Why It’s Important To Brand and Market Your ESN and Employee Communities

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off the wall walgreensOne of the most important things you can do to increase engagement and adoption of an enterprise social network (ESN) and employee community is to invest time and resources in branding and marketing it.  At Walgreens we’ve invested a lot of time into branding and marketing our ESN and social intranet experience and it’s been a key element to our success. On this post, I’d like to share with you a little bit of our branding and marketing journey and explore what we’ve learned along the way.

Invest Time In Branding, It’s Worth It

If you take one thing from this post it’s that you should invest time in creating a unique brand for your company’s ESN. Do not simply call your ESN the name of your vendor platform (SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, etc.)  At Walgreens, we spent a significant amount of time and research to create the name for our new social intranet and employee community which we call “The Wall.”

No, the name wasn’t inspired by Pink Floyd. Instead we arrived at it by combining the Walgreens “W” and “all,” meaning that this new community space and experience is designed to be a place where both corporate and store employees can “all” come together to make their mark on “a Wall” with the hope to have their voice heard, collaborate and most importantly learn how to work more efficiently and effectively and create the future of work together so we can serve our customers better.

Since launching two years ago, the original vision and essence of The Wall brand remains but it has taken on a life of it’s own. In many ways team members have personalized The Wall brand on a deeper level and, as I’ve said many times, The Wall isn’t just an online destination but for many employees who have embraced this new way of working, being “on The Wall” has become a state of mind.

For us, The Wall brand has also come to symbolize a new way of working and put a broader context and meaning to working out loud and introducing the future of work. We couldn’t have created an emotional connection if we just relied on the vendor platform name. We had to make it our own. We had to create a brand that meant something.

We had to first create a meaningful name and brand that team members could take and make their own. And in many ways that’s exactly what’s happened. The thousands of posts, contributions and actions that now make up The Wall online experience have further defined and evolved what The Wall brand means.

How We’re Marketing The Wall

To help further extend and market The Wall brand, and the tell the story of business value that The Wall Community delivers, we also created a video series called “Off The Wall.”   Basically, “Off The Wall” was created as a channel to have a different type of conversation with employees that we haven’t had before at Walgreens. The video series features me on the Red Couch going to different locations across the company having conversations with leaders, stakeholders and other employees about how The Wall is supporting the business and helping them work better. Again, like The Wall brand, the Red Couch and the “Off The Wall” series has taken on a life of it’s own and really resonated with employees.

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To take the marketing even further, and because we can’t always take the big Red Couch everywhere I go, we also have a mini Red Couch that I take with me to meetings, company events and industry conferences. The mini Red Couch is a fun and engaging reminder and a great conversation starter to talk about what is happening on The Wall. When I take the mini Red Couch with me to company meetings I put it on the table and it always gets some interesting conversations going with people who have not yet had an positive interaction on The Wall or haven’t heard about the valuable collaboration happening with our employee communities.

To market The Wall we also have a Wall sign (featured in the photo below) and flyers to promote events and feature specific success stories to bring new people in and convert skeptics into believers. We also have Wall lanyards that I give to our Wall Champions so they can go forth and spread the good word and be identified around the company as ambassadors helping to onboard and answer questions and share their own personal success stories.

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Captured in the photo above is one of my most memorable Wall moments thus far. It’s me with our Wall Champions from our Field HR team. This team recently played a critical role in a live event in October during which we integrated The Wall Community into a week long conference. It was inspiring to see these Wall Champions in action helping their team members get onboarded and discover their own Wall “aha” moment. And I loved what they did with the Red Couch brand.

In the left hand side of the picture you can see someone holding a white canvas with the Red Couch on it. To measure success of the event, we had a success metric and goal to grow one of Field HR online groups to a certain number members and to my surprise one of The Wall Champions showed up at the event with the canvas drawing. So as we grew closer to our goal they colored in a cushion of the Red Couch! At the end of the event I had them all sign the drawing and it made me very, very proud.  Again, this special and engagement moment wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have a unique and personal brand attached to our ESN.

What You’re Missing If You Don’t Brand and Market Your ESN

As you can see, if you don’t brand your ESN, you’re missing out on several valuable emotional connections, engagement opportunities and many word of mouth benefits too. A strong and meaningful ESN brand gives your champions something to share, something to talk about. To make this new way of working more tangible and contagious you must have a unique brand for your ESN. And you must find a way to extend that brand beyond the online and virtual experience.

When you create a unique ESN brand and drive it with a market strategy that powerful combination makes the ESN experience more real for employees. It helps to connect the vision and purpose of the ESN with the vision and purpose of the company.

