Enabling Peer Collaboration Using Social Networks

technologyA friend from the UK writes to ask me how she might help her somewhat traditional trade association see the value of using a social networking application to facilitate communications between association members, and maybe also as a way to encourage new members to participate. Trade associations are a perfect type of organization to employ social networking tools to encourage conversations and build digital relationships. Here are some potential next steps.

Keep the Technology Part Simple

In situations where people aren’t exactly techies, keep the energy on the benefits of collaboration and cross-team communication. To that end, I recommend a simple but functional platform like Ning, or if it has to be managed inside the firewall, maybe something like Clearspace or Mzinga.

Build It Out A Bit

Starting with a big empty platform is scary. I recommend building out a few user accounts for some members, and maybe finding a few “friendlies” to build a profile and start messaging back and forth. It always feels easier to understand when you can see real world examples of members using the system. Round up about a half dozen people who might be more inclined to “get it,” help them build an account, add a user pic, etc, and then send a few messages back and forth. Then, when you display and/or demonstrate to the member base, they will see “themselves” in it.

Make a Screencast

Use a software like Jing to shoot a quick screencast of the features and functionality. Keep it to under two minutes. The point of this is, “It’s easier to see how it works than read about it.”

Assist with Sign Ups and 10 Minute Trainings

Tool adoption for a group who aren’t especially tech happy comes down to comfort levels. One way to counter this is to assist by taking a few days to help members sign up, even if this is done remotely via email and phone. Once they’re signed up, consider a step-by-step training. Even if you made a document with 100 screen captures, pointing out which buttons to click in which order, and distributed that widely, that would be a step in the right direction.

Drive Some Marketing Attention Towards the New Platform

Finally, start making it part of the organizational process. In a newsletter, instead of referring back to an email address for questions about a new program, point to the new forums in the new social network, and invite people to post questions there. Add a prominent link on the main website. Add the new social network to email signature files. Send out a little insert in the next paper mail drive. The point is, get people to know it’s there.

It’s About the People

The secret about tech is that it’s always about the people. In speaking with groups about how their social network isn’t quite taking off in the organization, I’m often told about all the features, but never about how it was integrated into the flow of a given employee’s day. That’s the key.

Do you have any other recommendations for Laura?

Photo credit, Jaye_Elle

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

Get the entire series by subscribing to this blog, and subscribe to my free newsletter here.

ChrisBrogan.com runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Theme Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. Whether you're a novice or advanced developer, Genesis provides you with the secure and search-engine-optimized foundation that takes WordPress to places you never thought it could go.

With automatic theme updates and world-class support included, Genesis is the smart choice for your WordPress website or blog.

Become a StudioPress Affiliate

  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis McDonald

    Everything you say is true Chris but trade associations have a distributed governance model that may restrict the success of traditional bottom up or viral approaches. Top level commitment and interest will be a key otherwise individual efforts may wither on the vine.

    Dennis McDonald
    Alexandria, Virginia
    http://www.ddmcd.com

  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis McDonald

    Everything you say is true Chris but trade associations have a distributed governance model that may restrict the success of traditional bottom up or viral approaches. Top level commitment and interest will be a key otherwise individual efforts may wither on the vine.

    Dennis McDonald
    Alexandria, Virginia
    http://www.ddmcd.com

  • http://www.successful-blog.com Liz Strauss

    Know that you’ll never be in complete control and that’s okay. Folks will use a service we offer in ways that we would never expect. They’ll invent back doors and crossroads, finding more efficient ways to connect. That’s a good thing. For folks to be social they need to feel that the place is partly their own and that they have room/permission to explore and behave as they naturally do.

  • http://www.successful-blog.com Liz Strauss

    Know that you’ll never be in complete control and that’s okay. Folks will use a service we offer in ways that we would never expect. They’ll invent back doors and crossroads, finding more efficient ways to connect. That’s a good thing. For folks to be social they need to feel that the place is partly their own and that they have room/permission to explore and behave as they naturally do.

  • http://laurelpapworth.com LaurelPapworth

    Monkey see. Monkey do. At least with Enterprise 2.0 employee communities. I. E. If the CEO blogs, great! But if the leaders/managers are not engaged, it will be twice as hard, because there will be no peering up. Make sure stakeholders understand and commit to level of engagement with community.

  • http://silkcharm.blogspot.com laurel papworth

    Monkey see. Monkey do. At least with Enterprise 2.0 employee communities. I. E. If the CEO blogs, great! But if the leaders/managers are not engaged, it will be twice as hard, because there will be no peering up. Make sure stakeholders understand and commit to level of engagement with community.

  • http://www.sleepydog.net Toby Moores

    Start with Social.

    Many of the benefits of social networks behind the firewall come from loose ties. If I am in finance and I have a cool idea for marketing I am unlikely to lob an email in to the marketing department. If however, I play poker with, or share an interest in dogs with a marketing manager, I am much more likely to run it by them.

