Engaged Community is a Healthy Community – Best Practices in Internal Social Networking

This post was written by Maria Ogneva, the Head of Community at Yammer

While I was at SXSW last week, I was lucky to have met many Yammer users face to face. Some had just set up their accounts, some had set them up years ago, some were internal Yammer experts and champions for their organizations, and some were newbies. Regardless of level of experience, involvement or facility with Yammer, just about everyone I met, asked “How do I ensure continued engagement in this network? How do I get people to come back and participate?”

I think this is a key question to ask yourself, and if you can formulate a plan of action prior to rolling out the community, you will certainly be setting yourself up for success. Just like with every endeavor, you need to have solid objectives (why am I doing this?), plan of action (what steps will I take to get there?), qualitative and quantitative success metrics (how do I know I’m doing well?), and a plan for evaluation and course-correction, if necessary.

At Yammer, we are investing a lot of resources in sharing best practices grounded in real and observable examples. These examples come from our customers’ stories and our own experiences with our own Yammer network and our customer communities. To help our customers formulate these best practices, we have launched an entire Customer Success Manager (CSM) initiative.  We will be bringing you a lot of what we find via this blog and other channels. For now, here are some high-level recommendations that I have observed thus far, and calibrated with our CSMs.

  1. Invite the right early users: The strength of any network is determined by the strength of people participating in it. If you are trying to nurture a community, whether it’s internal or external, take the time to invite the right people and share the vision with them. Make sure that your early users have bought into your vision and can become community champions – internally and externally.
  2. Establish strategy and policy: Have a conversation around strategy and process early on. Be clear on what you want out of the experience, who should be participating and what business problems you are solving. A solid usage policy is also key in helping set the tone for the types of posts that are appropriate and drive your goals forward.
  3. Educate: Even with something as easy to use as Yammer, education is still a key component. Your training process should address the “why” and “what’s in it for me”, as much as it addresses the “how”. Make sure everyone has bought into the vision, address any questions and “what-ifs”.
  4. Tune into WIIFM: Everyone’s favorite radio station is WIIFM, otherwise known as “what’s in it for me?” Make sure your policy and best practices address help your internal constituencies do their jobs, and make them into rockstars. Here are just some examples:
    1. Support / helpdesk is able to engage the “collective brain” to quickly get questions to tough customer questions. This helps them decrease response and resolution time, and get through more tickets. The customer wins, the company wins, and the support rep is a rockstar.
    2. Sales can collaborate with others in the company to gain more insights into a particular deal they are closing. If you are talking to Company A, it’s very likely that someone else at your company may know someone else at Company A. You can drive your external networking through networking internally.
    3. Marketing can learn major customer developments and work with sales to create customer success stories and continue a dialogue with customers across their preferred channels. Marketing can share and collaborate with social media, corporate communications, sales and product team to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
    4. Social media and community manager keeps a hand on the internal pulse, is able to communicate relevant information to the community and deliver the needed content to the community. Community manager is then also able to communicate what the customer wants back to the company
  5. Focus on culture and leadership buy-in: Yammer CSM Brian Murray says that executive leader participation is paramount to the success of any internal community, and I agree. By getting involved, the leadership team signals that this effort is supported, and the necessary steps to support the process will be taken. It also helps flatten the organization and promote the culture of sharing and transparency that’s necessary for an effort like this to be successful.
  6. Have a community leader: Communities are like gardens; when you water and invest in them, they flourish. Every garden must have a gardener, and every community must have a community leader. This person is there not to simply moderate and ensure adherence to usage policy, but also to help develop community-specific best practices. To promote engagement, the community leader may want to start conversations to inspire people to share what they are experiencing. A good community manager will know key members’ unique experiences, and will connect the right people in a thread by publicly @ them or sending private messages.
  7. Collect and share success stories: There’s tremendous power in telling stories. They help answer the “what’s in it for me?” question and allow to envision success. Success stories also turn the featured users into fans for life – who doesn’t like sharing their thought leadership?
  8. Integrate business processes: Every company has its own way of doing things. You need to define what online networking and collaboration means to you, and which existing processes it plugs into. For example, GA Communications is looking to Yammer as a replacement for the “team update” meeting, and Deloitte Australia used Yammer successfully to crowdsource an ad tagline. Think through what works for you. Can you integrate Yammer as part of the onboarding process? Can you recognize performance achievements publicly on Yammer? Can you make Yammer part of a customer support process, allowing support reps to resolve issues faster?  Or maybe you can make it part of your crisis communications plan? Whatever your particular scenario is, think through the steps necessary, and the people you need to call on to make it successful.
  9. Create relevant content: At the end of the day, if the right content is shared, and community interactions can help people do their jobs, they will see value and join in. However, you need to have realistic expectations and realize that it will take time to build up a robust information exchange. That being said, you have to be proactive and deliberate in creating it. If people are sharing interesting tidbits over email, why not advise them to have this conversation in public, so others can benefit from it? Similarly, if a question is raised that can be answered via knowledge that lives in Yammer, why not point to the thread URL from the email?

This list is of course nowhere near exhaustive. Rather, these are just some high-level best practices. Most of these points are universally applicable to building any solid community, whether it consists of colleagues, industry peers or customers. However, items 4 and 7 are more specific to the enterprise space. We will be bringing you a lot of content throughout the upcoming months, diving into these and other items deeper.

What’s driving engagement in your community? What are some roadblocks? If you are a business user, how are you dealing with issues of culture and business process engineering?

Photo credit: lumaxart