Just to use Jive here as an example - we have several communities besides Clearstep, including for support, developers. For all we encourage transparent employee participation, however asking questions, etc. is a more normal occurrence within the Clearstep and Dev communities. So for example in Clearstep, any time you see someone with medals under their avatar that's one way we're trying to bring visibility that the person is an employee. In both Clearstep and in our dev communities specifically that transparent participation helps us learn almost daily and improve our product and services.
Other examples off the top of my head within tech are Intel (partner, dev., customer loyalty type of communities such as their OpenPort site), VMWare (check out all their 10+ communities here in addition to their VMWorld community), and Cisco who all encourage transparent employee participation. Employees blog, ask/answer questions, and have their contact info within their profile. Kind of scary, I know, but letting go a bit wrt controlling the info flow and not always being seen as "the experts" is just part of the new world order with prospects and clients preferring to engage with companies in a more collaborative way.
Hope those examples help some.
Adam cites several good examples. In our consulting work, we always recommend that the company offering the community clearly identify it's employees. We suggest a company logo next to the username. That said, there are different opinions on how to answer employee product questions in the community:
- One technology company we worked with sent emails to employees who registered politely providing the rules of use. These rules included no pricing discussions, stay civil with all members, and only answer questions about the products. The message also included a link to the moderator for questions that the employees had. These were routed to internal SMEs to answer and were recorded to make sure that there was not a gap to the company's product training documentation.
- One technology company did not restrict what employees could or could not post. This company had only a couple of questions asked by employees that might have been better asked in private. But it did not impact the company's community reputation at all. (The employees did identify themselves as newer employees trying to learn.)
The tone of the question is really what's important. Not all employees understand the technology or the product or the marketing information and feel they have no one to ask. (That's a whole 'nother issue though!) Before deciding which approach to take, I'd recommend that you analyze your company's culture. Are you supposed to be all knowing experts ready to help customers and prospects? Or is your company more open? Your community supports your brand and your company's tone/external culture. A radical departure from either won't be viewed as a good thing...
Hi Adam & MRowland!
Thanks so much for your fast and thoughtful responses...and the real-life examples. It's all very helpful!
You gave me some great ideas. Given that my organization is still concerned about the Web 2.0 Rules of Engagement, I think I need to build a case for being more open and collaborative. Having real-life examples of what other HiTech companies are doing and options for slowly exploring this area will be very helpful.
And in the meantime, I'm going to check into getting a "welcome" email sent to new members and update my employee forum training to dive deeper into tone.