Establishing a sense of Community

What do we mean by community, when we talk about socialising your business and setting up an online community, either internally or externally?

A sense of belonging
People want to feel like they belong to something when joining a community. When you move into a new neighbourhood, what is it that makes you feel a part of the local community? What do the people that already live there do that makes you feel like you belong and that this is home? What follows are my top 5 tips for creating a sense of that neighbourhood-style community for your online version.

Make them feel welcome
Welcoming people is such an important part of establishing a sense of community. It doesn’t take long, is pretty much labour-free and is a great ice-breaker and relationship starter. When you see someone new joining your online community there are a couple of ways you can do this. If you’re using a platform where a status is automatically posted saying “Johnny Newbie has joined your awesome community”, then why not post a reply to that status welcoming them to the site. It doesn’t need much more and don’t be tempted to post anything that puts pressure, albeit virtual, on them to commit to posting, maybe just a reminder to shout up if they need anything. Another way to do this is to welcome them with a private message. Here you can give a little bit more info about yourself perhaps along with some starter tips, but again, don’t attempt to push them into participating, let them do that organically by seeing what unfolds. If you’re a Community Manager then you need to be doing this for every new user to your community. Put it on your daily and weekly checklist.

Share and share alike
Like the age old welcoming party, with a brew and some home baked biscuits, (this happens outside TV shows doesn’t it, surely), it’s important to share within your community. Whether it’s sharing your knowledge on a particular subject, or your work practices, a la Working Out Loud, or whether it’s sharing an inspiring or interesting article you found online, by posting these things it; a) encourages others to do the same; b) helps the community grow by expanding members’ knowledge and learning; and c) opens you up to others by revealing a bit more about yourself with each post you make.

Answer the door
The good thing about online communities is that there are lots of doors to knock on when you need to find something out and as such it’s important that when somebody knocks on your door, you respond and open it. This could be in a number of ways on your site. Maybe someone posts a question that you know the answer to. Say so and respond with the answer. Maybe someone knocks on the wrong door, by posting in the wrong group. Politely let them know and point them in the right direction, or perhaps bring the post to the attention of someone behind the right door by @mentioning them.

Keep it down
Nobody likes a noisy neighbour, or a nosy one and similarly on your online community it’s important to not be the only voice that everyone hears. It’s good to let someone else answer the questions first for a change. Doing so encourages the community to grow from within and become self-sufficient and self-serving. Obviously as a community manager you’re still expected to play a big part and post plenty of interesting and relevant posts, keeping things on track and point people to the right doors, but a sense of satisfaction can definitely be gleaned from helping the community become it’s own thing, growing organically to the point where the line between your members and champions is increasingly blurred and everyone becomes a super user.

Be there
No one wants to live in a ghost town and for that reason it’s important your online community doesn’t become one. Harness the knowledge and experience of your advocates and early adopters to post and share things as often as they care to, with as few limits and restrictions as possible. What can often happen, for communities that don’t work, is that a user visits and sees no content or interaction. This leads to them not really seeing the point, or how it’s relevant to them, or how it’s going to add value to their life, online and off. They inevitably leave, never to return. Don’t let this happen to your community. Be there. post interesting articles and commentary. Reply to others posts and let them know your reading. Encourage others to do the same and be open and responsive to changes and trends.

A new housing estate is built in the hope that people will buy the homes available.
A new community is built by collaboration, co-operation and a little TLC.
Don’t let the lack of community turn your new estate into a ghost town.

Do you have any other tips for creating community online? How does it work with your businesses site? Let us know in the comments below.


Designing your learning with the end in mind

Now I’m not hugely into models. They’re often convoluted and simply express one person’s opinion of a subject at a particular point in time.
Sometimes though there are models that just totally make sense to me, and this post is going to put two of my favourites together, to complement and help each other out.

