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Next-generation communities—Part 3 Eight ways to engage employees in communities at work

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Technology is a critical enabler of virtual communities, but people are what make communities work. For communities to deliver real business value, you need employees to join, engage in conversations and keep coming back. And despite Silicon Valley chatter about organic collaboration and self-forming networks, leading organizations know that you can’t take a “set it and forget it” approach. Business-focused enterprise communities require ongoing direction and support to keep members engaged.

In its “Next-Generation Communities of Practice” research, member-based nonprofit APQC identified eight strategies that top organizations use to make employees aware of communities and get them excited about participating. Those strategies range from change management fundamentals that work for almost any knowledge management initiative to innovative tactics based on social media marketing and advanced analytics.

1. Integrate communities into onboarding and training

Employees are most open and impressionable when they first join an organization. New hires are also in a great position to benefit from communities that allow them to access learning resources, ask questions and connect with their new colleagues. For these reasons, leading organizations use onboarding as an opportunity to hook employees on communities right away.

A good example of this approach is chemicals company Nalco Water, which actively promotes communities during the new-hire process and educates employees about communities in many of its training courses. During onboarding sessions, employees are provided with a list of communities along with recommendations from a KM team member on which they should join. Trainers also receive information on relevant communities to share with their trainees.

2. Secure executive support and participation

Endorsements from senior leaders lend credibility to the community program and convey its importance to the organization, which in turn promotes buy-in across the workforce. Many organizations bake in leadership involvement by creating executive champion or sponsor roles to provide strategic guidance and actively encourage participation in communities.

Other organizations take an even more strategic approach to solicit executive support. For example, a financial services organization that participated in APQC’s research has a targeted scheme to solicit and leverage senior leaders’ support. Its KM office identifies areas of the business that are underrepresented in the community program. It then sends the executive sponsor of the KM team out to engage with executives from those areas, explain how communities can help their areas and bring them on board.

3. Build your community brand

Creating a brand for your organization’s communities brings a lot of benefits. It builds excitement, entices prospective community members to get involved, creates a sense of ownership and empowers your marketing and communications efforts. For new community programs, a recognizable brand can help set expectations and build trust (assuming that the groups represented under the brand live up to the promise). A branding campaign can also breathe new life into existing community programs.

In 2015, nonprofit Management Sciences for Health rebranded its communities, called technical exchange networks (TENs), to make their role more visible across the enterprise. An oversight committee developed a refreshed online appearance and icons (see Figure 1) to represent each network.

Management Sciences for Health also leverages branding to promote in-person community events. For example, it created branded banners to promote “TEN day,” a monthly event where community members at the organization’s headquarters discuss topics that have generated buzz or differences of opinion in the virtual communities.

According to Management Sciences for Health’s oversight committee, the rebranding effort helped raise awareness of TENs among leaders and employees. In fact, executives have begun to tout the organization’s virtual communities as a competitive differentiator.

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