Building Communities & Content-The First Half of your Social Business Marathon


Share on LinkedIn

We are reaching the half way point in our social business marathon. To get past that milestone we need to start building communities and content that our users will interact with.

The concept of a community is not new of course – we live in one ourselves, we work in one and we probably have many other communities that in our lives we are members of. At work, if you look closely you will realise that you are a member of many different communities – some related to your immediate work and colleagues, others related to your department, building, length of service, gender, age and so on.

Your membership of different communities is much like a complicated Venn diagram, with you in the middle.

It makes sense to us as humans and social animals at heart to organise ourselves in communities. It makes sense therefore to organise our social collaboration along the same lines.

This is a fundamental departure, however, from the traditional intranet. In most intranets the structure is dictated by the organization tree. The intention – well meaning though it is – is to represent the organization online in a structure which management would have you recognize and understand.

The following diagram is often a typical representation of what a corporate intranet looks like:


The structure is arranged to the management’s understanding of how the organization works – not the way that individuals actually work. As a result you, the poor employee, are left to navigate your way around different structures, nomenclature and designs to find what you’re looking for.

A better solution is to organise ourselves around the community model:


Putting you in the middle of the communities you use makes much more sense and means that the groups of people that come together to work on a common purpose are able to do so without having to span the organization tree to do so.

So, instead of trying to reproduce the organization – or management’s perception of how the organization looks – you should consider the work that people actually do and look to connect them:


Imaging bringing the different project management disciplines in your organization together (yellow represents IT, grey Special Projects, Blue Production) into a Project Management Best Practice Community. Each “department” still focuses on its own areas but a number of key improvements take place:

  1. The people associated with the different project areas are now known to each other;

  2. The knowledge these people have can be exchanged freely;

  3. The cross-pollination of ideas, approaches, concepts and best-practices happen easily.

Combine this approach with the concept of “working out loud” and suddenly you have an “information reactor” where “knowledge collisions” happen constantly – generating the heat of progress and productivity. OK – I can take a metaphor a little too far, but you get the idea. Break down the silos of knowledge that are all around your organization. Bring the people together and they will bring their knowledge. And by sharing that knowledge you build your organization’s expertise, quality and productivity.

So, hopefully I have sold you on the concept of using communities and not necessarily following the principal of replicating the organization tree. How do you get a community going?

If you remember back to your High School prom days, you might (like me) remember the huge gulf down the centre of the gym hall – no man’s land – which separated the girls from the boys. The early part of the prom would be spent with music blaring out, lights flashing and the two magnetic poles of boys and girls kept well apart. Normally it takes a few brave souls to cross no-man’s land and eventually you end up with some folks in the middle. Before long the party has started and everyone is enjoying themselves.


Are your staff wallflowers in your communities?

Getting a community going is a lot like a High School prom. You need a few brave souls to get it going. Sure there will always be some at the edges who prefer to watch than participate but you can’t change human nature. In a Social Business the job of professional party-starter is the Community Manager.

The Community Manager gets the job of provoking conversation, driving an agenda, recommending, feeding-back and generally providing energy to the “party”. Like the best party host(ess) they need to have enthusiasm for the job in hand and at the beginning at least work to get the participants in the community working together. It’s at this stage that your social business strategy meets business requirements and business processes.

Let me illustrate how this would work with an example. Earlier I described how the organization tree keeps different groups of people doing the same job apart – in this case people involved in projects. Your business might have realized that it needs to become more productive or needs to improve the quality of its service. It might have challenges with an ageing workforce in, say, production, and a young and inexperienced workforce in IT. Your business issue therefore might be described as a need to improve the quality of customer service. You examine the areas where customer service is impacted and find that IT and Production are key to that improvement. You bring these department areas together into an overall Community called, say “Project Management Best Practices” and put a community manager in charge of sharing the best practices of Production with those of IT.

The Community Manager decides to create sub-communities inside the “Project Management Best Practices” community to give each of the areas of the business a place they can conduct business specific to them:


In the centre of the intersection is the area of content which is of interest to each of the groups. It is this area where the fruits of the Community Manager’s efforts will be seen. The Community Manager engages with each of the constituencies with a program of effort to get from them their knowledge, processes and other information. Once this is documented in a standard way – for the benefit of the individual department – the commonalities between each can be introduced into the “Hub” for the development of best practice.

Each individual part of the “Project Management Best Practices” community – in this case “IT”, “Special Projects” and “Production” might have their own community manager, each of whom focus on getting the sub-community organized in a way which makes sense to them. The overall Community Manager works with the individuals to bring this content together into a form which others can share.

A simple example of this is the idea of working out loud. By that I mean the encouragement of individuals in the community posting status updates centrally to report on what they are working on, or on the status of a particular project or issue. Rather than simply posting that information into their own sub-community you might choose, as the Community Manager, to have each of the three constituencies post to a central status update list. You might ask each group to use a common format of hash tags, such as the customer name, the project number or something similar. This simple standardisation of “news” amongst the project practitioners in different parts of the organization can result in some startling results.

You might suddenly discover that by implementing hash tags in status updates which reflect the customer’s name that “knowledge collisions” start to happen. Suddenly IT discovers that Projects are working with a particular customer. Searching on a hash tag of, say, #AcmeCorp, throws up Special Projects’ latest update and IT’s biggest customer issue. This “information reactor” is already starting to produce results. Suddenly the ability of the organization to make a more informed decision about some small issue or piece of work might be influenced by the inadvertent collision of two apparently unrelated, but in fact connected pieces of information.

It is in this way that the business benefits of working socially and organizing yourselves to harness the knowledge and expertise that your organization has but which your organization tree discourages can be found.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Hamilton
I believe social business is a new way for organizations of all sizes to form stronger working relationships within themselves and with their customers and partners. By demonstrating how any organization can become more open, responsible, compassionate and flexible I can show that staff and customer satisfaction increases, morale improves and better business results come.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here