An ESN branding and marketing strategy makes the community contributions and collaboration more palpable, meaningful and memorable. So, whatever you do, don’t rely on just calling it whatever platform you’re using like Jive, Yammer, etc. Get creative and fight hard to make sure your community has it’s own brand and make sure to invest time and resources to market it. You’ll be glad you did.

These are just a few things we’ve done and learned along the way and I look forward to sharing more about our ESN branding and marketing journey in the future.

Join Us Today for #ESNchat To Explore ESN Branding and Marketing

What can you do next? Well, one thing I encourage you to do is to join us today for this week’s #ESNchat on Twitter which is about branding and marketing your ESN. We’ll be exploring many of the topics I shared above and more, and I hope to see you there in the conversation. To learn more about #ESNchat and how to join this week’s chat go here.

 

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Come Get Your Weekly Inspiring Buzz of Enterprise Social Networks during #ESNChat

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ESNchat

Each week I look forward to the inspiring buzz I get from #ESNChat and I’m excited to join the team leading #ESNchat. If you’re new to #ESNchat, it’s a weekly Twitter chat founded by Jeff Ross in September 2013 for those interested in Enterprise Social Networks (internal social networks for employees of businesses). The topics covered are primarily of interest to ESN community managers, but anyone with an interest in ESNs is welcome to participate.

For the last two years I’ve always gotten a lot of value from the chat and it was a pleasure to have guest hosted last year’s Risk topic. Honestly, the hour flies by and when the chat is over I always get a rush of ideas and a new, valuable perspective on how to approach the future of work, business of community management and enterprise social. #ESNchat is also a great opportunity to connect, share your experiences and learn from others who are managing ESNs at their company. You can check out the archive of topics here and here, and I hope you can join us today for this week’s topic: Holiday #ESN Do’s & Don’ts.

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#ESNchat just celebrated it’s two year anniversary and I’m honored to now partner with Jeff and the rest of the new co-hosting crew Brenda Smith, and Jennifer Honig.  (Special thanks to the team at the Community Roundtable for putting together this entertaining, adventurous and fantastic photo of the new ESNchat team.)

More details and how to participate

The chat is held each Thursday from 2-3pm Eastern Time (except major American holidays).  While the scheduled chats are weekly for one hour, the conversation never ends as we invite you to share thoughts and article using the #ESNchat hashtag in your posts. Here’s how you can participate.

  1. Join the #ESNchat on tchat.io and take advantage of the user-friendly interface there.
  2. Use the Twitter tool of your choice (such as Tweetdeck.com, Hootsuite.com, Nestivity.com or Twitter itself) to view a stream of tweets in real time that contain the hashtag #ESNchat.
  3. Follow @ESNchat on Twitter for updates regarding the chats and for discussion questions during the chats.  Questions will be posted at regular intervals by the moderator during the scheduled chat.  Answer questions, engage in conversation, retweet, learn, and have fun!

 

Thanks for spreading the news and I’ll see you in the chat!

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

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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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CMAD: Join Us For A Chat About The Evolution of Enterprise Social Networks

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It’s inspiring and encouraging to see how much Community Manager Appreciation Day has evolved since it was started in 2010.

Four years later CMAD has become the dedicated day to not only give thanks to community managers and recognize them for the work they do, it’s now become a 24-hour celebration where we also roll up our sleeves to talk about the business of community management and how it’s playing an increasingly key role in transforming companies internally and the customer experience externally.

On Monday January 27, you can look forward to a day packed full of valuable and forward-thinking community management conversations happening both online and offline. And this year I’m proud to be on the panel that will be diving into the topic of “The Evolution of Enterprise Social Networks” at 12pm EST on Google+.

During the chat we’ll be discussing “the evolution of enterprise social networks with topics such as: the beginnings of enterprise social; major advances in recent years; how ESN tools have changed and still need to change; the role of ESN community managers past, present and future.”

Key questions we’ll be exploring include:

  1. When was the first time you used ESNs and what characterized the technology and the experience at the time?
  2. What are some recent major advances in enterprise social in terms of use cases and expectations – not technology.
  3. How has ESN technology evolved and in what ways does it still need to improve?
  4. How important is a dedicated, full-time ESN community manager?
  5. How has the role of ESN community managers evolved? Where do you see it going?

I’m looking forward to sharing stories and learnings from my experience leading the internal social media programs at Walgreens and I’m excited to hear what the other panelists have to share too. Should be a great time!

As prep for the CMAD chat about ESNs, I recommend checking out this excellent primer post by the panel organizer Jeff Ross who leads the internal community at Humana. Also, if you haven’t yet, I invite you to participate in the #ESNChat that Jeff leads every Thursday at 2pm EST.

Here’s more info on the panelists and how you can tune in Google+. See you there and enjoy!

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