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Commentary

What Enterprise Social Networks Lack: Purpose

Communities based on shared interests are fine for consumer social networks. At work, only a community of purpose is worth our time.
Next Steps

As is the case with many technology and change-management initiatives, there is a general formula for success when implementing social networking technology for employee collaboration. We recommend four key areas of focus to implement a community of purpose.

1. Targeted Business & User Value: Focus on a particular area, such as one that can produce measurable cost savings in a targeted expense area (such as travel, benefits or office equipment). Another could be the development of apps for a particular technology platform. Focus on concrete goals, like a discussion area on how to reduce customer wait times by 50% in 12 months. State the purpose of the community clearly to both the business and the user community audience. Measurable results can then serve as fertile ground for launching other communities.

2. Inventory Current State & Interest: Regularly conduct candid assessments of the intended community-of-purpose participants about their perceptions of the value of participating in the community and how well the technology is working for them. For example, ask about:

-- the cost-benefit of time invested;
-- unexpected benefits, like growing their internal network or connecting with people they may not have otherwise, ties that ended up helping them in some other way; and
-- their tolerance for automated, community-driven selection of output, such as voting that lifts some comments above others.

Take these factors into account as you assess which community attributes have the highest likelihood of success. Does the community like voting and commenting, or using game theory techniques, stock trading or prediction markets? Is the community benefiting from community involvement? These will all help in determining the appropriate approach for the community-of-purpose initiative.

3. Small, Demonstrable Steps: A short (two- to six-week), focused program for a broader audience (e.g., innovation program for a specific product or business) or focused area with a specific business purpose (e.g., improving account management) is well-suited for the introduction of a community of purpose. Once a company succeeds with a community, it can establish another. Open-ended challenges about the "next big thing" don't work -- they're a community without a purpose

4. Review & Refine: Continually collect meaningful empirical data in terms of engagement, results and feedback and incorporate this into future refinements of the community of purpose. Having hard data will make it easier to show the value the community of purpose is delivering to the enterprise. For example, if there is a rumor about who is/isn't participating in a particular community, or if feedback tells you one thing but the data tells you another, you'll be equipped with numbers to state the facts.

Mary Lou Tierney is strategic technologist with The MITRE Corp., where she evaluates and implements emerging technology.