By Gloria Lombardi

c44A digital communications leader, Ciara O’Keeffe (pictured right), doesn’t follow a strategic framework when partnering with organisations to deliver employee engagement mobile technology. No, for the VP of Product and Customer Delivery at StaffConnect, it’s more about adopting a strategic communications approach.

“If you start off with a framework of any sort, your energy goes into that rather than using your intuition, looking at how you are performing against your purpose, and ensuring that you always link back to the business and its needs.”

MARGINALIA spoke with O’Keeffe to understand how StaffConnect helps organisations combine technology with successful communications strategies. In this interview, she describes her approach to ‘AppSuccess’, describes the principles of community management, and offers advice to manage technology push back from leaders.

Gloria Lombardi: How does StaffConnect support organisations in achieving success with employee engagement mobile apps?

Ciara O’Keeffe: Software is only the beginning of the journey. Enterprise technology deployments often encounter management gaps: companies know that they need the benefits of the tool but they don’t know how to implement it and make it a success across the organisation.

Vendors often sell organisations a vision, but only provide them with one part of it – the platform. At StaffConnect, we do provide the technology, which is certainly a strategic enabler for companies and their employees. But, we also provide all the associated services that enterprises need to be successful in their ongoing adoption journey.

To ensure continuous alignment with the business requirements, we provide training programmes such as the ‘Principles of Community Management’, leadership workshops, counselling, best practices resources, templates, and guides. We partner with each organisation to help everyone understand why they are implementing the mobile platform – the ‘why’ might seem obvious, but sometimes there is just a generic request from senior managers to roll out new tech, which might not be the right solution for the business. By working closely together, we identify the use cases, clarify the benefits and the challenges of the technology, explore what employees want, plan the launch, and assess who needs to be involved along the process. We work to make it a real ‘AppSuccess’.

As partners, we’re invested in the success of the roll out and have the expertise to create success, saving the organisation from hiring external consultants.

GL: Could you share with MARGINALIA the Principles of Community Management for AppSuccess? I understand it’s something you developed years ago, how it is moving forward?

SCA11CO: It starts with a clear understanding of the difference between a network and a community. People often have their own ideas or feel it’s obvious, but the distinction needs clarifying. People won’t fully appreciate the benefits of an internal social channel if they think of it in terms of a network rather than a community.

A great example of a network, although external, is the Coca-Cola Facebook page: you have a loose network of people; it follows a hub and spoke model of interactions between the general audience and the content creators – usually, the social media experts for the company. There is a comment and response transaction. It is transactional, meaning that people can come on and comment, then they leave. While Coca Cola knows how many followers / members are involved with the Page, they cannot truly develop a meaningful relationship with followers unless each individual chooses to engage with their content and messaging.

By contrast, a community is based on tight, interlinking relationships between the majority of the members. The core membership is relatively stable and active. They have a shared purpose. They discuss a wide range of topics within that shared purpose – sales, marketing, CSR activities, for example.

While the day-to-day running of a community is often given over to the champions, the person accountable for its success is always the Community Manager: they must regularly dip in, and ensure that the community is run strategically, and self-sustains overtime. Having said that, many organisations do not have the resources to employee a full-time person in charge of the community. Instead, someone is appointed as the Community Manager, beside their official role inside the business. Yet, community management is a strategic matter; this role is of vital importance and requires specific qualities and skills.

GL: So, what are the desirable attributes for a Community Manager?

CO: A Community Manager should possess five top attributes, no matter the platform.

The first attribute of a Community Manager is about being a leader: Inspiring other people to act, allowing the community to be a community — self-adopted and self-sustained. The Community Manager is the enabler; they lead by example, but also let go so that others can lean in in their areas of expertise. They identify and engage effective volunteers, advocates, champions, and subject matter experts.

The second attribute is around having strong business acumen: Knowing how the business works from the inside out. Being able to keep up-to-date with changing priorities; knowing how to direct information and issues raised by the community to the right people; and bringing people together from all departments and job functions. This attribute is critical. Organisations sometimes give the role of the Community Manager to a junior member of the team, of even an intern, but this is a strategic role for a senior person with deep knowledge of the business, who has the ears of the leadership team, and can influence the right people when needed.

The third attribute is about being well connected: Relying on the network and maintaining influence in that network; being the ‘need to know’ person. The social community is a key channel that people use for quick advice, raising issues, and sharing ideas; so, they need to know who they can go to first for direct help. The Community Manager should therefore be well connected with colleagues, managers, partners, interest groups, experts, leaders, obviously the champions, and even the clients. Knowing what customers want, and reflecting it internally is invaluable.

