eSpace is based on Communities, some of these are communities of practice, some communities of interest, but all have been created based on a perceived need for an online space. It's potential is huge, as an awful lot of money and time is spent travelling around the country to meetings, which could more effectively and easily happen via web conferencing - hopefully that will be the next step. But currently, people are actually asking questions and getting answers, finding colleagues through the member directory, sharing concerns and generally sharing knowledge and experience, which is what it's there for.
Having done a lot of work with the Tipping Point theory of the adoption of ideas, and the nature of change, I can see that we're on the upward curve, heading happily toward the tipping point. This I feel has been in part for these reasons:
- the communities are created by demand by the workforce, and not dictated centrally, allowing for people to engage with them and to really support their community as advocates who spread the word
- there is strong leadership support in some areas, encouraging participation, explaining usefulness, and generally advocating the site and specific communities they see a need for
- each community has a coordinator from within the community (or who is close to that community) which enables them to understand the needs, interests and barriers the community faces
To anyone trying to implement a social networking or social media site in their organisation, I would say the key elements to think about are:
- Bottom up works best - it's incredibly difficult to get a network going, supporting the ones that want to be there is half the battle
- You need the support of leaders. These don't have to be leaders in the sense of the organisational structure, and could be leaders of a particular network.
- Skills in networking, influencing, and identifying potential advocates and coordinators are vital to get the right people on board - find your advocates, the rest will happen more easily
- It takes time, lots and lots of time, and you can't force it (but you can push it gently) so just keep listening to your users and coordinators/facilitators and above all be supportive. Every user is important, without them you have an empty site