Building vibrant communities within the enterprise

Two weeks ago I did the opening keynote session at KongressMedia's latest Enterprise 2.0 Forum in Germany. They are running a sequence of events on the topic, with good, practical case studies, reaching a high quality audience. This last session had contributions from ABB, Deutsche Lufthansa, Bayer Business Services , T-Systems Multimedia Solutions, Frauenhofer Institute and Vodafone. Sadly it was all in German, except for my pitch, so I ended the day with a headache from concentrating, but not understanding enough - my 'O' Level German was too long ago!

My own session was all about building better web communities using our project at The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales as a case study. I need to acknowledge the input on the presentation from Dennis Howlett of AccMan and ZDnet fame, and Philip Woodgate, Business Systems Partner at Goodman Jones. Both have been involved as consultants on the project, and both helped with the ideas for the session. There's a certain symmetry involved in this team, as Dennis was the key person to get me involved in blogging back in 2005, and then, in turn, I was probably the main trigger to talk Philip in to blogging when he started.

Because I was presenting on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, it seemed only fitting I should open with him. I used the Dawkins quote:

"The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is, in principle, capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity."

We've been communicating, collaborating and forming social networks since the stone age. We do this "organized complexity" because it is effective, we do it because it works.

Our own findings on community building are in line with Francois Gossieux's excellent Tribalization of Business study from last year, and our best practices match with those in Jeremiah Owyang's report. We've distilled our ideas and findings in to a methodology for successful implementation of web communities that we call SWITCH. That's an acronym that stands for:

Start with the end in mind

What's in it for me?

Intuitive and simple

Technology supporting not leading

Community management

Help and support

The first two are absolutely vital. I see too many social media projects that are technology led, with no clear business purpose defined. Then if you haven't put yourselves in to the shoes of your target audience, and make sure there are a good reasons why they should turn up, consume and contribute, your community will fail. As you are building your community, the important things to focus on are the number of visitors, the number of active users, and how often people post and comment - the conversations. The measures that the old style, traditional online marketeers focus on like page views and time on the site just aren't relevant. Number of comments is a much better guide to the influence of the post author than merely page views. The key measure that we watch to gauge the success of a community is the comment to post ratio. If it is at least 2 to 1 comments to posts or better, then the community is doing well and heading towards being self sustaining. However, for any community, the top two areas of difficulty are generally attracting new members and community management. Most people underestimate, often quite dramatically, the effort involved to start and keep the community going. Francois' survey corroborates this when they found the two biggest obstacles to making communities work were getting people to engage, and the time involved for proper community management.

Here are the slides - feel free to download and use them under the terms defined there.

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