We technologists, business executives and marketers are fans of a well-crafted buzzword that means nothing but embodies everything. Phrases like "the cloud," "web service" and "web 2.0" escape easily through our lips and effortlessly from our keyboards to fill pages of blogs and hours of conferences. Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another term to stir those feelings, enterprise 2.0 is growing up and taking center stage. 

Enterprise 2.0: It’s All About Community

Most business leaders do not care about social networking -- especially at the office. For many it evokes images of idle employees exchanging celebrity gossip on Facebook or Twitter. Despite the skepticism, the use of web 2.0 social and collaboration technologies have expanded into the enterprise, been rebranded enterprise 2.0 and, according to analysts, are having a positive impact. Organizations are using enterprise 2.0 to foster deeper relationships with customers, partners, employees and suppliers, which often lead to improvements in collaboration, agility, innovation and productivity. A 2010 study by McKinsey & Company showed the majority of respondents that have embraced enterprise 2.0 are experiencing benefits across multiple dimensions and audiences.

Improvements from enterprise 2.0
Improvements from enterprise 2.0 (source McKinsey & Company)

This study and others demonstrate there is value in enterprise 2.0, but why does it work? 

Enterprise 2.0 is implemented using relatively new technology, but it actually works because of concepts much older and primal (but no less complex) -- human interaction and engagement. Enterprise 2.0 allows information to flow more smoothly and allows for more dynamic and spontaneous communication. Social and collaboration technologies enable us to form virtual communities and feel more connected. Although the communities may be virtual, the impacts that spill into the real world are tangible. At its core, enterprise 2.0 is not about the tools; technology is just an enabler to facilitate something we’ve been doing for a long time: Organizing ourselves in groups.

Characteristics, Strategies for a Successful Community

At its core, a community is a relationship between a group of individuals brought together through a shared set of interests. Though most people have some desire to engage and interact, this does not mean that companies can just throw up some messaging software or engage an enterprise 2.0 vendor and wait for the magic to happen.

Do You Really Have a Community?

An enterprise community requires more. CMSWire discussed the characteristics of great enterprise social communities and the strategies organizations can leverage to make their communities successful with Telligent’s SVP Client Services, Cecilia R. Edwards. According to Edwards, successful enterprise communities, whether internally or externally focused, have nine key attributes:

  • Identifiable business objectives
  • An emphasis on being personal
  • A culture of belonging
  • Major source of relevant content
  • Leverage the wisdom of the crowd
  • Influential members are highlighted
  • Reward with pixels, not pennies
  • Establish and enforce guidelines
  • Membership has its privileges

This list isn’t in order of importance, but having a measurable business objective does happen to be one of the more important characteristics of company-owned social communities. The business objective should be as concrete as possible and not a nebulous concept like "be more social." Without a true objective, any attempt to create a community will flounder as assumptions and competing interests eventually create a disjointed environment.

Another important factor is that the community environment provides the structure, process and mechanisms to make members feel welcome and confident in how to engage. Edwards recommends employing a membership lifecycle model with clear guidelines on how members are treated as they matriculate through the various stages.
Membership lifecycle model
Membership lifecycle model

This is closely tied to the concept of selectivity. Enterprise communities should have some level of exclusivity and benefits that encourage members to join. If the general public and members have the same content/features, level of interaction and access to your organization, there is little incentive for anyone to make the effort to become a member.
Membership should have its benefits
Membership should have its benefits

Making Your Community a Success

Knowing how to recognize a successful corporate social community is one thing, but creating your own is quite another. Like other business programs, establishing a successful social community requires commitment, strategy and consistent execution. 

Edwards identified seven activities critical for enterprise social community success:

  • Weave objectives into company fabric
  • Develop a picture of success early
  • Plan the users’ second visit
  • Design for member ownership
  • Execute in waves
  • Drive adoption
  • Establish the right team to drive success

Although many of these activities may seem obvious once articulated, they are common sources of failed social efforts. In fact, many organizations overlook or haphazardly implement what should be one of the most obvious steps, creating a team to drive adoption. They fail to build a complete team or appoint an owner that has ultimate responsibility for the success of the community. According to Edwards,

I think one of the interesting things is everyone in the company wants to have some level of participation, so people often forget to have an owner. There is a lot of change management that needs to go on to make sure it fits with your company culture and things of that nature. You really do need to have an owner and a community manager."

If the right team does not exist, it will be impossible to do all of the other things that drive the success of your community.

Another common mistake organizations make is not defining how they will recognize and measure success. If you do not define measurable goals, establish how and when information will be collected to track progress towards those goals and appoint someone responsible for measurement, it will be impossible to know if your organization’s social efforts are having the intended impact. Going down the wrong path due to lack of visibility is an easy way to misuse valuable resources.

Want to learn more about creating a successful enterprise social community? Look at this excerpt from our interview:

Are you in the process of building or refining an enterprise social community? What lessons have you learned? We would love for you to share them with us.