January 24, 2012

Some Best Practices for Internal Networks

Getting your online network launched and successful isn’t a slam-dunk. There are many forces resisting the change from older ways of communicating, specifically email, to a new, more open and more productive environment like Convofy.

It’s so hard to change the way we work that Andrew MacAfee, in an older post called The 9X Email Problem, has said that new solutions must be perceived as being at least 9 times better to induce people to change.

Most of us who have worked in a professional social network environment for communication and coordination can assert that the improvement is worth the effort to change, but the challenge is in encouraging your colleagues to invest enough time and focus in the new environment to buy into its benefits.

This post is about some of the approaches you can use to change communication and collaboration behavior in your organization to improve productivity, engagement and responsiveness.

Migrate content

There’s nothing less inspiring than showing up on a new site and finding nothing there. Sort of like going to a party when you’re the first to arrive (and maybe unsure whether anyone else will show up). So the first imperative in getting an active network is to populate it with interesting and relevant stuff.

Look for content that your team would all be interested in, posting it on the network, and then notifying your colleagues via email. A good starting point for this might be meeting agendas or minutes. These are typically not very interactive documents, but when added to Convofy they become more dynamic and useful.

Another example is status reports. A detailed report shared on Convofy can solicit useful and shared feedback. It is also available for keeps, and doesn’t fade away in the morass of old and forgotten emails. It’s searchable, discoverable and part of the shared company memory.

Create Groups

Of course, it’s ideal to have a well structured set of groups within which to add relevant content. Creating groups is easy – unlike, for example, creating email distribution lists – and you can invite anyone who needs to participate. Once the group is created, all content added to the online group is accessible to everyone in that group. If a person is added subsequently, they too will have access to all content, including the stuff that preceded their arrival. This makes for faster on-boarding, and improved long-term group memory. If someone leaves the group, they will no longer have access to the content there.

You can actually share the same piece of content with more than one group. This is like sending a single email two different email distribution lists – except that, again, the resulting content becomes part of the organization’s shared memory far more effectively than in email.

Organize “Affinity” Groups

Groups can be functional or project oriented, which is the obvious starting point, but many organizations have had great success in transcending organizational silos by creating specific kinds of “Affinity Groups”. These are groups that share some common attribute, even though participants may reside in different parts of the organization. Some examples of affinity groups are:

  • Sector Affinity Groups: Sharing knowledge about a particular market or customer sector that matters to the business. This is particularly useful for field personnel to share news, tactics and strategies for the sectors they are trying to service.
  • Practice Area Affinity Groups: practice areas can allow professionals across the enterprise to share their knowledge, experience and expertise with others across the network on topics specific to the functional business areas they are trying to service. For example, a web agency may have practice area affinity groups in the areas of web design, SEO, cloud computing, or social media.
  • Competency Affinity Groups: Building and sharing skills across the organization can be enhanced and improved by enabling professionals to share their tools, approaches and even their career paths within an affinity group. A great deal of informal mentoring can happen this way.
  • General Interest Affinity Groups: professional or personal, these groups are about specific topics of interest, ranging from geolocation technology to bicycle commuting.

Email integration

As mentioned above, one of the biggest challenges to moving to a social platform is that people will generally fall back on email, which is the communication environment they know best. It’s actually best not to fight this impulse, but leverage it. The two obvious ways to complement email is 1) getting email notifications of social network updates, and 2) adding content via email – something you can do in Convofy but very other environments.

Notification is a natural capability within Convofy, and we give you a lot of control over which events and content in your network you will be notified about. You can receive updates as they happen, and/or receive daily or weekly digests. This way, you can live in your comfortable old world of email, and mosey over to Convofy when interesting things crop up. Of course, we think you may spend increasingly more time in Convofy as you become more engaged and get more value out of the environment, but this notification capability makes the on ramp a little more gentle.

The other powerful email integration capability – worthy of a blog post in its own right – is the ability to mail-in content directly to a Convofy network. Yes indeed: when you receive a particularly interesting email, you can send it along to Convofy for further sharing and commentary. This is particularly useful because it helps you avoid the endless threads into which email sometimes devolves.

Emailing content into Convofy is also very useful when someone sends you an email with an attachment. Rather than go through the usual menial process – detach the item, read it offline, then comment, then re-attach it to send back – simply forward the message to Convofy, where you can read the attachment online, and your comments will be visible and accessible to the group with whom you share the message.

Every Convofy group has its own email address. One approach we’ve heard is to add the group email address to your email distribution list, or address book, so content naturally flows to a place where its more accessible and more easily consumed.

Complete Your Profile

A key early step in making a more effective collaborative environment is to complete a personal profile and/or add a biography. For established  social networks, this is probably the first step that newcomers will take.

After all, any social collaboration tool is about knowledge management, which is making your collective knowledge more accessible to the organization. So filling out your profile makes your personal experience, interests and expertise accessible to your colleagues.

This not only helps humanizes your work landscape (and wouldn’t we all want a more hospitable environment in the place where we spend much of our waking hours?), but a completed profile also enables you to find others with similar interests – during or after work.

In Convofy, we suggest not only completing your profile (under the Settings menu), but also sharing a copy of your resume / CV to your followers. The CV and all your available skills and experience will thereby be discoverable via search.

Continue Encouraging Usage and Celebrating Success

Once the site is up and running and your teammates have been introduced to it, it’s likely that the community will need ongoing encouragement. Whenever possible, you can politely ask a colleague whether the excellent document they have just shared with you via email has also been uploaded to the shared environment.

Or, when you find yourself in the midst of a long and intractable email or thread, move the discussion to an online forum and notify the group of its new home.

When people add great content to the site, or when you observe a meaty discussion happening online, call it out! This can be done by email, as contradictory as that sounds, in meetings or on the site itself. When and if appropriate, share the success outside your group and show off!

This will likely be an ongoing process for several weeks, even months, as your teammates get acclimated to sharing online. However, with persistence you and your team will get great results from your efforts.

Have Some Fun

Finally, don’t forget to make it light and fun online as well. One organization induced a group to start interacting more online by holding a contest to share pictures of their pets. The commentary on the pictures was as priceless as the pictures themselves, and within a week an entire group was fully engaged in the social network.

Do you have any other ideas, or experience on making internal networks successful? Leave a comment here – we’d love to hear them.
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