If you’ve ever looked at evaluating the effectiveness of your training it’s likely that you’ve come across Donald Kirkpatrick’s four level evaluation model:

1: Reaction – the environment, learner experience etc. traditional happy sheets
2: Learning – the increase in knowledge or ability as a result of the learning
3: Behaviour – often referred to as the transfer of skills. How behaviour has changed following the learning.
4: Results – What the ultimate outcome has been due to attending the course.

It’s very easy when going through this model to get stuck in stages 1 and 2 and not make it to 3 and 4. This is often because the further down the levels you go, the harder and more time consuming it can be to gather and build the data you need. That’s why, in building a great course, it’s a good idea to “start with the end in mind”. What I mean by this is to look at the results that the course needs to prove first and then work backwards.
Using one of my other favourite models can really help you begin with the end in mind. Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping is a great method for building robust learning that addresses a real need and delivers great behavioural change as a result. Again, there are four stages:

1: Business Goal
2: Actions taken to achieve this
3: Activities to practice those actions
4: Knowledge needed as a minimum to achieve.

Immediately you can hopefully see some correlation between certain aspects of the two.
Here’s my take on putting them together.

Start with the end in mind.
In Kirkpatrick’s model, the end is around the results, the ultimate outcome. This could be financial or performance-based. Cathy Moore’s model starts right at this point – defining outcomes. Nothing vague or woolly. What do we want to achieve as a result of this learning? What’s the business goal? In other words, what results do we want to see? Either version of this could be a 5% sales conversion increase, or, a 10% reduction in Average Handling Times. It’s such a great starting point for your instructional design process because right away you’re getting into the gritty part of what we do – affecting change. Its pointless starting here though if you just have a woolly, vague goal about understanding something or other. It needs to be robust, real and tangible.

Working backwards in Kirkpatrick’s model has us looking at behavioural change, the transfer of skills into the workplace. In Action Mapping we have two ways of looking at this. The second step is to find out what activities the learners will carry out in order to achieve the business goal set out in step 1. Then, when we move to the third step, we look at what activities we can build in to the learning that helps the learners practice these actions. This for me is one of the most important aspects of learning – doing. It creates real life situations to help people learn. None of those impractical, pointless activities and quizzes that you just never do in your job role. This is where you get your learners to think about the actual role they will perform, the tasks they will be doing, and help them learn by actually doing them.

The final real correlation between the two is, for me, almost like for like. Stage two in Kirkpatrick’s is Learning – the increase in knowledge. Stage 4 in Action Mapping is about getting the minimum amount of knowledge needed to be able to carry out the actions and activities. Simple.

So there you have it. How to think about your design and evaluation strategy, beginning with the end in mind.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on any aspect of this post in the comments below.

A New Era begins

So I realise I’ve been quiet on the blog over the last few months. This has in part been due to me going through the process of redundancy from my now former employer.
I actually ended up in a very lucky and privileged position; finishing my employment, after 16 years with the old company and starting a new era with a new company only a week later. And I had the whole of December off to boot!

I made lots of great connections via LinkedIn during the transitionary period and it really made me consider what my LinkedIn profile looked like and what purpose it served. It’s an ongoing process and one that I intend on keeping up to much more than before this process. It also reinforced to me the value of such a network as I know the main recruiters I worked with all used my profile both for themselves and for the companies they were representing. More on this in a later post I think.

I’m now a month into my new role and there’s much to learn and new ways of working to get used to but it’s all good. I wanted to move to a company with a more creative and innovative approach, preferably with a strong social and collaborative culture. The company I’m now with are very much of that ilk. A cloud based company, only several years old, with a great collaborative culture and social is simply a way of life here.

As my journey into a new social culture continues, and my focus for learning turns more to a customer based audience rather than an internal one I’m looking forward to musing on all of this and beyond with more tips etc right here at Socially Learning.

I want to sign off this post by thanking everyone who, during this recent difficult process, has given me some kind of support, advice or just an ear to hear me out. It was much appreciated. And as always, I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my awesome family.

