What contents for your enterprise social network ?

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informationOne of the major concern for any business trying to launch an enterprise social network is to generate relevant contents. Which is obvious : why would users use the enterprise social network if they find nothing relevant in, if they have no reason to come ? This is the point where confusion often happens and things get complicated.

What’s a good content ?

Using the word “content” is often enough to bias the whole approach. Coming from the communication world it comes with lots of connotations that make project and community managers blind. When we say content we tend to think of and editorial approach, in the same way we would do for an intranet or a web site. If you’ve never thought of building an editorial plan for a community please raise your hand ! It may be relevant for a blog or a community with a communication purpose, but it’s not for experts communities and it’s totally off the mark if the purpose is teamwork.

Enterprise social networks are not about audience but effectiveness

But contrary to many received ideas that die hard, your enterprise social network is more a work tool than a communication one (even if communication is an important part of work) and in no way suitable for old-fashioned communication. As IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometti said :

The social network is not just the new water cooler; it’s the new production line

Once one get this new paradigm, there’s still to draw the consequences. So, what’s a good content, what’s a good social content ?

1°) Editorialized Storytelling

We won’t kill the editorial approach that, once again, is the right one for some needs (maybe 10 or 20% of them). As a matter of fact if it’s possible to make 90% of your social network live with editorial content you’d better have launched a CMS with commentable and likable posts. In this case, businesses should be aware of adopting the right style, format, and posture and using contents that tell stories and make people react. This reaction will lead to conversations and sharing. A good social content is also a socializable one.

2°) Information

That’s a frequent bias when businesses have and editorial approach and the “social machine” is in the hand of communication professionals that did not adopt a new posture when changing media and paradigm. They often tend to tell the story the company wants to tell, not the one users want to hear. Don’t forget that employees on a social network are not readers but “readers in the context of their work”. Contents should have a direct business value, match the requirements that would qualify them for a social learning or peer-to-peer program.

Talking contents rather than talking people

Moreover the business need comes first. Better a valuable information even if terse, than a nice story without interest.

This approach is the one that should prevail in communities of practices. And the best authors will never be communication professionals but the community members themselves or subject matter experts.

3°) Actionable data

This is the kind of content that’s been left behind too often : business data. Numbers, reports, tables. Oh, but it’s cold, sometimes generated by machines and does not lead to conversations. This is a big misunderstanding on social contents : their proper is not to be human-made and talk about people but to talk to people and trigger social behaviors.

But do people prefer to share nice stories than numbers ? I’m convinced that a sales manager who’s notified that he’s gonna miss his quota, the production manager notified of a gap between the plan and the actual production will have a very social reaction to this kind of content. They’ll share it with their team and/or a community peers to find solutions, fix the problem, set the situation back to normal. If people need to be at the foot of the wall to change their behaviors, there’s nothing more than pushing numbers to those who are accountable and responsible for them to make them try everything they can to find solutions, regardless to the means and the possible impact on their egos.

Last, if the difference between data and information is analysis and sense, that’s the conversational process that will turn cold data into an information people will act upon.

The social activity of understanding data and making decision is one of those with the biggest business value for nearly anyone.

Business data is content with business value

Actionable content because, ideally, if the decision, the solution, leads to updating data, assigning tasks etc… this will better be done from the activity stream, a social widget in the community or something similar.

This kind of content is perfect for what I call “false communities”, which are in fact project teams and groups that don’t gather on a discussion subject but on coordinating their day to day activities. I won’t tell once again how important it is to link social platforms and business tools…I think you’ll find the benefits by yourself.

The rights content for your enterprise social network can have many forms and, paradoxically, its business value can be inversely proportional to the creativity and effort that have been needed to generate it.