Community building inside a company
September 11, 2006 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Looking for reports about (or people working with) closed online communities inside companies.

I have the opportunity to make a 1 hour presentation to the top brass of a company about the benefits of creating an online community for (and with) their employees. This is a very successful company with branch offices all over the world. They use email extensively but have no experience with blogs, forums, wikis or the simple idea of an online community. They are asking me "why" they should do it and "what" positive effects it will have on their company if they do it.
Intranet based communities are by definition closed, so maybe this is why I didn't find anything significant with Google or AskMe.
Any example or contact with people involved in similar projects would be appreciated.
posted by bru to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
By "closed online communities," do you perhaps mean an intranet? If so, the benefits aren't difficult to determine. In fact there seems to be plenty of information out there.
posted by majick at 6:31 AM on September 11, 2006

I've been involved with two blog/forum type intranet sites -- one officially sanctioned, the other not.

The officially sanctioned one is utterly lame and next-to-useless. Information is a commodity within companies, and often your job depends on marshalling the flow of it, and your powerbase can be constructed on it. No matter how much good it will do the company, people aren't going to throw that around for free.

They're not going to do it on an unofficial one either, but they will gossip an awful lot, which is great for them and probably good for the company, but management will loathe it -- and there are doubtless legal implications. Ours was a fantastic hotbed of union spirit and counter-company feelings. Which is why management is barred from it :)
posted by bonaldi at 6:33 AM on September 11, 2006

You might have some luck visiting the major intranet portal vendor web sites and looking for customer testimonials. We use BEA (formerly Plumtree now called, get this, BEA AquaLogic User Interaction) portal software, and their web site has many case studies and testimonials from customers (you can find them here.)

We've had pretty good success building internal online communities here. (I'm at a single location, 600 employee nonprofit). My e-mail is in profile if you'd like more information.
posted by Otis at 6:41 AM on September 11, 2006

Here are some case studies for a persistent searchable IM / chat community in a corporate setting. The case studies seem a little short, but you may find more by digging arround. For more anecdotal evidence, I use this product and I don't want to imagine working without it (or something like it).
posted by true at 7:00 AM on September 11, 2006

Response by poster: majick: sorry I didn't explain more clearly: the key word is not "intranet" but "community". They already have an intranet built and operated along the traditional top down architecture.
My topic is about user based community and user created content. It is a very ambitious project about the involvement of everyone in the flow of work related information and work related topics.
On preview: thanks, guys, I am reading.
posted by bru at 7:06 AM on September 11, 2006

They are asking me "why" they should do it

Do you know why they want to do it or what their definition of an online community is? I find that there's usually a large gap between what the bosses expect and the staff want or need!

In terms of benefits, if I stick on my corporate hat then you could include..

Better staff engagement or team spirit
Improved communication
Align staff to your business strategy/goals
Better Knowledge Management (KM)
Share knowledge amongst staff
Improved feedback to management
Improved collaboration across projects
Help identify and catch great ideas
Reduced costs

..and so on.
posted by Nugget at 7:08 AM on September 11, 2006

"My topic is about user based community and user created content."

You can't really go from a "MSOLE documents in email" corporate culture to a collaborative data sharing culture in one jump. It's arguable if you can do it in ten or twenty. Slapping up a weblog or a wiki doesn't fix that -- it just leaves you with another abandoned half-assed intranet tool, of which any F500 company will have thousands installed.

"They already have an intranet built and operated along the traditional top down architecture."

Fix this first -- by spreading intranet resources out to the departments that can use them, rather than centralizing -- then worry about cost-benefit analysis of wiki participation or building communities. To my reading it really seems like the cart is in front of the horse, here. Boot Corporate Communications off the intranet and make it useful before you start doing advanced activities like artificially inducing communities. Once people stop thinking of the intranet as something that talks at them you can start digging for extra utility with community tools.
posted by majick at 7:42 AM on September 11, 2006

The (multi-k employee media) company which I work for has implemented a range of wiki and blog tools for internal use; rather than implement a free-for-all mediawiki style platform they've bought some wiki tool (the name of which currently escapes me) specially targeted for the 'enterprise' environment.

Rather than being used for setting up company wide knowledge bases it's intended for small (5-50 person) teams to rapidly set up and use for co-ordination, project management, document storage, collaborative editing, etc. Previously this was impossible to do effectively; if an intranet site was wanted for such a thing it relied on each team having a guru, and even then they'd have to get a budget, fight IT security to get the site hosted, and then all content would have to go through the guru - practically a project in itself. For groups that are aware of it, wikis have been an incredible boost to productivity, and help to cut down on huge volumes of overly cc-ed and under-read email.

A side effect of this is that although there are hundreds of wikis internally, because of the sensitive documents on many of them access is heavily restricted - hence the 'enterprise' software which integrates with the authentication system.

We also have a lot of blogs, but they don't seem to help much with internal processes, except for helping senior management to get a little bit of the rationale across for the crazy reshuffle of the week. There's also an extensive web-forum that's handy for making cross-company connections, but that needs a remarkably tolerant management not to turn into an over-moderated ghetto. (The free discussion brings a lot of people in, and they often are the people who can provide useful answers.)

Otherwise, IM is incredibly useful but suffers the well-documented problems of people treating it like a corridor conversation when it's actually all logged and entirely admissable in court. Which could be an issue for a lot of companies.
posted by Luddite at 7:44 AM on September 11, 2006

Search on the term "communities of practice."
posted by wildeepdotorg at 10:29 AM on September 11, 2006

Check out the papers on Babble and loops at The IBM Research Social Computing Group for a research perspective.
posted by i love cheese at 4:16 PM on September 11, 2006

We're apparently using Atlassian's Confluence 'Enterprise' wiki software.
posted by Luddite at 8:46 AM on September 12, 2006

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