More soon on how I’m trying to integrate into the new social culture I work in, how it differs to the old place and ways you can help your working life become more social.

3 tips for using blogs in learning

Using social media capability in and around learning events should definitely be a part of your learning strategy as you integrate social connectivity to your company. A good way to get delegates to start using your network is to get them posting blogs, in whatever form they take on the platform you went with, as part of your learning experience.

Below are 3 ways to consider getting them blogging about their learning:

1: Prepare
Your learners could blog about their experience, thoughts and expectations of the subject matter and upcoming learning event. This way you and others on the session can learn a bit about them and what experience they have with the content already. You can find out ahead of the session what their expectations are and if they have any associated thoughts around it too. They can post what they want to get out of the session and what they want it do for them back in the office. All of this can hopefully lead to an extended conversation in the comments between the delegate, yourself and other delegates, past, present and future.

2: Homework
If it’s a session spanning a couple of days or more then you can use blogs for delegates to do “homework”. You can set assignment projects and research for delegates to think about, plan and post their results or findings. If there are any Further Reading topics, websites or blogs they can check out then they can blog about their thoughts having read or viewed these. Any learning they gather from this can be shared and passed on to the rest of the group at the same time.

3: Reflect
Reflection is such an important part of the learning process. Being able to digest what you’ve learnt, think about how you can use the new knowledge and how it will impacts you helps to get new information into a practical order in the learner’s mind. Also if you get your delegates to post a blog a month or so after the event then they can post about their experiences of trying to put this new learning into practice. Again the open nature of blogging means that everyone can learn from their learning’s, whether they’ve been on the course before, or are waiting to attend in the near future.

Bonus tip 4: Feedback
You can also use blogs to give and receive feedback. Hopefully your learning sessions are so awesome that within their blog posts your delegates are posting about how much they enjoyed it, which parts they found the most interesting/useful/fun and which parts less so. If not then you can invite people to post a summary blog of the session with their feedback in, almost like a Trip Advisor or Amazon review. Again the post is transparent and people can join in the conversation within the comments.

Of course it should go without saying that, if you are committing to using blogs in your sessions, you need to be ensuring that you’re reading them and Liking and Commenting on the posts. Make sure you’re connected and engaged with your delegates in this way and they’ll gladly connect and engage right back at ya!

Have you thought about using blogs to supplement your learning? Maybe you’re already doing it? Let us know how you plan to or currently do use blogs? Any tips?

How to suck eggs

When you’re browsing t’internet, for work or for leisure, do you know how to go back to the page you were on previously?

When you first signed up for ebay or Amazon, did you read copious amounts of copy about how to use the site?

When you first signed up for Facebook did you need a webinar on how to find friends and post statuses?

Or did you jump right in because you know what, we’ve had this internet thing for some time now and the way it works has kind of shaped the way we do things on a computer. So I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!!

So why do people still insist, when you design a new piece of elearning, that you include copious amounts of boring information telling people how to use the module? That you tell people that if they want to go forward in the module they should click on the Next button, often accompanied with some kind of forward pointing image. and to go back a page… guess what!

Surely if you’re a designer that’s worth well over your salt you’re thinking this into your design and making it not only easy and intuitive to use but also a pleasure.

Surely we respect our learners enough to at least offer them this minor courtesy?

Whats your stance on signposting navigation and use? Is there a need or are we teaching people to suck eggs?

5 ways to help people learn on your internal network

So I guess you figured out somewhere along the way that this blog was coming at you from two angles? One being the use of internal social media and collaborative platforms, the other being to do with learning at work and the ways in which this happens, how to be good at it etc.

In my last post I asked “What is social learning anyway?“, well this post is where you will hopefully start to see the two things come together as I give you my top 5 things to do on your internal network to help people learn, or indeed to learn yourself.

1. Share something interesting. Have you learnt something recently in an article online, or a new perspective on something? Share it with others so that they can learn from it too. Keeping it to yourself doesn’t help anyone to grow and also doesn’t expand your network. Post the link, highlight the main points – just share it somehow!

2. Ask a question. Hopefully you took on board some of the advice I gave in my article Things to do on your network now it’s live, and created some groups where people can congregate on the site and post related things. Well, if you have a question, why not see if a group exists that’s related and post your question in there. Groups like these enable the location of experts much easier and information is much easier to get hold of as a result.

3. Answer a question. If you’re browsing your groups one morning, or even spot a question in the main feed of your network, answer it if you can. Don’t leave it to some else, it might not happen. Again you’re helping someone learn and also gaining some credibility for yourself that could expand your network.

4. Tell people How to… Have you ever thought of something that would be good information for people in your network to know for themselves how to do something? Or you’ve shown someone nearby how to do something and they’ve gone “I’ve always wanted to know how to do that” Well why not take the next step and post something that shows, describes or tells people how to do something they might find useful? Create a hashtag for other people to connect other tips to. I created one called #HappyToHelp when our network launched.

5. Work Out Loud. Narrating your work can help people understand what the heck it is that you do. They can see the kind of work you create, the kind of thoughts that influence your day, the decisions you have to make, the meetings you’re involved with and the people that you work with, all of which potentially get’s stored as useful information for someone and they suddenly have someone in their network they can go to with a question on your area.

There you have it, my top 5 things to do on your network to start learning and helping others to learn to. What other suggestions do you guys have?

Leaders – are you out there?

Something that could possibly have gone in my earlier post about your First Steps, is something that could potentially send engagement on your internal social community through the roof, but is unfortunately often overlooked or incredibly lacking in a lot of companies. Your leaders.

As the journey begins on your platform there are a lot of influences that make the success (or not) hang in the balance. One of the biggest of these, for getting people talking, sharing and collaborating on there, is the participation and visibility of your leaders. What more powerful message can there be than the fact that they too are willing to be open and transparent and to embrace a new way of working.

For sure, you might get a good community up and running and engaged with the site, collaborating and sharing and growing together without them. But what if the leaders were endorsing people’s ideas with a simple click of the Like button? How empowering could that feel for someone? What if someone posted about an issue they had come across and their MD posted, @mentioning various people to get it sorted quick sharp? What if they were Working Out Loud, opening up about the work that they do, the meetings they were attending and the decisions they were facing? How more connected would people feel to them?

And what if they weren’t there? What if the message was more “you kids go and play with the new toy we bought you. We’ll be in the grown up room!” How disengaged will that make people feel? How out of touch does that make every body, really?

Leaders being active in your online communities means that they are able to see how, in real time, the people in your company are actually feeling. If there’s a problem then it should be on there, and it becomes instantly visible. If they’re not there to see it then the problem solving process can become clunky as people knock on doors to try and bring it to their attention.

Recognising the efforts and ideas of people is easy to do with a Like, a comment, a fancy badge or even a nomination for an award. Simple. Easy. Powerful.

Why not get them to provide exclusive content for the site, like some video interviews, 30 seconds on a hot topic, filmed in your lift! Getting straight to the heart and soul of the company. See the comments and likes come in after that one!

Being more connected to the people working for you and being open with them as often as possible is so important in these times, as we all try to be as agile as we can and need to be able to respond to disruption as quickly and effortlessly as possible. If you want your site to get the maximum traffic, for it’s use to be a part of people’s daily work lives, then I’m not sure you can afford to look over this!

Do yourself a favour and get your leaders engaged as soon as you possibly can. Establish with them what the value is for them specifically, using some of the examples I mention here, but not limited to these. Highlight the effect of launching the site and them not being there. Help them set their profiles up and even to make their first posts. Show them the power of Likes and replies, how to blog and what it all means.

Do whatever you need to do. Just get them on there.

What happens on your internal platform? Are your leaders visible and taking part? What’s the impact you’ve seen from it either way?

So what is Social Learning anyway?