Fourthly, it is about being a governor. Usually, this is the first attribute that community managers think of because of the focus on control and compliance. But when a community goes live, employees start a new journey and may be hesitant or even afraid. So the Community Manager must be gentle with any feedback and the way the rules are shared and enforced. They should be tactful, diplomatic, patient but, above all, the governance, the rules, should be about what people can do, rather than what they shouldn’t. Governance needs to be positive and encourage people to get involved.

Finally, the analyser. This is often seen as the most difficult attribute. It’s about highlighting the real business value of the community. For example, being able to identify employee satisfaction, productivity improvements, and reduction of complaints. Proof points need to be identified. Being able to spot trends, increase usage overtime, and identify and leverage the influencers: Who is posting the most engaging and popular content? Who is that 1%? Who is the remaining 99%? As an analyser, the Community Manager should share regular reports, reminding leaders and other key stakeholders exactly how the community is adding value to the business. Regular reports also help keep the community focused on the right areas, and help ensure that budget is allocated every year, since every platform needs resourcing.

GL: Can you share an example of a Community Manager who embodies those attributes?

SCA2CO: Molly Thompson, VP of Communications and PR at YMCA of Greater Charlotte, is a great leader and Community Manager. They have a network of 4,700 on-site and non-desk employees. Thompson knows the business inside out. She is very well respected within the leadership team, she has a seat at the table, helping to make the right decisions, and talking about the strategic impact of the platform. Thanks to her efforts, leaders have dealt with their qualms, they are active and involved with the communities, inspiring their own teams to do the same, which has been powerful for the whole organisation.

GL: Talking about leadership involvement with social technology, what makes some of them still push back? And, what can be done to gain commitment?

CO: Business leaders have an overwhelming number of responsibilities. It’s often not about resistance, but genuine lack of time. They are not going to initiate a change process of this scale, they need a partner within the organisation, often from the Communications team.

Many successful projects have had a strategic Communications professional who goes to the leadership, identifies the strategic benefits for the organisation, and talks to them about how the technology will help to support and shape the business agenda. There must be a regular dialogue to discuss the plan together, and get approval for the first few steps. On-going conversation can inform the plan, and gain support for the next steps.

Leaders sometimes erroneously believe it’s not their job to be involved with communication and the social channels. Leaders need to be present and engaged for a community platform to succeed. Their example sets expectations. It’s therefore crucial that the Communications pro explains the importance of their people leadership. As leaders, they must communicate and inspire people, espousing the purpose and mission of the organisation. The social channel is just a way to be directly involved with employees, and a few minutes training and mentoring can give leaders all the confidence needed.

Leaders might push back because of uncertainty around the word ‘social’. There have been negative, even embarrassing stories in the press regarding executive memos, and how CEOs use Twitter or other social platforms inappropriately. Leaders, and everyone, need to be confident that the internal networks and communities are all about work and internal matters. Again, a little mentoring will help.

Nobody wants to ‘say the wrong thing’ on the social channels, and leaders may worry about how they’ll be perceived by staff, especially if they are not regularly seen around all the offices. While it’s good to be aware of the importance of words and sentiment, leaders can be assured that the social channels present no more risk than an all-employee email. To get familiar with the platform and its use, leaders should start by listening – just dipping in and reading what people are talking about. They can then start liking comments and sharing links to relevant content. When the time is right, they can jump into an existing conversation or start their own. They don’t have to respond to every comment, and they can ask their Communications person for help. In a matter of weeks, they’re bound to be comfortable enough to use the channel to directly explain business change and to offer direction, just as they might do via the intranet, email, and town halls.

GL: Looking at the future, how do you see enterprise mobile communications developing?

SCA00CO: Mobile AppSuccess will continue being social. Organisations cannot engage with employees without giving them a voice. The top ten mobile apps that people download on their devices are all about creation and consumption – not just consumption. If a company tells their workforces, ‘Download this business app, and hear from us’, without adding ‘and we want to hear from you; we want to have a conversation with you’, AppSuccess will not be achieved.

Looking at the near future, bots will also play a bigger part in mobile, especially on the administrative side of communications. Let’s imagine you create a company event – the bot will help you to promote it across different communities. It will send out push notifications to remind people to sign up to the event; or after the event, it will ask participants to complete the feedback survey.

In the medium-longer term, self-driving digital platforms will do the work for you. The platform will become an Admin Assistant that self-administers. So, going back to our example, through machine learning and cognitive engines, the Admin Assistant will be able to create the push notifications and even the survey by itself, because it recognises when the company event is going to happen and who it is for. But, just like self-driving cars, the human being will still need to be present, have their hands on the wheel, being able to take over if the technology goes in the wrong direction. The machine will take the pressure off the human admins, without taking out the human aspect of the work – this future would be such a huge win for organisations.