By Gloria Lombardi

“A community is a set of people who want to join forces and share among each other to better achieve a common goal.”

Judith Will is the Head of Knowledge Management at BNP Paribas Cardif. No it’s not the Welsh city but the life, property and casualty insurance unit of BNP Paribas, which rolled out its first collaborative workspace in 2008.

With over 10,000 employees in 37 countries, they started to focus strategically on online communities to improve internal communications and the sharing of best practices across different business lines.

Despite my prodding, Will is not giving away the names of the platform that they have been using. “It is not about the tool.”

Yet, she likes sharing her best tips on community management. To begin with, “experiment with different activities and techniques to find out what works best for your specific group as well as what does not. This requires a ‘learning by doing’ attitude.”

Do you want a community? Tell me what you really want

“There is no secret recipe for community management. Every group is different in terms of content, activity, objectives and members. Hence, how you facilitate it is also different.”

From the beginning Will challenged the number of groups that wanted to be launched inside BNP Paribas Cardif. In fact, there are currently just over 20 of them on the entire internal global network.

“It is more useful to have a small but well defined and facilitated number of communities, rather than too many groups that may end up overlapping or loosing the overall sense of their purpose.”

Framing a community and defining its scope is key for Will. “We ask the community managers and the owners to write down and validate a program with reasonable objectives.” The exercise includes explaining what the project for the community is and the reasons for creating it. It requires defining the objectives, type of members, topic to discuss, content to share, as well as training and communications.

Much work is done in setting the objectives. “For example, many communities would list ‘sharing best practice’ as an objective. But, what exactly is a best practice? And, how do you share it?

“A concrete action here would be to write down a common definition of a best practice. Then, ask each member to describe one of his or her best practices. Publish them all and let other participants vote for the top three within the group for the current year.”

This ultimately helps to monitor and evaluate success against the goals set at the start. And, the process is on-going. “My team meet regularly with each community to talk about the latest and future actions. We found a useful exercise to sit down, review every project, brainstorm and reflect on how to further facilitate the group.”

Your members are human beings

For Will, one of the most important aspect of community management is never to forget that the members are human beings, as simple as that might sound. “The employees you are approaching are confronted with masses of information on a daily basis. Often they are part of several communities and are overwhelmed by work. Also, they neither speak the same language nor share the same culture.”

Hence, it is very important to imagine what it is like to be in their position. “Always put yourself in the shoes of a member.”

Will admits that it is a challenge to motivate those employees who consider being involved in a community as having extra work to do on top of their job. “Some don’t see the added value right away. Others, still need to be convinced that sharing is valuable to their colleagues.”

Soliciting community principles can help. “Often we integrate a ‘How to be a good member’ or ‘What the community can bring you’ and ‘Why the community needs you’ guides in our facilitation initiatives.”

Yet, she believes there are also many rewards. “From the positive feedback of staff who find the information they need, to the sharing of experiences that enhances the collective learning and the human connections that happen all over the world daily.”

Business and non-business related communities

While both business and fun have a role to play on online communities, Will is clear on their difference. “The informal community of “I love gardening” is not the same as the international accountants community!”

Inevitably, facilitating a work related group is more challenging. But, if done well it can have long lasting impact. “For example, our community of assistants has been popular since its launch. The sharing between peers is very concrete and practical.”

Also, the sales and distribution group is very active thanks to efforts of its community managers. “They are doing a great job testing out new ideas on a daily basis to motivate members to participate.”

A community of community managers

“Without facilitation the community will not live.” The Knowledge Management team delivers plenty of coaching and training around community management.

For example, they created a “Facilitation catalogue for internal communities”. It is a collection of best practices on how to animate a group. It provides community managers with practical examples and describes both success and failure stories. The guide also illustrates strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges for every facilitation technique through a mini-SWOT analysis.

Will organises workshops for both old and new community managers to ensure that they keep developing their competencies and share their experiences.

Another important component is the Community of Community Managers. This is the hub for all the internal community managers of the company. It started several years ago with the premise that “being a community manager was a new mission for them all.” Members share their experiences, challenges, learning as well as discuss new creative ideas and nurture their skills together. Most importantly, “it lets them seeing a community from a member’s perspective.” This is instrumental in understanding what employees may feel and need when participating in a community.

Community as an asset

Will is looking at launching new groups in 2015. “Communities have clearly established themselves as an asset for the organisation. We are planning to make their management and facilitation even more focused with the popular groups setting an example for others.”

Future plans also include encouraging the adoption of workspaces in some countries and new business units as well as strengthening the relationships between their community managers to capitalise on good practice and ideas. “With the communities becoming stronger, they will be key in driving the organisation forward.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate