Last year I wrote this post about working with a group of tenants to set up a website for Low Hill, an area of Wolverhampton. Sadly, it didn't take off as much as we all wanted it to and I've been mulling over the reasons for that.
I think part of it might be that we used Ning as our platform. Ning is a build your own social media network platform. Visitors to the Low Hill site could view the content without logging in but if they wanted to comment or add their own content, they had to log in. I think this could have been part of the problem.
The site was quite widely publicised in the area it served through a variety of channels but I wonder if people were going to the site, having a nose around and then not really understanding what they had to do to get into it.
The idea of using Ning went against the oft-quoted social media principle of 'go where the people are', but we went with it because we felt it might create a safer, more welcoming environment than, say, facebook where some people might make bitchy or inappropriate comments to other tenants. Now I think we should have gone with a facebook page (because everyone is already there) and just managed the page firmly to avoid allowing those kind of comments.
I've also set up a Ning for staff at Wolverhampton Homes; I wrote about it here. Conversely to the Low Hill experience, this network has taken off massively. I think the reason for this is partly the reason why Low Hill didn't succeed; the act of logging in gives people a sense of security and privacy so they feel happy to share their ideas, stories and photos of the great engagement work going on in their teams.
I started off with the aim of recruiting 100 members to the network, called Great Placers, who would act as champions of employee engagement throughout the business. As of today we have 141.
The two other things that I think has helped it succeed is that we don't have an intranet or any other network that we could use in this way; it filled a vacuum, and I send an email one a week to all members. The email covers what's happened on the network that week and what progress we've made on engagement. This whets people's appetites if they haven't been on the site that week and it prompts them to visit it.
Also, considering we're based in one city, our 720 staff are very spread out. We have 13 offices and many colleagues work out and about on estates and in tenants' homes so rarely see their workmates or hear about what work they've been doing. This network helps address that challenge.
Unsurprisingly the photos are the most popular element of the network; staff like to see their colleagues, put names to faces and understand more about their roles. The idea of all this, of course, is to deliver excellent services to customers. If staff have positive relationships and work well together, they will be more effective and better able to serve tenants.
Staff have told me it helps them feel closer to their workmates and more like one organisation. Building those relationships and social capital is what social media, and employee engagement, is all about.