Tag Archives: Communities of Interest

Social media: putting you and your business at the heart of your community


Communities of practice and social networks

Practitioners of knowledge management, sociologists, and many other business and academic professionals recognize the importance of ‘communities of practice’ or ‘communities of interest’ and social networks both within and across organisations for general human interaction, problem resolution, creativity and innovation, and personal or professional development.

Techniques such as ‘social network analysis’ have been designed to identify the existence of social networks and the people who act as the focal ‘hubs’ or ‘nodes’ within these: the people who, irrespective of hierarchy, others are drawn to as centres of expertise, intelligence, information or support.

Organisations, recognizing the importance of ‘communities of practice’ (those who are carrying out related work), and ‘communities of interest’ (those who have a common interest in a particular field), will seek to encourage and support such groups across the formal organisational structure.

Social media undeniably provide individuals and organisations with a further means of supporting such communities and networks both within and across organisations.  This blog describes how social media in general, and the use of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogs can be used strategically to put you and your business at the heart of your community.

The importance of defining your goals and strategy for social media

Although people may have unspoken objectives for using social media, as with any endeavour, some up-front planning is likely to result in a more effective result, and a more efficient use of your time.  (Social media, like e-mail and general use of the internet, can be an enormous consumer of time!)

Objectives for using social media may include one or more of the following:

  1. A need to document and build up connections with those with whom one wishes to keep in touch e.g. when leaving a job, starting up a new business
  2. To create an on-line presence and monitor reputation e.g. to aid with job hunting, establish or maintain the credibility of a business
  3. To look for opportunities e.g. jobs or prospective clients
  4. As a resource for developing an area of expertise

Social media need to be used as part of a wider strategy

Whatever your or your organisation’s goals, the adoption of wider tactics than using social media alone will enhance your use of these tools.

1. Documenting and building connections

A good place to start is to define your target audience: the types of people that you want to connect with (whether they be colleagues, associates, clients, prospective clients) and the organisations, geographical and professional networks or locations, and areas of expertise in which they might feature.

As relationships are built on trust, and trust depends on interaction, just having people on the equivalent of an address book is not enough.  Both the act of making connections, and the building of relationships will be enhanced by face-to-face interactions, so that it’s important to find events (conferences, seminars, trade fairs, networking meetings) and initiate conversations with existing and prospective contacts.

With these foundations and supports in place, then the tools available on social media can be used in the following ways to build your electronic contact list:

  • Uploading your existing contacts from e-mail
  • Looking for possible new contacts or followers amongst your connections’ contacts, followers or lists (on Twitter)
  • Searching for new contacts or followers using terms or key words of interest in the social media tools themselves, or in directories such as Twellow and BlogCatalog
  • Joining groups (on LinkedIn) or communities (on Facebook)

2. Building an online presence

Again, it’s important to start by developing your personal or business profile on paper, or at least as a separately distinct document: your c.v. / resume, or your business plan.

Establishing company web sites, writing blogs, white papers, publications, giving presentations and identifying key words (or tags) that represent you and your company’s areas of expertise will all provide concrete and substantial material, which you can then draw on in using social media as follows:

  • Creating your profiles (LinkedIn will upload your c.v. / resume as a good starting point for this)
  • Establishing internet links back and forth (which will help with search engine optimisation ‘SEO’)
  • Participating in group discussions and ‘Answers’ (LinkedIn)
  • Sharing helpful information through your ‘status updates’ (LinkedIn), ‘newsfeeds’ and discussions (Facebook), or tweets (Twitter)
  • Participating in ‘tweet ups’ (Twitter): virtual conversations initiated at particular dates / times, or to coincide with live conferences or seminars.
  • Establishing searches on Twitter and GoogleAlerts to monitor tweets or blogs that might be mentioning you or your company in a way that might affect your reputation