    So start with the social uses and let people find their own opportunities. ‘Build it out a bit’ definitely helps in this regard. You gotta prime the pump.

  • http://www.sleepydog.net Toby Moores

    Start with Social.

    Many of the benefits of social networks behind the firewall come from loose ties. If I am in finance and I have a cool idea for marketing I am unlikely to lob an email in to the marketing department. If however, I play poker with, or share an interest in dogs with a marketing manager, I am much more likely to run it by them.

    So start with the social uses and let people find their own opportunities. ‘Build it out a bit’ definitely helps in this regard. You gotta prime the pump.

  • http://www.thesocialorganization.com Rachel Happe

    I give people the advice that they should start small – either horizontally or vertically. What I mean by that is either find a small passionate team that have the enthusiasm or passion to contribute original content, discuss topics, link to each other, etc. or start with simple functionality like ratings and comments (a blog for example) where people can ‘participate’ but it won’t take a lot of time to do so. Once a smaller effort is successful people will see that and feel like it is worth expanding either by including more people or giving users more features and functionality.

  • http://www.thesocialorganization.com Rachel Happe

    I give people the advice that they should start small – either horizontally or vertically. What I mean by that is either find a small passionate team that have the enthusiasm or passion to contribute original content, discuss topics, link to each other, etc. or start with simple functionality like ratings and comments (a blog for example) where people can ‘participate’ but it won’t take a lot of time to do so. Once a smaller effort is successful people will see that and feel like it is worth expanding either by including more people or giving users more features and functionality.

  • http://www.richnicheblogging.com/members/ Julie

    Social groups are like parties or dinners, a few games are always good to break the ice and get the flow happening. Polls can work especially if they are entertaining and appeal to all comers.Trivia questions with a call for responses and maybe even a prize for something. Simple word games, complete the limerick or continue the story type of threads for blogs or forums are easy to contribute to. The simpler and sillier they are the better as all it takes sometimes is to not make people feel like fools compared to others, so if the topic is silly then everyone is, so no one feels like a dummy.

    If a profile is required, active encouragement is sometimes needed such as paired peer to peer education or some kind of organised involvement to get people started. There will always be some people who don’t want to play and some who will enjoy and continue with it. Start with something fun. Most people like facebook for the games they can share.

    Even most new computer owners learn to use a mouse by playing solitaire! The serious stuff can follow when people feel more comfortable. Might take a bit of effort at first but as you say a big empty platform is “scary”

  • http://www.richnicheblogging.com/members/ Julie

    Social groups are like parties or dinners, a few games are always good to break the ice and get the flow happening. Polls can work especially if they are entertaining and appeal to all comers.Trivia questions with a call for responses and maybe even a prize for something. Simple word games, complete the limerick or continue the story type of threads for blogs or forums are easy to contribute to. The simpler and sillier they are the better as all it takes sometimes is to not make people feel like fools compared to others, so if the topic is silly then everyone is, so no one feels like a dummy.

    If a profile is required, active encouragement is sometimes needed such as paired peer to peer education or some kind of organised involvement to get people started. There will always be some people who don’t want to play and some who will enjoy and continue with it. Start with something fun. Most people like facebook for the games they can share.

    Even most new computer owners learn to use a mouse by playing solitaire! The serious stuff can follow when people feel more comfortable. Might take a bit of effort at first but as you say a big empty platform is “scary”

  • http://www.pistachioconsulting.com Laura “Pistachio” Fitton

    Be interesting.

    Seriously, plant some seeds. Create/name/find/develop a compelling reason for them to adopt whatever you build. There has to be something to DO, and preferably something they will want to keep doing. What is the payoff? What’s the benefit to them?

    People don’t use new applications just to use new applications, they use them because there’s something interesting to do or learn or achieve.

    It’s never the playscape structure, it’s the experience of going wheeeee down a slide. Show them one cool thing to do, and make it sticky. Then , when they keep coming back for that “payoff” (the sticky thing) guide them towards kicking the rest of the tires.

  • http://www.pistachioconsulting.com Laura “Pistachio” Fitton

    Be interesting.

    Seriously, plant some seeds. Create/name/find/develop a compelling reason for them to adopt whatever you build. There has to be something to DO, and preferably something they will want to keep doing. What is the payoff? What’s the benefit to them?

    People don’t use new applications just to use new applications, they use them because there’s something interesting to do or learn or achieve.

    It’s never the playscape structure, it’s the experience of going wheeeee down a slide. Show them one cool thing to do, and make it sticky. Then , when they keep coming back for that “payoff” (the sticky thing) guide them towards kicking the rest of the tires.

  • Pingback: Full Circle Associates » Chris Brogan on Enabling Peer Collaboration Using Social Networks

  • http://www.savetubevideo.com youtube downloader

    The secret about tech is that it’s always about the people. In speaking with groups about how their social network isn’t quite taking off in the organization, I’m often told about all the features, but never about how it was integrated into the flow of a given employee’s day. That’s the key.