We have all seen the power of social and community. People come together and the result is something unified and powerful and greater than the sum of its parts. I’m always inspired when I see the dynamic things a strong community can accomplish. It’s a force leaders must create in their enterprises. Community is about people communicating and bonding, pooling their strengths and talents to deliver amazing performance. To make it happen, leaders have some exciting new tools in the form of social media, digital networks and big data. The question becomes: how do I harness these tools to build the right kind of communities for my company?
Here are 5 steps to community building in the social enterprise:
1) Pick the right technology. Yes, the technological tools are dazzling, but communities at heart are about people. Don’t get blinded by the bells and whistles that many companies are selling. Stay focused on what you need to build strong communities that serve your company’s needs. Avoid anything extraneous. Basic is often best. Caveat: many start-ups and technology companies are filled with geeks who love to play with complicated new techo-toys, in fact they form communities around the tools.
2) Define your communities. You want to build internal and external communities that include employees, customers, partners and stakeholders. Ask each group what they need and want in a community. Don’t impose, keep an open mind and respond. You want communities of purpose with clear objectives and benefits for all parties.
3) Let the information flow. It’s frustrating for community members to be denied the information they need to thrive. Unless it’s truly crucial to keep private, be an open book with your information. This empowers everyone, and makes them feel a part of the enterprise. And it gives them the tools they need to brainstorm and innovate. Information is power.
4) Provide cultural support. A lot of “old economy” companies have a hard time integrating new technologies – and the communities they enable and empower — into their organizational DNA. It’s no good to say you want thriving communities, and then pay no attention to them, or deny them the resources they need. Whether you’re an established enterprise or a start-up, make sure that your communities are supported and acknowledged. Don’t micro-manage them, you want to give them the freedom to create that special synergy that breeds innovation and results.
5) Measure what your communities accomplish. There’s nothing touchy-feely about communities. I’ve talked with countless leaders who seem to have this perception at first. They’re about using technology to build unity, morale, performance and profit. Devise common sense measures that allow you track outcomes from your communities. If a community isn’t delivering value to the enterprise, it shouldn’t exist.
I’m passionate about communities for a simple reason: they work. When people are part of a thriving community of purpose, they feed off each other’s talents, feel connected to the company, and become committed to delivering great results. And communities are fun, lively places, digital and live forums that bring out our best selves. What’s not to love?
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com on 5/26/2013.