Last year I facilitated a session for our IT field teams on communication and sharing. As my session was after lunch and I risked the wrath of what an ex colleague of mine called “pudding hour” I knew I would need something energetic to prevent the group from dozing off in front of me! I used the concept of a children’s TV game “Runaround” to identify who in the group had a social networking account of some sort and how many were active users.
I can’t remember the exact details of the game but the basis is that the host asks a question and there are a number of answers. The contestants run to the answer of their choice and those that choose the winning answer collect a ball. The contestant with the most balls passes through to the next stage.
Well there were no balls on the day and no prizes. The question was simply “do you network online?” The answers located in each corner of the room were:
1) I don’t have an online account
2) I have an online account but I don’t use it
3) I have one or more online accounts and I look at or contribute to them at least monthly
4) I have one or more online accounts and I look at or contribute to at least one of these weekly
The aim was to split the group into two and identify the ‘challenges’ and the ‘benefits’ of being social online. I wanted to find out what people gained from participating in online communities and what prevented others from having an online presence.
Whilst the pace at which my colleagues ‘ran’ around the room made me consider renaming my version to “stroll around” I ended up with at least one person in every corner which meant I could split the group into two. I asked the group that were using social networking tools at least weekly to share the benefits they had experienced through networking online. I asked the other group who were much less or not at all active to share the reasons why they didn’t engage with this type of online activity; what were their issues or challenges.
The discussions focussed predominately around using social networking at a personal level and surprisingly they got a little heated at some points as both groups put forward their reasons for being or not being active in an online community of some sort.
I collated their points and reviewed the challenges and benefits in line with business communications and networking. I informed the group that my team and I were using a tool called Chatter to stay in touch and share knowledge and content with each other in the absence of access to business systems. I encouraged the groups to start thinking about the potential gains if we were all active in this one community. How could business communication, networking and knowledge sharing be improved without overloading the ole inbox!
Chatter is similar to other tools. You can access it online at chatter.com; users can install a desktop version (if their IT setup allows this); you can install an iPad version plus there is an app for the iPhone, android and Blackberry.
At the end of the session I sent everyone in the workshop (approx 30) a link to sign up to Chatter and told them to look out for the #chatterhowto tag which I set up to offer getting started guidance plus tips.
That session was in August 2011. Shortly afterwards the whole department was invited to join in and fairly quickly we had approx 80 staff in the community with regular content being posted and shared. This online community opened up a new communication channel for staff based at head office and out in the field to stay in touch. I started communicating with people that I hadn’t had a conversation with before the workshop session. I see the teams creating groups and sharing with each other. Feedback from the community is positive and the ability to access the content from a mobile device and the desktop makes it far more accessible.
It is almost a year since I ran this session and through word of mouth and other interactions the community continues to grow. We now have the CEO and leaders across the organisation signed up to the site. Some are actively engaged and contributing. Many are lurking. The lurkers may not have found the confidence to post their own content or comments yet but they are talking about the community and the content being posted by others which is start!
Some of the benefits I’ve seen to date include:
Collaboration and knowledge sharing:
People openly sharing content and posting comments.
Directors posting from conferences allowing others to comment and raise questions in real time.
Questions being posted to generate discussion.
Overcoming challenges and turning them into benefits:
People that were very against it in the workshop session a year ago giving it a go. One called me a few weeks after the workshop and said “you know, you were right. I’ve found some really useful content on LinkedIn that I am now sharing with the team”.
Communication across boundaries:
Being able to communicate and interact with others regardless of position and across geographic boundaries.
What benefits are you seeing from the use of online communities in your organisation/business?