Matching the inside and the outside.

As I explored in my last my last post, I believe Vancity can use social media to create linkages between and among our staff and our members. Staff is a critical part of that equation, and not a community people talk about a lot when they talk about social media.

Vancity has nothing to say, its employees do. When you walk into a branch or call our call centre you don’t talk to Vancity, you talk to a real human being, so why not replicate that experience using social media? Make it an online extension of the kinds of conversations staff and members are already having.

My goal is to illuminate the network of staff, personal members, business members and not for profit, social enterprise and co-operative members that makes up Vancity – a network which is hardly utilized or even exposed. I consider it a central part of my new role and my department’s work to illuminate these networks, connecting the people who are part of Vancity to each other to create value and enhance well-being. Twitter is an amazing way to do that, and yet I don’t see many organizations using social media in this obvious way. There is risk involved, sure, but the risk is very small compared to the huge risks any financial institution encounters on a daily basis as part of its standard operating practices (bank robberies, anyone?).

Staff is your core community.

On Vancity’s journey using digital tools to mirror, extend and accelerate the way we engage communities offline, one factor that can’t be overstated, and one that I don’t hear others speak to much at all, is the utilization of internal social media within the organization.

In the Digital & Community Engagement department I lead, we’re fortunate that social media lives in the same department as our Intranet. As a result, when we introduced internal social media tools for staff with the relaunch of our Intranet in late 2010, we could focus on community building among staff within that project.

Our employees are a key community – they are instrumental in engaging our members and the public in what Vancity is doing. If they’re connected to what we’re doing, they can include this key differentiator in every member interaction. The new internal social media tools unleashed a culture and sense of community that had been there, but staff didn’t have the tools to engage on a large scale.

If your organization is struggling with social media, starting with internal social technology for staff is like installing training wheels. One advantage is that there is no anonymity (and I believe that internally, unlike out in the wild, every comment and post should be transparently traceable back to the employee who made it). It also acclimatizes the employees and the culture to this new mode of communicating. People can see it’s not all that scary and people are, for the most part, trustworthy and decent.

Build a culture of trust.

We made a smart choice in not governing the hell out of these tools, and instead chose to treat our staff like adults, and trust them not to violate simple rules of community engagement. We treat violations as one-offs and deal with them individually, rather than govern the life out of the entire community. In an earlier post, my friend Jeremy Osborn left a comment about whether it’s easier at a social-purpose business, and this may be true. If a great percentage of your employees are at the company for very similar reasons and personally align to the mission of the organization, I think it helps create trust that staff will do the right thing. It creates a uniformity of purpose that, I believe, requires less policing.

This goes back to a central principle I learned from the brilliant Rob Cottingham back in 2006 when we were designing ChangeEverything: Be a concierge, not a security guard. Focus on encouraging the kind of dialogue and engagement you DO want instead of focusing on shutting down the kind of activity you don’t want (and, in fact, may rarely get). It’s amazing how many times we’ve referred back to this precept over the last five years. Very, very useful because it’s easy to catch yourself building a wall when you meant to be building a bridge.

Organizationally, where the social media and Intranet functions are placed is far more valuable than many organizations realize. Alignment between these two areas is, I believe, critical to mutual success. The launch of internal social media is an incredibly important part of any company’s journey to unleashing engagement, because the more you trust people to behave responsibly, the better off you’ll be. And that is a central tenant of meaningful engagement.

“All social media is inherently authentic” is a quote I like a lot. To be authentic in today’s world, you have to match the inside with the outside.

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