management program at a company.

Now, what I’m going to share with you on the rest of this post is 1) some of “iceberg effect” behaviors I’ve done and 2) what I felt strategically needed to happen in order to achieve my three goals.

Why Do Internal Social Media Programs Fail?

I’ll start off by saying that there are many reasons why most social intranet and community management initiatives fail at companies. One big reason, I believe, is that those who have failed to get real value of their social intranets and employee communities fail because they’ve relied only on the “deploy and pray” method hoping that “if you build it, they will come.”

If you lack a clear strategy and defined business goals and only rely on the “deploy and pray” method, you’re falsely hoping to your demise. Employees and the organization will not somehow magically know how to use these new tools to collaborate, connect and share ideas at work. Community management and internal social media are still too new and there’s way too much behavioral change that needs to happen for companies to assume these concepts and practices will just be instantly and easily adopted by employees.

Just like any other function within the business, you have to have a plan for your internal social media and community management program. You have to have a roadmap and a vision. You have to guide, teach and explain how a social intranet, collaborative employee communities and the concepts of community management support the business. You have to clearly communicate and demonstrate how all these tools combined together help employee solve problems and get work done more efficiently and effectively.

Don’t call it “Facebook for the enterprise”

One other barrier to adoption and initial buy-in is that the technology platforms of employee communities often look like and feel like Facebook or other external social media platforms. And because of this you have to convincingly explain and demonstrate how the goals of your employee communities are different from what people experience on Facebook or other internet communities.

I mentioned this briefly in my J Boye talk that if you want to get buy-in or adoption, you never (ever) want to call what you’re doing “Facebook for the enterprise” or overuse the word “social.”  I’ve used the word “social” very carefully and strategically these last three years and I would suggest you also do the same and stick to using words and phrases like “collaboration, knowledge-sharing, enhancing communication, trust-building, connecting, engagement, innovation,” (to name few) when talking about the value of your employee communities.

“Deploy and pray” doesn’t work

Now, all that said, after a few years of watching the enterprise social network and social intranet industry play out, we know that the “deploy and pray” approach doesn’t work. You must put strategy before technology for it work. You can’t just stand up a social intranet or community platform and walk away hoping the business value will magically appear. Having dedicated resources and budget to assure the community strategy is created, communicated, executed and nurtured is vital to success.

Another big reason for lack of success is the hard work part. Doing anything meaningful and lasting takes time and energy. It takes the things like having clear business goals and doing the iceberg effect behaviors to work. And I would say this is especially important to understand when building and growing employee communities of practice.

It’s like raising a baby

To share another metaphor, being a father has helped me to realize and illustrate to others the need for putting in the hard work of nurturing employee communities. My son just turned two and I see many similarities between raising him and launching and growing an internal social media program. If I didn’t “invest” in him — feed him, hold him and be patient teaching him knowing and trusting that he will eventually walk, talk and develop beyond infancy — then why should I expect that he’d make it past being a baby?

Laying a solid foundation of knowledge and awareness of what community management is just like nurturing an infant’s growth. And without a doubt, doing this work these last three and half years was critical to realizing that quote and reaching the first stage of success with my three goals.

And because I’m passionate and I believe in the power our employee communities at Walgreens have to transform the business, I’ve often considered our employee communities to be “my baby.”

And with my three goals in mind I’ve moved forward knowing that if nurtured, fed and invested in, our employee communities will provide value. And they have. In many ways.

My 3 strategic behaviors

Okay, so what specifically did I do to achieve my three goals?  I started small and focused on those influential stakeholders around me. In those influencing relationships I focused on doing three key strategic behaviors that are critical to developing a community management program in the early stages.

1. Do short and simple business value storytelling

Demonstrating business value and articulating your community management strategy in simple and impactful ways is vital. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to explain new and complex things with storytelling.

How do I use storytelling to explain the key elements of community management and share success stories? I always look for moments within our communities where a particular action or series of events supports our business goals. I then connect those examples to tangible business results and begin crafting the short success story.

Humans love stories, so I relied on my love for movies, screenwriting story arcs and telling concert fans stories to come up with a concept I call “business value storytelling,” which is basically using the story arc to explain how employees are getting value from the community and using it to work better, stay connected and find information faster.

One story I’ve shared many times is about an employee who didn’t even use social media outside of work or initially understand the business need for our communities. He came to our employee community with a real business issue and was able to solve his problem in 30 minutes, where in the past the issue would have taken him much longer and cost the company much more money, time and outside resources. As a result of his experience that person is a champion of our employee communities. I’ve told this story many times since to turn more skeptics into believers.