3. Looking for opportunities

Recruitment agencies, job fairs, professional events, publications, market research, on-line job sites are all important resources to consider in addition to social media.  It is still a fact that face-to-face discussions, personal connections and referrals have a higher success rate in creating opportunities than on-line resources.  That being said, social media can be useful in the following ways:

  • Job listings within groups, and job search tools (LinkedIn)
  • Searching companies of potential interest to find existing or new connections within them (LinkedIn)
  • Generally searching or following companies to find out more about them (all tools)
  • Participating in relevant group discussions in a generally helpful manner

4. Learning and developing yourself and your business

Becoming a member of, and participating in professional organisations, attending relevant events, reading hard-copy publications, and online resources are all obviously good opportunities for learning and development.  They also support all the previous goals as well!

Increasingly, these organisations also have social media presences, which enable a sustained dialogue within their communities of interest in between face-to-face events, and periodic publication schedules.

Following the organisations on Twitter, Facebook  and in LinkedIn groups also provides greater awareness of upcoming events, as well as advance notice of who else might be attending to support greater networking.

Finally, LinkedIn’s ‘reading list’ gadget is a useful resource for finding books that members of your network are reading that might be of interest to you, or be a good point of conversation in building your relationships!

Conclusion: how to enhance your social media skills

Trial and error, learning from your friends, reading online resources and books on the subject attending seminars and 1:1 coaching are the many options available to help you enhance your skills in social media.  Some specific resources are listed below.

In addition, the following will give you and your organisation a greater guarantee of success in placing you at the heart of your community:

  1. Having clear goals and strategies for your use of social media
  2. Thinking holistically about all the approaches you might use, of which social media would be a part
  3. Putting an emphasis on being helpful to your fellow community members
  4. Making your use of social media part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine

Notes

  1. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. She provides 1:1 tutorials and seminars on how to use LinkedIn and other social media for personal and business development.
  2. Example of a related seminar: Using social media to support, market and develop your business, 5th July 2010, St Ives;
  3. Presentation to NetIKX, January 2010: Using LinkedIn, Blogs and Twitter for networking and communities of interest
  4. Social networking tools, empowerment and knowledge management
  5. Follow the links to find out about the other ways in which Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your and your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams. Or will they?


‘Simply putting clever people together does not make a team’, and, ‘There are many examples of extremely bright and talented groups that signally underperform’.  So say Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in ‘Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.’ (1) This book, which Elisabeth Goodman, principal consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, picked up as a result of attending a Cambridge Network business lecture delivered by Professor Gareth Jones, should definitely be read cover-to-cover by any leader wishing to fully understand the challenges and opportunities of working with their most talented people.

Although the focus of the book is on how to lead clever people, there are passing references to the implications for applying knowledge management, process improvement and project management to create effective teams. In this blog, Elisabeth Goodman discusses some potentially provocative statements, and expands further on her insights and reflections as to how these disciplines might apply to ‘clever’ teams.

Goffee and Jones define ‘clever’ in the English Oxford Dictionary context of being skilled or talented.  More fully, they define clever people as “highly talented individuals with the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that the organization makes available to them”. Their book includes a wealth of examples and insights from a wide range of disciplines and organisations such as Pharmaceutical R&D, Banking, Consultants, Universities, IT / software, Formula One Racing and many more. A few of the examples are quoted here.

Knowledge Management:

Knowledge is power and not to be defined. Personal (or ‘tacit’) knowledge and how to apply it is the currency of clever people.  So, whereas sharing knowledge is at the heart of effective knowledge management, ‘clevers’ might have a sense that sharing their knowledge will devalue them. However ‘clevers’ do:

  • Recognize that in order to be successful, they need to work with others who will help them to translate their ideas into tangible deliverables.  There is therefore a recognized need to share knowledge within a team.
  • Build networks with others like them both within and outside their organisations, and so again there is an implicit sharing of knowledge within these communities.

