Is a Community Right for Your Organization?

I have worked in the community and collaboration software industry since researching Intranet alternatives for my employer in 2009. As a client and daily user, it became clear to me that the use of a collaboration platform is a smarter way to get work done as well as interact with colleagues. In 2012, I bet my career on it by starting Social Edge Consulting - a company focused on serving this industry with implementation, business, and technical services. Seven years later, our team has implemented over 450 business communities. We have two models for a community. The first is to connect employees and improve their alignment with their company as well as level-up the collaboration with their colleagues.This is the intranet replacement or internal community. The second model drives collaboration between a company and its customers. This is an external community.

As consumers, we enjoy using networking-based community tools in our personal lives, but the move of these concepts to a business setting has proven to take longer than I would have anticipated. I see two main reasons for this: culture and technology.

First, internal change is hard. Cultural norms and risk-averse businesses' mindsets retreat to the status quo as opposed to taking a bolder step. Grassroots movements inside a company rarely drive genuine change. Our most successful clients have all had leaders who understand the business benefits of a community platform and are willing to take the leap and do things differently.  Many company leaders are not digital natives that grew up with this technology in their personal lives. Kudos to those visionaries that despite the lack of first-hand experience still understand the value.

A second headwind is the state of the technology at this time. Finding the right mix of advanced features for power users while keeping it simple for the masses has been a challenge. Platform integrations with other productivity tools exist today, but more work needs to be done to create a complete productivity platform. The good news is that additional innovations by a variety of competing software platforms are moving fast, powered by an eager client base ready to leap.

Despite the challenges, tens of thousands of companies do enjoy communicating and collaborating across their employee base as well as with their clients and partners using these modern platforms. Having spent ten years in the industry, I thought it would be valuable to share specific experiences I have seen with our clients as a partner with several leading community software platforms. In a series of posts, I’ll share the stories and patterns we have seen where improved business outcomes are the result of using community and collaboration tools.