Recently we have seen some amazing engagement results with our own internal community. We thought it would be interesting to share how we made it happen and how you can do the same for your company.
Our Current Situation
Vanilla Forums, like many of today’s companies, has a portion of our team who work remotely. We rely heavily on online tools like HipChat, Google Docs, Teamwork, Github and various other spaces to collaborate and support each other in our day-to-day activities.
As we worked on project sprints, we needed a way to keep abreast of changes and issues. However, we found there were weaknesses in each of the tools we used. For example, chat tools like Hipchat or Slack are helpful to get quick answers when you are in a time crunch. As anyone can tell you, though, they are horrible places for institutional knowledge. Someone would ask about a configuration setting or an important policy question and it would be lost to the search Gods of the chat system. Good luck finding it again 6 months later.
We also have a staff forum, which for the most part was a quiet space containing posts of release notes and memos from management. Earlier this year a concentrated effort was made to use our software more effectively.
Tactics for Change
A few things have been changed to make this a reality.
- Lincoln, our Director of Software Development, built a really cool connector to our chat system to push discussions into chat. This was helpful to know when he posted release notes for review by the team, or when Stephane, a master of CSS, made a thread for theming questions.
- As Head of Community, one of my tasks was to help increase our sense of community within the company. I started by creating a weekly newsletter published within the community. The newsletters highlight what happened at Vanilla that week, it includes important notes with what other departments are working on. More importantly, I fill it with pictures of life at Vanilla, fun gifs and an employee pet of the week. It’s shared weekly to the whole team. I’ve gotten nothing but favourable feedback and because the team is notified in chat, when it’s live, everyone checks it out. When they are there, they also tend to join in on other conversations.
- I check in regularly with the heads of each department to ensure news/updates and important info is shared with the employees in the community, and at the very least in the weekly newsletter.
- Another big change is we ended the disjointed process of product ideas all over the place. We are now using our Ideation feature to its fullest potential. Any product idea can be added to be voted by employees. Use cases are added and people advocate their cause. We have a monthly meeting with head of Todd Burry, Chief Product Officer (and co-founder of Vanilla) to review these ideas. Those that make sense and fit with our goals are added to the future sprints and the roadmap.
- We use branded HTML emails and are in the habit of using the @mention feature as much as possible to bring in more voices into a discussion.
The staff forum is now a big part of our daily work-life because of all the above changes. Employees log-in regularly to find out what’s new, to ask question and share product ideas. To be honest, I hadn’t really paid attention to the stats of the community until one day it stuck me that we had successfully grown our internal community by 1,000%.
The results also show it is never too late to turn around your internally community by following these concepts:
- Community ownership: Make sure someone owns the community and is driving its use.
- Create awareness: Ensure everyone on the team knows that the internal community is available for questions and all communications. Make employee onboarding to collaboration tools easy (all employees get an account when they join the company)
- Create connections to other tools: Connect it to your internal chat system.
- Create great content consistently: Create a regular piece of content people look forward to - work is important, but don’t exclude the fun. Weekly or every other week is a good rule of thumb.
- Executive participation is needed: Get buy-in from your management. Encourage their participation.
- Encourage ideation and innovation: Give a space for ideas to make your product and company better. Also ensure that feedback is actioned, or at least moves beyond the world of your internal community.
Now it’s your turn. I hope you are inspired by our ideas and drive the growth in your internal community space too!