Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to watch an online ASTD-NRC presentation by Patrick Osborne called “Harvesting the Potential of Online Communities.” In his presentation, Osborne had three objectives: a. explain the business case for using online communities, b. outline the key priorities of a successful community, and c. relate online community use-cases. I believe he was successful on all fronts.
He began his presentation by explaining what an online community was. In essence, it a place for social networking around common professional objectives with the intent to collect and share resources. While defining what an online community was, Osborne also clearly stated what it was not. He stressed that the purpose of the community helped to define it.
Osborne noted organizations varied in terms of culture, size, control, technology, readiness, and resources.
As Osborne continued his case, he explained that communities typically came together face-to-face to improve systems. We still have the need to improve systems; however, we are now challenges by a 24/7 environment where participants are scattered across the globe. While some of the needs are the same, many other requirements are no longer necessary. As Osborne noted, 69% believe it is unnecessary to be in an office. Millennials expect to be able to connect and interact anytime and anywhere with mobile devices. Osborne also stressed the importance to capture knowledge from retiring baby boomers as well as connect and interact with them in their new consultant status.
After setting the stage, Osborne discussed the challenges he faced as he set out to develop an online community in his organization. He and his organization built an online community using Sharepoint and Sitrion. Sitrion is a social and collaboration platform. Within his system, there are discussion boards, blogging tools, expert Q&A, videos, file sharing, and much more. Most importantly, all of the information is searchable.
Osborne highlighted the results of this online community. Participants found cross-disciplined resources; these resources saved time and energy as well as improved performance. Leadership was more visible because they also participated in the community. Because of the success, Osborne has helped other teams develop similar systems.
Finally, Osborne provided suggestions for implementing a project of this magnitude in a large organization. Key suggestions included having a dedicated team to prime the pump, acknowledge and reward contributors, and most importantly, keep it simply.