Enabling Peer Collaboration Using Social Networks

technologyA friend from the UK writes to ask me how she might help her somewhat traditional trade association see the value of using a social networking application to facilitate communications between association members, and maybe also as a way to encourage new members to participate. Trade associations are a perfect type of organization to employ social networking tools to encourage conversations and build digital relationships. Here are some potential next steps.

Keep the Technology Part Simple

In situations where people aren’t exactly techies, keep the energy on the benefits of collaboration and cross-team communication. To that end, I recommend a simple but functional platform like Ning, or if it has to be managed inside the firewall, maybe something like Clearspace or Mzinga.

Build It Out A Bit

Starting with a big empty platform is scary. I recommend building out a few user accounts for some members, and maybe finding a few “friendlies” to build a profile and start messaging back and forth. It always feels easier to understand when you can see real world examples of members using the system. Round up about a half dozen people who might be more inclined to “get it,” help them build an account, add a user pic, etc, and then send a few messages back and forth. Then, when you display and/or demonstrate to the member base, they will see “themselves” in it.

Make a Screencast

Use a software like Jing to shoot a quick screencast of the features and functionality. Keep it to under two minutes. The point of this is, “It’s easier to see how it works than read about it.”

Assist with Sign Ups and 10 Minute Trainings

Tool adoption for a group who aren’t especially tech happy comes down to comfort levels. One way to counter this is to assist by taking a few days to help members sign up, even if this is done remotely via email and phone. Once they’re signed up, consider a step-by-step training. Even if you made a document with 100 screen captures, pointing out which buttons to click in which order, and distributed that widely, that would be a step in the right direction.

Drive Some Marketing Attention Towards the New Platform

Finally, start making it part of the organizational process. In a newsletter, instead of referring back to an email address for questions about a new program, point to the new forums in the new social network, and invite people to post questions there. Add a prominent link on the main website. Add the new social network to email signature files. Send out a little insert in the next paper mail drive. The point is, get people to know it’s there.

It’s About the People

The secret about tech is that it’s always about the people. In speaking with groups about how their social network isn’t quite taking off in the organization, I’m often told about all the features, but never about how it was integrated into the flow of a given employee’s day. That’s the key.

Do you have any other recommendations for Laura?

Photo credit, Jaye_Elle

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

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