5 Best Practices for Building Successful Enterprise Social Media Communities
Just as the Facebooks and MySpaces of the world help consumers connect and build community, businesses are realizing that these types of online networks can provide great value within and across corporate boundaries. Some of the world's most respected organizations are leveraging the power of user-generated content to create online communities that connect employees, customers, prospects and partners.
As these companies quickly discover that online social media communities and networks bring a host of benefits -- including improved employee collaboration, customer communication and engagement, market research, and new forms of revenue -- they face a few unique challenges. The following is a framework of best practices for companies seeking to get the most out of social media and encourage participation in online communities.
1. Accelerate, give them voice
Many companies are discovering that the quickest way to tap into customers' and employees' thoughts, opinions and interests is to enable them to easily create their own content. Blogs have emerged as a great method to encourage people to share their ideas, but other social media technologies are enhancing this most basic form of content to make it more fun and worthwhile for people to participate. User-generated content can be created through a range of social media tools, such as wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, tags, polls, geographic information and user profiling via social networks, etc.
By giving customers and employees multiple ways to participate, organizations can increase the chances of them interacting or creating content. Whether they feel compelled to post comments about other blog posts, rate content if it was useful to them or contribute knowledge to a wiki, they are interacting with the information and contributing to the intelligence of the entire community.
2. The more content creators, the better
Companies must look to a broad range of people -- employees, partners and customers, for example -- to contribute content. Everyone in a company can contribute insights on both corporate and industry issues; meanwhile, customers or the public at large can join in and provide a unique perspective that can contribute to the community's overall intelligence. Ultimately, this content can be leveraged by a company to foster a robust online information resource for all participants.
3. Encourage abundant, robust discussion
The key for a company is not restricting content but instead encouraging robust communication. A large spread of content helps a company stay open and fluid, guaranteeing more options for calling content out on a community site. With more content, companies can choose from a huge sampling to select the right content for the right audience at the right time, in the right context.
4. Put on the brakes
User-generated content propels communication in an external or internal community, but it also poses a risk of inappropriate content being released. Communities should conform to an established code of conduct, while also being faithful to brand image. Can companies manage this risk and still keep user-generated content flowing freely? Community administrators at companies can manage security, compliance and risk issues by using controls that flag and filter inappropriate content while allowing the vast majority of contributions to fuel various company initiatives.
The right permissioning and authority for your users is vital, and you need to decide which users are trusted and automate their content to be posted immediately to the community, and also which users are not to be trusted and flag their content to be reviewed by an administrator before it's posted.
5. Watch your speed
But what if everyone shows up? Good moderation tools, akin to using a speedometer, can give companies a way to watch for content, whether good or bad. The key here is that companies not only want to see what people are writing about them, but they want to be able to interact with this content and be able to use it in the most meaningful way. For instance, a company can augment content by doing a variety of social media activities -- like adding live links or tagging to existing content by linking to product Web sites or other informative company content like webcasts or customer interviews -- to make it more informative for community members, while also increasing SEO.
Integrating social media into business practices is no longer a nice bonus feature -- it is a critical component of a company's culture, one that helps it become more transparent both internally and to the public. Online communities built on user-generated content can generate huge results. If content is leveraged at the right time, it can be used to open the lines of communication among employees, build bridges to customers and attract more business. A company can use it to make Enterprise 2.0 a reality by turning content creators -- namely partners, prospects and customers -- into stronger champions of its purpose and mission.
Eric Schurr is vice president of marketing and direct sales for Awareness Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based company that provides social network software and enterprise social media solutions. Reach Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at http://ericschurr.awarenessnetworks.com