Internal Community Forums: Enhance Culture and Maintain Innovation

7 minute read

October 13, 2020

Internal Community Forums: Enhance Culture and Maintain Innovation

Way before this period of social distancing, we had a chance to speak with Alfredo Morresi, the Senior Community Manager of Developer Relations at Google. In late 2019, we asked him what trends he thought 2020 would bring to the community space, and he predicted the rise of the internal community.

Now, more than ever, this prediction seems to have come to fruition due to these unforeseen circumstances, however this period of isolation just becomes another reason why this trend will be at the frontline of 2020. In fact, there are a wealth of other reasons why the rise of the internal community is a key trend this year, and as more organizations are adopting this tool to increase internal communication, these reasons are still at the forefront of the conversation.

Some of these reasons have been uncovered by a recent report by The Community Roundtable, The State of Community Management, 2019. This report discusses how internal communities are critical governance approaches to transform organizations and culture. Additionally, this report found that the top three business outcomes connected to internal community value are:

  • Culture and organizational change (61%)

  • Quality improvement (50%)

  • Innovation (47%)

But let’s hear what Alfredo had to say about the rise of the internal community in 2020, and the benefits that it can bring to an organization.  

Why Internal Communities Are Important

As someone who organizes a lot of events surrounding community management, and someone who speaks to a lot of different organizations, Alfredo says that internal communities are a trend that is becoming much more common than it was a few years ago. “More organizations are realizing the value of community and community dynamics within a company,” says Alfredo. “They are realizing that having a community within their organization can help forward most of their internal goals; everything from training, to company culture.” 

The rise of internal communities means that more organizations are able to deliver training that’s “less boring” than we’ve seen in the past. Instead of having employees take online sessions alone at their desk, internal communities help to create a more “human” approach. “Training is an activity that is done best when it involves peer-to-peer connections,” says Alfredo. “Even if it’s the same content, it’s more human, which not only improves the connections among the people in the company, but also enables cross-functional collaboration.” Training can be done in the community, where everyone has a voice and human connections are made.

Doing internal activities, such as training, is not only much easier, but more effective through a community. “With a community, you can maintain an ongoing and continuous connection…and because of this structure, employees can build more meaningful relationships with each other, which in turn, helps improve company culture.” 

Another activity that an internal community will reinvent is HR. “I see the future of HR in particular becoming a completely different structure,” says Alfredo. “In 2020, HR will be dominated by community and will act as the primary channel for employees to share their concerns, their goals and connect with others.” Essentially, an internal community will put a more human twist on how employees interact with their organization since it will encourage peer-to-peer connections and help break down silos. 

Since the internal community focuses on relationships, connections and learning, Alfredo views this trend as a top-down approach. 

Internal community2

“If a company says that they care about their employees, but then does nothing to improve their experience as an employee or gives them no means to build their own networks inside the organization, it’s clear they don’t actually care. If they do care, what they’ll do is create an internal community that will foster connections—it’s a concrete way to sustain the value of the company.”

While the rise of the internal community is characterized as a top-down approach, Alfredo views it as having a bottom-up outcome. “Since having an internal community would foster interdepartmental collaboration, and ‘cross-pollination,’ this could lead to the creation of new ideas,” says Alfredo, “which ultimately enables innovation from the bottom up.” Essentially, if you implement and encourage community within your organization, over time, your people and their ideas will start to blossom. 

Key Reasons for Internal Community Adoption

Alfredo lists two key factors that have led to the rise of this trend in 2020. Keep in mind, however, that these were key reasons why internal community would be a trend in 2020 before the onset of this period of social isolation. That being said, let’s get into some of the reasons why Alfredo predicted this to be a trend, along with other reasons why organizations are adopting internal communities at this time.

Forward Organizational Culture

An organization’s culture is something unique to each and every organization, which is guided by the leadership teams’ direction and maintained by employee mentality and attitudes. Being present in the workplace is what fosters this type of culture, and when employees have to pack up and work from home, it can be difficult to maintain this culture, let alone have it be present at all time.

Internal communities help mitigate this challenge since much like organizations, no two communities are alike. Branded integral communities help to forward and showcase the organization’s culture by creating an online space where employees can still feel the strong culture and connections they got in the workplace. Some internal communities can be highly customized, which is central to forwarding company culture. Creating a space that has the look and feel of your organization and its values will put employees in a familiar space, and can help those who might be feeling more isolated than usual.

