Creating Engaging Collaborative Communities

Engaging ones employees is important; so important, in fact, that Gallup recently did a study on employee engagement and presented their data in a report entitled “Employee Engagement: What’s Your Engagement Ratio?”   And many companies have taken the bull by the horns when it comes to engaging their employees.   They have set up intranet sites that have become active and vibrant collaborative communities for their employees.  These sites are similar to Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter in that employees can create profiles and others in the company can view these profiles and create discussion forums to enhance collaboration on team projects.   

When taking the first steps to create and implement a collaborative tool, it is important not to overlook the process of understanding who will be using the site.  Many organizations quickly assume that because their site is an intranet, only employees can have access to it.  Consider bringing your business customers into the community in some fashion.  If a customer has had multiple, valuable experiences with organization, they will likely be very willing to engage in your intranet.  This is particularly true for business customers who utilize your business frequently.  When customers feel engaged, they are going to be better stakeholders in all aspects of the relationship because they feel a greater responsibility to the organization.   

The goal of an online community is, ultimately, to improve business.  But because users of collaborative work tools can do anything with these tools, including voice their negative opinions, some companies have paranoia and are afraid to create intranets because they might disseminate negative news.  This fear is the reason that the use and success levels of social media tools in the workplace vary greatly.  Some companies create collaborative areas but do not follow through to make them successful.  On the other hand, some companies have assembled specific personnel to support their efforts and fully embrace social media. 

Done well, online communities can create greater loyalty, greater support, and an improved organization through collaboration.  So why stop at employees?  Why not get your customers involved in the community as well?  Using social media tools in business allows a lot of stakeholders to participate in the process of improving an organization.  There exists a special group of customers who have valuable input to share but have not done so because they do not have the opportunity.  Giving them access to this opportunity through the collaborative tool will allow them to share ideas and generate new ones, making them even more valuable to your organization.  This involvement will improve your business and also give this group of customers a feeling of worth and importance.  Customers who feel involved will promote your company and bring in new customers.  As with employees, the key here is engagement. 

When it comes to engagement, yes, focus on your employees but don’t forget about your business customers in the process.  Special customer groups can add different perspectives to your business practices and, if they are engaged and satisfied, can even bring in new customers who will do the same.  This is, of course, only if you let them do so.  When creating an internal social media network, think of the customers with whom you do business on a regular basis.  You will see that they can be just as much a part of your success as your employees. 

As a business customer, would you appreciate being included in a company’s community? As an organization leader, what could you learn from your regular customers?  Or what have you learned from them in the past?  Have you seen for yourself the difference it can make to have engaged employees?  I’d be interested to hear your stories.

Guest Blog Author

Evan Hackel is the President and Founder of Ingage Consulting, http://www.ingageconsulting.com. Throughout his twenty-five year career, he has seen the need not only for improved engagement but for an understanding of why engagement plays such an important role in any organization.  Evan’s company works closely with the managers and leaders of franchises, co-ops, and buying groups, to help them improve their business practices. Evan can be reached directly at ehackel@ingageconsulting.com.

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