Have you ever posted an idea in your employee community or enterprise social network, only to see it get lots of "likes" and "great idea!" comments...without further action?
Without a formal innovation program, amazing ideas posted in a social network can quickly become a graveyard of lifeless words. According to HBR, "when left unmanaged, informal networks tend to inhibit innovation more often than they enable it."
To community managers, that statement can be frightening. Enterprise social networks are supposed to fuel innovation and spark ideas - they're designed to make every voice heard. Aren't ideas delivered straight from employees' brains into the CEO inboxes the best way to create innovative change?
The challenge, researchers have found, is not in the sharing of amazing ideas inside a community. It's actually DOING something with them where we run into problems. Again from HBR: "Company executives shouldn’t expect informal, interdivisional networks to spontaneously produce innovations; they must consciously manage the structure of these networks to promote innovation at all its various stages."
What does this mean for community managers? Ideas contributed by users must be curated, acted upon, and implemented (or not), all with ongoing communication to your employee base about what's happening and why. If companies want to integrate meaningful innovation from their employees into the organization, a company's online employee community or social network can serve as the channel. Community managers must work with various stakeholders to shepherd these ideas appropriately and close the loop for idea generators if we want them to keep innovating. That means acknowledging each idea, building governance around when and how certain ideas are moved to the next stage of evaluation, involving key business leaders in reviewing them, and reporting back to the community on the status of each idea.
Jive Software does this well. Its Jive Customer Community, where all customers can connect with each other to discuss best practices and needs, has recently developed governance around customer-generated ideas. A dedicated space for customer ideas allows anyone to post, upvote or downvote an idea about product enhancements. Once any idea has reached a threshold of points, the Jive team agrees to review it formally. Additionally, a Jive community manager comments on ideas and makes connections between posters of similar ideas to help them build alliances and boost point totals.
Today we learned that our idea about customizing the title of "badges" that users can award each other has earned enough points for formal review. As a Jive customer, we were excited that our idea (which is critical to our client's adoption of the platform) is being reviewed. Now, we have clarity and a sense that our voices are being heard. Jive's ideation program is a perfect example of how fostering innovation in an online community requires stewardship and accountability, and that the results can make employees and customers feel much more aligned to the business.
How does your community manage ideation? Is anyone accountable for managing innovation in your enterprise social network?