Comms pro vs. community manager

Enterprise social networks aren’t for your broadcast internal communications

You may have heard that employees prefer a messy social network over a rigidly controlled (or dead) intranet. Enterprise social networks are no longer about posting ‘status updates’, rather, they’re about connecting to team mates, and contributing to collaborative communities to achieve shared business goals.

Intranet managers and internal communication professionals need to shift their thinking in order to the get the best from ESNs.

Virpi Oinonen explores the mistakes comms pros can make when using enterprise social networks as just another channel to reach staff.

A couple of years ago I launched an internal social network (Yammer) in my then organisation. I was the internal communications person so I obviously took the lead in posting messages and ‘getting the network off the ground’.

Big mistake.

I soon realised that I was in fact signalling to the rest of the organisation that the network was some sort of internal blogging platform for internal comms. Very few people dared to post anything because I was dominating the newsfeed. And I of course wanted to communicate the opposite! Look, anyone can post! See – I’m showing you how!

You can kill a fledgling network with this type of one-way messaging.

To add insult to injury one of the senior managers had seen our Yammer leaderboard and noticed that I was the top contributor. “You must be pleased”, he said.

I was anything but. To me, being the lead contributor signalled that I had failed.

It’s not about you, it’s about them

There’s a big difference between traditional communications and community management (or network communications): in traditional comms, you may be under pressure to push messages through a channel. You may not have the time to consider what happens after you’ve pressed the ‘send’ or ‘publish’ button.

In network communication your role is that of a facilitator – you help people make connections, you detect what the big issues are and facilitate communication around them. You curate other people’s content and ideas (although you might add your own analysis if you are subject matter expert).

It’s an interactive dance between you and the community – you’re part of that community, not the maestro.

So after my first fail in community management I made a promise: I should never dominate the newsfeed. Most of the posts had to be from other people. If a manager wanted me to push out a message I would say “do it yourself!”. If I overheard a question I would rush to that person and say: “hey, you could post that on Yammer”.

Community management is a different beast at different stages

Note that community management in the early days of an enterprise social network looks different from later stages. At first it’s kickstarting the machine with all sorts of engagement hacks (you for example need to make sure questions receive answers within 24 hours).

Later, it’s more about maintaining and developing it through curation.

If you want to a quick reference on the most important internal community management techniques, check the six commandments of community management for comms pros (also available as a PDF).

About Virpi

Virpi OinonenVirpi is an enterprise social consultant with a background in online campaigning and mobilisation (Greenpeace and other nonprofits) and communications in general – including journalism, online marketing and, believe it or not, cartooning.

Check our workshop schedule to see if you can attend one of Virpi’s ESN training workshops. We’re hosting the ‘Kick-start your enterprise network’ workshop in Birmingham.

When not thinking about social networks and the changing nature of work, Virpi runs a visual storytelling company called Business illustrator; which is perfectly famous in many circles.

A version of this article was first published on Business Goes Social.


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