It’s a new thing, you know… that Social Learning.

It’s not a new thing at all.

Albert Bandura told us about it in the late 70s, suggesting that people can learn in a social context. We’re talking about observing behaviours, learning by example and the involvement of “human connection” when giving and receiving information and knowledge.

The same is still happening now but in this new, technologically advanced age, with the social and collaborative tools we now have available to us, this has evolved somewhat to a new type of social learning.

For those of us that often sit at work and find ourselves saying to someone “what do you mean you don’t remember Live Aid…” there is a group of people now, often referred to as GenY or Millenials, who are growing up in this new connected world where finding out an answer or learning something new is never more than a few seconds away.

There are some trains of thought that suggest Social Learning is specifically informal learning, but it should be acknowledged that there are elements of Social Learning that can happen as part of the formal process, often as an extension of it. Blogging in reflection would be an example. Getting people to share online the work they have been doing in the classroom and then continuing the conversation there would be another.

Similarly, the term Social Learning shouldn’t be confused with the phrase Social Media, as I often hear happening around conversations both in and out of my workplace. Social Learning can happen away from the online world, and has been for as long as man can remember. Social Media simply supports this process in being a tool that supports an action. (Isn’t all media these days social anyway?)

After all is said and done, no matter how it’s dressed up and given fancy titles and shiny new tech to help us do it, Social Learning has been around since the advent of time, it’s just the ways in which we are able to do it, and the tools that help us to do it, that have evolved. We’re still learning from others and following their examples.

I can search on YouTube for how to move a light switch on my living room wall and get a ton of hits, all with slightly different methods and techniques and different qualities of output, but I’m still learning from someone else’s experience. The same for posting a question on Twitter to my Personal Learning Network (PLN), the responses and advice that come in are still learning from others and their experience, they’re just not sat in the same room as me, possibly not even the same country. Tools such as Google Hangouts are starting to be used now as well, so this is extended even further and these kind of conversations can happen in some kind of face to face environment with no geographical boundaries.

So it’s not a new thing, it’s an old thing. And in fairness most of the technology’s not that new either anymore. But more and more companies are using this technology as part of their learning strategies these days, as growing numbers of them become more connected than ever before. Hopefully they can see it’s just an extension of what we’ve been doing forever.

In future posts I’ll be looking at the different ways you/we can use these social tools to enhance and support our social learning, predominantly in the workplace, but the beauty is it applies out in the real world too! (A good place to start would be my post about getting started on your company’s social platform)

What’s happening where you work? Do you have social tools that help you learn in work? What about outside work, what do you do to find stuff out?

Things to do on your network now it’s live.

In my last post, First steps on your internal network, I told you about the 3 things that I think should be the first things you do on your new social and collaboration network. This post is now going to move along the journey a little and tell you about what I think are the top 10 things that you should be doing on your network now you’ve launched it.

Having a great tool at your disposal is totally no good if you don’t use it. Like having the world’s best, top rated lawnmower – it’s only going to be great if you actually get it out of the shed and do something with it. Similarly there is so much written about how having an internal social and collaboration network is essential to doing great work and becoming a great company, but it’s not the platform that does the work – it’s you.

1. Post a message. Something. Anything. Just post it. It might be a question, a work update, a key point from a meeting or conference you’re attending. Just post something.

2. Read what people are posting. How else do you expect to find out what’s going in the organisation around you? Discover what people are doing. See where the business is heading or what those crazy guys in finance are planning for their charity day. At least you know now though, right?

3. Like things. The simplest of interactions on most networks but still powerful. If you like something, then Like it! Usually the person that posted will get some sort of notification which is a great way of showing that you agree with them or that you simply read the message.

4. Reply to things. The next stage of Liking, actually opening up a little and sharing with everyone what your thoughts on the subject are. A great way to develop posts in to conversations and make connections, forging relationships across your organisation. A great place to start is by replying to new joiners “Just joined” posts, make them feel welcome.

