Increase Social Capital in Your Enterprise Social Network
Yesterday, we posted about how community designers should strive to optimize an enterprise social network to create “social capital”, which results in a vibrant community of both listening and posting. The goal is not to focus on a ratio of posters to listeners or worry about the number of messages; rather, it is to ensure that a community is valuable to all members regardless of their role. With the notion of optimizing the overall value of a community in mind, there are a variety of best practices that community designers can employ to increase the social capital of a network. These will keep the network relevant and useful to every individual without creating the information overload that distracts and deters active usage and listening. Additionally, they will help incentivize users to climb the ladder of participation and move from inactive user to a listener candidate, and then between active listener and active poster roles. While it’s best to plan for these activities during the Community Design phase, the administrators, moderators and social leaders running a live community on an ongoing basis will need to provide ample help in ensuring that they happen.
Create a Network of Practice – Not a Network of Information-Sharing
A successful enterprise social network must be used for more than just status updates. Data shows that networks of practice that enable participants to share know-how, help each other, launch and work on projects, and that generally relate to practical activities have fewer lurkers and more active users (83.8% lurkers in a network of practice vs. 51.6% in a network of sharing in this particular study). While sharing basic status updates is important, companies must enable employees to support daily work activities in the network. Less chatter, and more project-related updates, should be promoted.
Enable Task-Oriented Groups
Community designers should promote the immediate use of groups upon deploying the network to employees. When there is a high degree of correspondence between a user’s personal specialty or interests and the discussion topics in a network, members easily shift from inactive lurkers to active lurkers. Furthermore, it has been noted that the same lurkers in some online networks are actually posters in others. Enabling team-based, role-based and interest-based groups will help users find a “home” to share information more easily than with a catch-all network with no segmentation. Groups provide the context, security and like-minded employee connections to empower users to become active.
Use In-Person Gatherings to Complement Network Participation
To increase the value and extent of an enterprise social network inside a company, community designers should intentionally launch face-to-face meetings between participants. By bringing network participants together, leaders can facilitate the creation of social capital and thereby make users more comfortable interacting inside the network with newfound allies and friends. It has been noted that the existence of social network participants around a lurker causes the lurker to become an active lurker. By helping promote in-person relationships and the discussion of important topics in real-life, network leaders increase the chance that users will choose to actively monitor online discussions and possibly participate. A great example is from the Philips All-Employee Jam.
Demonstrate Meaningful Executive Activity and Support
Executives must weigh their roles carefully when participating in enterprise networks. Sharing information may be taken as a mandate by the masses, and may have implications far beyond the original intention due to the weight of their words in the organization. However, it is imperative that executives use the network in a meaningful, appropriate manner to signal desired use as perceived behavior of senior executives plays a significant role in determining how cooperative teams are prepared to be. Using the network to show support for its use, or for mass communications that would have previously been sent via email to the entire company, are good first steps.
Allow for the Cultivation of Informal Networks
To increase the sense of community in the network, allow informal groups to form by employees. Whether it’s a sports team or affinity group, informal networks serve to gratify members’ personal interests while strengthening their ties to the network overall. At the same time, these informal networks should be encouraged to form as a complement to main work activity groups so that uncertain users are not discouraged by personal information.
Make Participation a Side Effect – Lower the Barriers to Use
Community designers may find it beneficial to allow users to participate in the network with little effort, essentially making participation a side effect of other activities. When users may not be comfortable composing and posting original messages, they may be comfortable with simpler activities where the content that they are creating is already established (such as blog posts and Twitter updates). Encourage users to integrate their other appropriate web activities into the network and to post relevant links already on the web, making contributing seamless and automatic.
Help Employees Feel Positive About Using Network-Generated Content at Work
When a user has a strong, positive attitude about the practical use of information inside an enterprise social network, he or she is likely to begin actively listening to the network. Employees who believe that the network provides valuable information for use in daily work are more likely to actively read, digest, and use information from it. Companies should embrace and promote using information in this way in order to actively engage employees. This may be in the form of executive sponsorship or company-wide launch activities. For inspiration, visit case studies from SAS and Humana.
Find the Catalysts
In every enterprise social network, there will be people and topics that spur activity and a flurry of discussion. Finding these catalysts is important as using them strategically will help strengthen your network as an entity and as an influential piece of your communication strategy.
By employing some of these best practices in community design, companies launching an enterprise social network can optimize the community to provide value for both individuals and the company while also providing the foundation for guiding users to engage in a way that is meaningful and valuable.
, , , , ,  Masamichi Takahashi, Masakazu Fujimoto, and Nobuhiro Yamasaki. 2003. The active lurker: influence of an in-house online community on its outside environment. In Proceedings of the 2003 international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work (GROUP ’03). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1-10. DOI=10.1145/958160.958162 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/958160.958162
 Erickson, Tamara and Gratton, Linda, Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams. In Harvard Business Review, November, 2007.
 Jakob Neilsen’s Alertbox, http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html