Moreover community is known to increase engagement, which is what organizations should be working towards in more trying times.

Increase Innovation

Communities are a hotbed of innovation. Employees feel empowered to share new ideas and give genuine feedback on the organizations products/ services without the judgement that they feel being face to face. 

Moreover, since the community is a place where conversations flow organically from one employee to the next, ideas are commonly formed through conversations within the platform itself. Community offers employees a unique opportunity that they don’t usually have in an office setting—they can easily collaborate with others from different departments. Since community brings together a wealth of different perspectives, it can be the best place to generate new and innovative ideas that enable the company to prosper.

Reduce Turnover Rate

Employee turnover rate is now at an all-time high, and is especially prevalent among millennials. As a result, organizations are seeking to remedy this problem by providing employees with reasons to stay. One thing that organizations are looking into is providing their employees with more opportunities, training and space to create meaningful relationships that’ll make them feel connected and part of the culture. Further, when looking at the value that training can provide, statistics show that offering career training and development would keep 86% of millennials from leaving their current position.

Organizations are increasingly realizing the value of providing this ongoing training and professional development. As Alfredo says, “People have a desire to continue learning, and there are a lot of resources available on the internet for people to use.” He continues, “Companies have started to realize that if they provide their employees with these resources within their internal community, employees will not only stay in the internal sites, but they will also be happy that their company has provided them with these resources.”

Community is Becoming More Popular

With more organizations understanding the value of community, including both the branded community and communities built on social media platforms, the idea is far less foreign than it once was. “Finally, we are seeing that companies are aware of what community is and the benefits that it can bring,” says Alfredo, “and increasingly, organizations are beginning to think about how having these community dynamics inside their organization could help improve many aspects of the company, such as HR, training, and team collaboration.”

People are very familiar with being connected with each other at all times through the internet and within a community, and so adopting an internal community for the purpose of fostering relationships, providing training and improving culture isn’t far-fetched—but rather, it’s increasingly seen as desirable.

How To Make Your Case For Internal Community

What now? You know that an internal community is important, not just for today, but for the future of your organization. Even putting aside the period of social isolation that calls for more internal communication, internal community will be a key ingredient to the longevity and success of organisations in the future.

That being said, Alfredo offers a key piece of advice, which is to not be afraid to embrace change. Many organizations struggle with change, and this is something that needs to be overcome in order to succeed.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with these new dynamics,” says Alfredo. He acknowledges that it can be daunting to think about implementing a new tool, but it’s the way of the future. By implementing an internal community, organizations are essentially, “delegating power to the employees [and] you’ll end up creating a better environment for everyone.”

While this is all well and good, how can you start this journey for your organization? Well, it starts with a solid business plan.

Creating a Business Plan for Internal Community

To ensure that your organization keeps with this trend, you’ll need to create a business case that explains why this is in your organization’s best interest. When crafting your case, there are a lot of factors that you need to include, such as what programs will be cut to fund this plan, and the ROI you’ll get out of it.

“When you assess the cost savings you’ll enjoy on things like training, you’ll find that you’re going to have a healthy budget to work with,” says Alfredo. “You also want to consider how much your organization could lose out if you don’t have inter-departmental collaboration.” That being said, you want to ensure that you also discuss the potential losses that your organization could suffer without an internal community, not only when it comes to lost innovation, but also when it comes to turnover. 

Building a strong business case is critical to getting executive buy-in to your community project.  Make sure that you cover all the bases and successfully align your business goals with community outcomes—this will make your case way more impactful. 

I recommend using this Community Business Case template. This template represents a flexible yet complete outline of everything you need to include to successfully make your case. As an editable Word document, you will not only be provided with an overview of what you should include in each section, but you will also have the discretion to add, delete or alter anything you deem necessary.

The main sections of this business case template include:

  • Executive summary

  • Business Need and Opportunity Overview

  • Project Summary

  • Impact Analysis

  • Assumptions and Additional Factors

  • Approvals

At the end of the day, having an internal community is key to forwarding your organizational culture and fostering innovation. While this may seem like a hard priority right now, it’s actually a key ingredient to long term success. An internal community can definitely help you today during this period of social isolation, but it’s also one of the best long-term tools for successful and continual internal collaboration. 

Internal community


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Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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