5. Create a group. Building a community was one of the first things to do from my previous post. If you search for one and it’s not there what are you going to do, leave it and walk away? No sir, build it yourself! Create a group, public or private – you choose. Invite people you know would be interested. Create a group for the project you just started so that everyone involved can collaborate and share progress and ideas.

6. Use tags. Tags or topics, depending on your platform, help create a chain or list of all posts made on a particular theme. #hotdogs or #ProjectTuesday for example. That way, even if people aren’t following you but they follow the tag, they can see your post and get some value from it. They may even choose to follow you on the back of it!

7. Share things. That great article you read on engaging staff through the use of clowns and rabbits, well some else might find it interesting and useful too. Share it. Depending on your platform you might do this by pasting in the link or you may be able to use a button on your toolbar to share it automatically. Remember, sharing is caring!

8. Work Out Loud. Pioneered by John Stepper , a great way to get started on your network, is to narrate your work. It’s also incredibly powerful. Let people know what you’re working on and the work you’re doing. Upload things that you’ve created or reports you’ve written. Maybe you’ve put together a white paper on something that may be of interest. Transparency across business is becoming more and more important every day as people try to prepare for disruption, this is a great way to do it.

9. Look at profiles. Just as you might on an external site, if you want to get to know more about someone then check out their profile. The first point in my previous post was to create yours and this point is the reason why, it helps people decide whether or not they want to connect with you. Hopefully after reading yours, they do.

10. Do it on the go. Most platforms these days have an app you can download to your mobile device. Download it. For sure. A common barrier people find to using these platforms is time, but with mobile accessibility there really is going to be time for everyone to access the network at some point during their day. Make sure to do this and stay connected to your network wherever, whenever.

There you have it, my top 10 of things to do on your network now it’s up and running.
What tips would you give someone starting out?

The first steps on your internal network.

In my previous post, First Things First, I suggested that, before you start trying to decide which Enterprise Social Networking platform your company should choose, you give plenty of thought to the Why. What you’re going to use it for in the first instance. Hopefully by now you’ve done all that and got your shiny platform launched or ready to launch and getting set to invite people to join.

So what next? What do you do to begin adding and receiving value from the site? Below are what I believe should be the first 3 things that you need to be doing, or encouraging your users to do, on your internal social network.

1. Sort out your profile. This is a good starting point for you and one that is so often overlooked and left out in the grand list of priorities. Your profile is a great way to help people decide if they want or need to connect with you. Supposing someone likes a post of yours and wants to find out more about you – this is where they will go by clicking on your name.
Most platforms include information from profiles in their searches now too so, if someone searches for information about a topic that you’re an expert in, or have a passion for, your name and profile will come up within the results. Assuming you’ve bothered to fill out your profile and include the information in the first place.
Don’t forget to upload a profile picture so that people can recognise you in the coffee queue.

2. Introduce yourself. What better way to make yourself more accessible to your colleagues than to actually take the step to introduce yourself. I’m not suggesting you post a full length bio in a status update but let people know who you are, what you do and where your interests lie.

3. Build your community. Most of the leading platforms have some sort of group feature. Joining groups lets you make sure that you get to see the information and conversations that are the most relevant, interesting and appropriate for you. Look out for groups that are relevant to your job role, department and projects, but also look out for groups based around your interests and hobbies. This is a great way to make connections outside of your usual working group.
Similarly you should begin to look for people that you want to follow, the people that you are looking to pull value from on your network. At this initial stage this is likely to be your team members and co-workers but look for people in the wider business that interest or inspire you.

These for me are the first three things you should be doing when accessing your new internal social networking site, or encouraging people to do as a Community Manager.

Maybe you’ve already got an ESN platform – have you done these 3 things yet? If not then go ahead and take care of it now. If you have then well done, and look out for the next post where I’m going to be spending some time briefly checking through the good stuff – the top 10 things you should be doing on your internal networking site.