Effective leaders recognize that risk taking and failure are pre-requisites for innovation by ‘clevers’.  These experiences provide ideal opportunities for learning by all members of the team or networks.

‘Clevers’ are resistant to anything that looks like bureaucracy or unnecessary distractions from their core interest of pursuing their ideas.  Effective leaders aim to minimise such distractions.  Knowledge management processes and systems that require ’clevers’ to spend time in meetings, or filling out information that detracts from their core work could be categorized as such.

The challenge, and opportunity for leaders and for those with a remit for knowledge management is to find ways to harness the conversations that take place in teams and in networks, the learnings from experiences, and the general ‘tacit’ knowledge of ‘clevers’ in as un-bureaucratic a way as possible. This could be an argument for ensuring that organisations continue to have individuals with a dedicated remit, and with the credentials, to facilitate and record conversations within teams, networks (or Communities of Interest / Practice), around learnings, and from interviews with ‘clevers’ on an ongoing basis.

Werner Bauer, chief technology officer of Nestlé, and one of the interviewees in the book, sees knowledge networks, and managing know-how through people (rather than systems), as a key element of his job.  It would be interesting to discover how this is handled at Nestlé.

Process improvement

Many will argue that the role of ‘clevers’ should focus on innovation, rather than processes, process improvement, or efficiency. Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Score Card approach(2) clearly shows how there is scope for both perspectives in an organisation’s strategy.

  • Elisabeth Goodman’s experience of running Lean and Six Sigma workshops for research scientists in Pharmaceutical R&D reinforces the fact that effective teams have an iterative dynamic between the two.  They develop new models and assays, add them into their screens for new drug candidates, continuously review and improve these processes, and innovate some more.
  • Cisco, a highly innovative organisation, has replicable models, and believes this is the right thing to do because it helps to predict the future.  But at the same time, these too must continuously improve.
  • The McClaren team is obviously strongly focused on ‘process improvement’.  Goffee and Jones give a wonderful account of the recent Formula One World Championship, when Lewis Hamilton swept to victory assisted by the perfect timing of the team as to when to change the tires on a slippery circuit.

As management writers such as Steven Covey  and Peter Drucker point out, we should recognize that the nature of organisations has changed, and that the focus should not necessarily be on efficiency.  Organisations are becoming increasingly complex, and built on networks and know-how, rather than pure production or services centered within one organisation.  Examples of these ‘Clever Collectives’ include Google and Microsoft.  This is also increasingly the model being developed by Pharmaceutical organisations.

Project Management

There needs to be a disciplined rigour to ‘kill’ poor projects.  Something that may be hard to do where ‘clevers’ are keen to pursue a particular idea.  Again, this is something that Pharmaceutical R&D organisations strive to do through effective portfolio management.

Good management will involve transitioning projects from ‘clevers’ who may be more concerned with the ideas, to ‘implementers’ who may be more skilled in operational procedures.

A continuous focus on the vision, goals, and ongoing communication will be absolutely key to keep clever teams on track with what needs to be delivered. Goffee and Jones provide good illustrations of how Will Wright, the man behind SimCity and Spore at Electronic Arts, achieves just that with his team.

In conclusion, ‘Clever’ provides a rich source of information and insight for how to lead clever people and teams, not only from a general leadership perspective, but also for those looking to apply such disciplines as knowledge management, process improvement, and project management in today’s increasingly complex organisations.

Notes

(1) “Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.” By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press (2009)

(2) “The Execution Premium” by Robert S Kaplan & David P Norton, Harvard Business Press (2008)

(3) This article focuses on three of RiverRhee Consulting’s 4 main areas of expertise for enhancing team effectiveness for improved productivity and team morale:

  1. Focusing on your customers
  2. Simplifying and streamlining what you do
  3. Optimising information and knowledge assets
  4. Ensuring successful business change

Follow the links for more information about RiverRhee Consulting, and about principal consultant, Elisabeth Goodman.