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Sustaining web 2.0

Author Euan Semple

Ten years ago, while working in a senior position at the BBC, Euan Semple was one of the first to introduce what have since become known as social media tools into a large, successful organisation. He has subsequently had four years of unparalleled experience working with organisations such as Nokia, The World Bank and NATO helping them learn how to make the most of this wired-up world of work. Euan is highly connected to some of the most influential movers and shakers of this new environment and his workshops have already been experienced by many diverse audiences worldwide. In this article he discusses how to keep your web 2.0 content alive and how to make it sustainable in the long term.

Getting social platforms accepted and working in corporate environments is hard enough but how do you keep them going once you have them? How do you make it more likely that they will survive and flourish than wither and die? One of the things that I was most proud of about the social spaces we developed inside the BBC was that they survived our departure despite the fact that when we left no one took on particular ownership of them. The following are suggestions based on what I believe we got right.

  • Make your spaces unashamedly social. That is the glue that will hold them together and give them longevity. There is nothing wrong, or new, in being sociable at work and it is the ability to establish relationships that enables us all to get things done. The better your environment allows people to do this the longer it will last. If it supports strong social ties between the participants, and a frequent and robust exchange between them, then you will have a sustainable solution that should outlast you.
  • Rather than putting all of your eggs in one basket and buying a whole social platform from a single vendor buy a lot of small but perfectly formed tools and start building them in to an ecology. Don’t overdo the structure either; make it easy for people to link from one tool to the other but don’t over engineer the connections. What you think is a sensible structure may be bewildering to your users. Allow them to work out what relates to what and why. This will allow your environment to grow with its users and stay relevant and fresh longer.
  • Use the tools to talk about managing the environment in which they sit. Encourage people to blog about the challenges and the successes. Blog about the things you are not sure about and blog about the things you are grappling with. Use your forums to ask questions about the use you are putting the tool to and ask if this is what people want, what they want to change, how they think you should run the tool. Keep pushing debates about the tools back into the tools themselves. Use the tools to develop and record your processes, policies and guidelines.
  • Make it an ideal that as many issues as possible are dealt with by the users in the tool itself. Involve as many people as possible in running your online environment. You should aim to have as many sectors of your business using it anyway, but make sure the more formal governance of it reflects this variety. The more of a sense of shared ownership you can cultivate the more smoothly things will run. Have a way of dealing with issues and a clear way of escalating problems if necessary.
  • Be patient. Be patient when people don’t join your system fast enough. Be patient when people don’t learn as quickly as you expect. Be patient when people get things wrong. Be patient with yourself when you make mistakes. Cultivating tolerance and patience will encourage attitudes that will help the ecology adapt to whatever future challenges it faces.
  • Culture is a slippery word that gets used in all sorts of ways but effectively you should be trying to cultivate a robust and appropriate culture in your online spaces. Establishing norms of behaviour and shared values. Encouraging tolerance and a willingness to work together to create supportive environments. Fostering relationships and bonds that shape the culture and help sustain it.
  • Be prepared to be edgy. Allow people to talk about things they can’t talk about elsewhere. This will make your online space attractive. Why would people bother to use it if all it did was mirror the conversations they can already have elsewhere? You probably want to stop short of courting gossip and scandal but sailing as close to the wind as you can is a good thing. Lead the way yourself. Be prepared to name as many elephants in as many rooms as possible and wake things up a bit. It is energy that will make your environment sustainable and you need to keep the energy high.

If you get these things right your online environment should become largely self sustaining. You should have less and less to do with running it as time goes by, and it should be capable of adapting itself to changing circumstances. It should always be your goal to render yourself unnecessary as fast as possible!

Further reading


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