Well, we've had our internal platform for a while, and we're more than ready to go outside and start having external conversations (beyond our growing blogging corps, that is).
I wrote a while back about how we're preparing to "go outside" in a thoughtful way.
Lately, though, we've added some thinking to our overall approach that might be useful to you as well.
We've Seen This Movie Before
Remember, our stated goal here is "social media proficiency" for EMC. Yes, we'd like to see oodles of juicy ROI everywhere, but the way we're getting there is simple: learn how to use this stuff, and the goodies will follow, or not, as the case may be.
And, as we get into various situations as we prepare to go external, we find ourselves coming back to the many lessons we've learned on the internal platform.
Of all the things we've decided to do (or not do), the decision to become proficient internally first has got to be one of the best ones. I'd hate to be wrestling with some of these problems starting from a blank piece of paper.
If your goal is to get everyone proficient internally, you spend a lot of time thinking of ways to reduce "friction" in the whole process.
As an example, we didn't institute a charge-back function for internal users. Although there were a few passionate corporate voices around "everyone should carry their own weight", we were able to fund the activity centrally, and not force people through a charge-back process for the simple privilege of sharing their thoughts with others.
The result? A big hunk of friction came out of the whole system. All that's required to participate is a simple navigation over to a cleverly named internal web site, and click on "login". That's it. I shudder to think what things would look like if you had to fill out a form, get your managers' approval, wait 48 hours, have it lost in the process, start over again, and so on.
That's what worked internally -- but how does that apply externally? Turns out -- pretty much the same way.
I mentioned earlier that we're seeing lots and lots of smaller external communities that want to form around passionate topics. That's a sharp departure from our original thinking of a few, ginormous mega-communities.
Now, let's say you're someone who's brave enough to propose an external community to your peers and your management. You're already signing up to build the community, launch the community, and live with it for a while. You're already anxious about what you're proposing, aren't you?
Now, if we added a $10k charge, multiple levels of management approval, a detailed plan, and so on -- isn't that more friction in the system? And, if it fails, isn't it worse than before?
So, what I'm proposing is a "slush fund" to help the first 10-20 communities get going outside, and become proficient. No chargeback whatsover until the community is up, has demonstrated value, and so on -- at which point I'd expect them to fund what they're doing, so we can focus on other, newer communities.
The initial reaction to this was "hey, if someone wants an external community, they should be prepared to pay". Can't argue with that -- but what I can say is that extracting that payment ahead of the value demonstrated will only lead to far fewer external communities being formed, at a far slower rate.
And, if the goal is accelerating social media proficiency, that particular approach doesn't help with that goal, right?
There's also the nasty wrinkle that happens when someone is asked for money up front. If I'm interested in having an external community, and I've got $10k to spend, why should I give it to the corporate guys? Gee, I could probably do better, for less money, and with less corporate interference -- doing something on one of those free or low-cost services.
And, if that happens, we'll have a very different problem on our hands to deal with. Sure, we could spend time beating people up and forcing them to use the corporate platform (rather than doing their own thing), but think of the cost in time, effort and -- well -- friction.
I'd like to avoid all of that if possible ...
Taking The Idea Further
One of the other smart things we did was set up a new function internally -- user enablement -- to provide a friendly, supportive, non-IT interface into the platform.
Got a question? Need some help? Looking for some friendly tips? We've got a nice user-facing person to answer your questions, and provide empathy when you might need it ;-)
As a result, people embraced our internal platform, simply because it wasn't another IT platform. There were nice, helpful people involved who cared about your experience. I think this directly led to faster adoption.
So, why wouldn't the same effect work externally?
The way it's set up now, our hosting deal basically turns over a naked Clearspace instance to a prospective community builder. Can we really expect 10-30 people to learn the innards of how to set up Clearspace, and how to run the more technical aspects of a community?
Or, do we want to get one person to help the 10-30 other people, at which point community effects take over?
If the goal is to accelerate social media proficiency, we'll need that "helper" role, won't we?
The same can be said for our community coach. We have a full-time person who's engaging with prospective community builders for internal communities -- getting them comfortable with the idea, overcoming the dozens of concerns people have, helping them get started hands-on, providing feedback, encouragement, and so on.
So, right off the bat, I'm asking for a big chunk of change for shared infrastructure, and two additional headcount to make sure people use it well.
It's unreasonable to expect that someone outside of EMC would interact with one or two communities that we've established. And no one like managing dozens of usernames and passwords.
We'll be investing in extending our existing authentication / registration framework (created for our exisitng portal, Powerlink) to embrace our new gaggle of communities. That'll mean that you can sign up once, and use the same credentials everywhere that makes sense.
I also want to expose participants in one community to other places they might be interested in. Right now, I'm thinking about two or three mechanisms.
Sure, we can have "front pages" that list out the different communities, who might be interested in them, and so on. But, once through that front door, you might not know what else is going on. So I'd like to put some thought into having each external community "promote" in some fashion the other web resources that are available, and encourage people to go take a look.
Now, that's not going to happen organically, is it? So there's another role for our yet-to-be-hired external social media team -- providing a consistent and engaging experience across all of our external communities and web assets.
Getting Good At CoCreation
Community participants have this way of sharing what they'd REALLY like to talk about, which might be not exactly what the internal community sponsor had in mind. In addition to helping everyone at EMC to be as responsive and as flexible as possible, I'm sure we're going to have to help navigate discussions to the right communities, or even drive formation of new communities based on the participants.
Simply put, I think that everyone who ventures outside the firewall -- community sponsor, or part of the overall enablement team -- is going to have their hands very full keeping up with everyone.
Comfort Levels Are Improving
When we started blogging externally, there was a fear that Bad Things Would Happen. Guess what? They haven't. OK, maybe a few minor issues, but certainly not the doom-and-gloom scenario some could envision.
When we built our internal platform, once again there was a very real fear that Bad Things Would Happen. And, once again, they really haven't. As a matter of fact, it's a very civilized, intelligent discussion going on for the most part. Nothing like the prospect of embarassing yourself in front of several thousand of your co-workers to make you think twice before you press the "post" button ...
And, as we go external, I think there's a general acceptance that maybe, this time, Bad Things Won't Happen. The communities are small, they'll be largely "gated" -- you'll know who you're talking to -- and any potential "problem" will be very limited in scope.
As Is An Appreciation For The Effort Involved
At the same time, there's a growing appreciation on just how hard it is to get a community going. On the internal platform, many have tried, and only a few have truly succeeded.
As a matter of fact, we're routinely sending people who want to go external over to the internal platform with the challenge to see if they can get a party going on the internal platform before going outside.
The logic is simple: if you can't get a vibrant community going on a topic across 40,000 EMCers, you certainly won't be successful outside the firewall. A lot of people look at this, and rethink just how much they really want to do it.
During the last few months, a small external community got launched as kind of an experiment. I knew it was going to go stagnant, but there's nothing like a big flaming example just to remind people on how hard these things are. At EMC, it's useful to point to successes. It's also useful to point to failures.
I'll keep you updated as things go from here ...