I’ve also refined this story and others like it into short “elevator pitches. Doing this has helped to achieve my three goals, because in my discussion with leaders and stakeholders time is often short and you have to be able to tell a compelling story that gets the point across and resonates quickly.

2. Always answer “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

The second strategic behavior I did when working with stakeholders and leaders was to always answer “what’s in it for me” which involved:

1) knowing their area of the business

2) Understanding what is most important to them

3) Understanding what business problems they are trying to solve

Part of this WIIFM process also involved partnering with who those leaders and the stakeholders they trust. I then made sure to clearly explain that our social intranet and employee communities are not another thing they have do, but instead our social intranet and employee communities are tool and resource to help them do what they do better and more effectively and efficiently. Explaining that and mixing in consistent business value storytelling, I built momentum and gained that all important initial buy-in to move things along.

We still have a lot of work to do but I know this approach is working because as time has gone on I’ve seen many leaders and managers either strengthen their support or have their all-important “aha” moment. And when they have their “aha” moments it has inspired them to go on to share the business value success stories of our employee communities up the ladder and across the enterprise with their peers and other stakeholders and business partners.

This transformation within leadership and management is inspiring to see. It’s an important part of any internal social media and community management journey. Leadership and management have to see it for themselves in order to share the good news with their peers.

Like word-of-mouth marketing you need to inspire advocates and champions to talk and spread the word about the value of your employee communities. Internal social media and community management doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. Especially in the early stages of adoption, you have to constantly be selling it, marketing it and demonstrating how it supports the business.

Yes, this all takes hard work and time. We’ve certainly had bumps and numerous obstacles along the way, like any company does. And we’ve only just begun the first mile of the marathon. But it’s been an amazing journey and I’m excited about the road ahead.

3. Build relationships; you can’t scale the vision alone

The last key thing I did (and still do) is build relationships.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t do it alone. You need to get the support and buy-in from others in the organization. Grass roots will only take you so far. You can’t scale in a silo. If you want to have long-term success, you need to building partnerships between corporation communications, IT, legal and HR, just to name a few of the key stakeholders. You need these partnerships to work through budget challenges, organizational changes and the many other obstacles that are sure to arise during your journey.

And as you build those foundational relationships, one way to have long term success is to start small with your communities. Or what like to call “Starting small, but thinking big.” This is how successful communities start and we have taken that approach too. I started by focusing on getting a series of small wins so that we could begin building the initial momentum to work towards achieving my three goals. Part of this early wins stage involved furthering the initial buy-in and strategically experimenting with our grass roots initiative to refine our business case.

But, again, in order to move past the creation andy early wins stage you need to proactively and strategically cultivate the grass roots success with a top-down support from the C-Suite. You have to show leadership how what is happening in your grass roots stage is aligning and supporting your original business goals. Then you can begin focusing on the middle layer of management to further scale the success.

Only using the top-down push or only using grass roots doesn’t work for long-term success. You have to strategically use both together at the right time for your organization. Experimenting with, proving out and refining your business case during the grass roots stage gets you going and then the top-down support fans the flame, and then you continue to build momentum by focusing on the layers of middle management gradually over time.

Benchmark and discover next practices

In addition to business value storytelling, answering WIIFM and building internal relationships it always helps to do solid industry benchmarking and learn from others too. If you’re looking for data and more best practices you can dive into the recent Community Management 2014 report. Learning from the best practices of gurus like Richard Millington, and following along on one of my favorite Twitter chats, like the weekly ESNChat has been a valuable resource too.

Internal social media, the ESN industry and the practice of community management within organizations is still in its early stages and we have a lot of work to do until value of community management is fully understood and realized as a must-have for community and business success.

That said, I am encouraged when I look at the SOCM 2014 data and collaborate with my fellow colleagues on the ESN chat. I can see that the industry and practice of community management is clearly maturing. And I believe those companies who are already implementing these concepts and those that get started now will be at a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

What’s Your Story?

If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, I hope you see that starting with a solid strategy, connecting your goals to your companies business goals, starting small and working hard to clearly demonstrate the value of community management and getting others to understand are all critical elements to the long-term success of your internal social media program.  Yes, it’s all worth it, especially if you want to demonstrate how your communities support the business.

What’s your story? What’s worked for you? What have you learned?

 

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