Strategies for building successful social networks

Hint: It takes a lot of work

Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder at The Community Roundtable, an organization that helps companies build enterprise social communities, explained the key factors in building successful ones in a session last week at the Gilbane Conference in Boston.

She says that first of all, you have to find a place where the network offers its greatest value. If the network is generating what she called "crap content," then it isn't providing the organization with the greatest value. She says you need to find that point where engagement and value come together. Exactly what that is will be different for each organization, but finding it is key.

In order to find that spot, you can't just build a social network and invite the entire organization to join. The most successful rollouts are delivered slowly and deliberately, and within those slow rollouts, you offer waves of functionality instead of trying to deliver every bell and whistle right away. Happe emphasized that this was not about volume; it's about behavior change and therefore it's important to start small and simply and build from that. 

Once you have a community in place, you have to understand the dynamics and that good communities build slowly. Just as you layer on functionality and add more people over time, the community building process is a slow train gaining steam. You have to invest time and money up front when the rewards may not be apparent immediately, but as the community grows and more people participate, the value proposition will become much clearer.

And remember, simply going through the tool selection process and setting up a pilot program is not enough. It's just beginning of a long process. She says it requires good modeling, community management, training and time. "A lot of things go into building a successful social network," Happe explained.

Finally, Happe suggests having a clear vision for the community and that means defining success metrics up front. She suggests thinking very carefully about what you want to get out of this. She says if you're not clear, your focus will be splintered and you will be less likely to be successful.

Overall, enterprise social networks and communities don't build themselves. They take work and very deliberate planning, but when you build a good one and it works, it can reap rewards for an organization by providing a more streamlined communication channel.

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