Extending Slack for better KM

Slack apps for KM

Slack is a great tool for just-in-time comms, but it hits a wall when it’s your only centralised knowledge source or when conversations and channels get so vast, you have no hope of finding something that’s already scrolled by. Thankfully, there are a few add-ons that are coming to the rescue. It’d be nice if collaboration tool vendors would put a focus on building/acquiring good search in the first place, but it seems to be a universal condition, so let’s take a look at your options.

1. Niles

Niles is a bot that lives in and logs channels to learn the answers to common questions, and can be referenced directly within Slack. Anyone that’s supplied an answer will be prompted via email to review and refresh, if needed. Bots like this rely on machine learning, natural language processing, and time, so it won’t work perfectly out of the box. However, a great thing it has going for it is that there’s no external apps or extra logins. Interaction with the knowledge is all contained within Slack. It can be hooked in to your Google Drive to search docs and into Salesforce, which is great for sales teams. It’s filed under HR in the apps directory but it serves anyone that does any kind of support. More info in this Techcrunch article.

2. Obie

Obie is similar to Niles but has hooks into its parent product, Tasytt. Tasytt offers a CMS, process flows, and a built-in reward mechanism for knowledge contributors; and it integrates with a whole range of apps including Google Sites, Dropbox and Evernote.

3. qPod by nimeo

qPod takes it up a level and hits the enterprise right where it hurts—Outlook, Office 365 and Sharepoint; plus all the cool kids. Nimeyo aims to eliminate any friction by surfacing what you need directly in whatever you’re currently using. Intended for enterprise, pricing is on an annual per user basis and the baseline config is email analysis only. Context is king when it comes to knowledge and nimeyo is all over that.

4. Tettra

Tettra is a simple wiki that bolts onto Slack. Invoked with a slash command, it’ll show you a knowledge article within Slack and provide an option to share it with the channel. You can also allow requests and assign page ownership to domain experts. You can see what it looks like just by checking out their own support page.

5. Guru

Guru offers a Slack bot and a browser extension providing easy accessibility from wherever you spend most of your time. Guru’s schtick is trusted content, so they provide functionality for domain experts to verify knowledge articles and for search results to be prioritised by popularity score and filtered by tags, categories and collections. This is my pick if you’re in a chat-ops environment and you need to level up your reusable knowledge assets.  Integrates with a bunch of sales and support solutions.

6. Notion

Notion is a unified workspace, rather than a knowledge repository. It brings together your dispersed systems into one workspace that you can then customise based on your team’s processes and workflows. It integrates with Slack, but it also accesses content across Trello, Confluence, Google Drive, Basecamp and more, allowing you to move things around in a drag-and-drop fashion in a way that makes sense to how you work and what you need to know about.

7. ClozeLoop

ClozeLoop has one purpose: sales enablement. It brings disparate sources of sales content, like battle cards and RFPs, from wherever you’ve been keeping them and puts them right in the sales workflow. ClozeLoop integrates with SalesForce and Slack, and also has a web app with plenty of useful features. The app gives your sales team a chance to flag content when it needs updating, a simple thing that many knowledge base products forget about. I love that they’re dedicated to this one application of knowledge management with no intention to expand into other use cases, because they really nail it.


Why You Should Crowdsource Your Help Desk Response

Today’s post is a guest post from Ashley VerrillAshley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM, CIO.com, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.

 

Recently, I wrote an article for GigaOM about customer service software that doesn’t exist, but that I think someone should make. I argued basically that companies need technology for crowdsourcing their response to customer service questions on social media in order to scale, reasoning that in some cases it can be more efficient and cost-effective than paying for additional social media manpower.

After chatting with Aprill (the Knowledge Bird herself), I realized that business-to-customer support on social media isn’t the only context where this community problem solving concept can be applied. In this article, I will describe why I think companies should use this model to solve internal corporate issues – essentially, enabling employees to help each other.

The Customer Community Concept

In my GigaOM article, I suggested that this hypothetical software crowdsources social customer service responses to customer community users. The term ‘community’ refers to brand advocates (mostly customers) who answer other customer’s questions in discussion forums. In these communities, customers can post a question publicly, where other customers who had the same issue can chime in with how they solved it. It’s been used successfully by many B2C companies. Take this HP community member, for example. He spends upwards of 30 unpaid hours a week responding to queries in their discussion forums.

The reason why I thought this would be a valuable model for solving internal employee issues is because it can effectively deflect tickets from the help desk. As we all know, each new trouble ticket costs the company money. I’ve reviewed a handful of help desk services that can reduce these costs through automation, but the company still has to pay for both the agent and employee’s time while the issue is resolved. With the community, problems can be solved faster in some cases than with one-on-one communication.

Let’s say, for example, you have a company-wide server issue. Every employee needs to follow the same step-by-step process to resolve it, so you blast out a mass email to the team. But any agent will tell you, there’s always going to be questions and user errors. This creates the potential for a flood of tickets to the help desk at the same time. This could be more than your help desk is regularly allotted to handle, so a lot of people are waiting.

If your company had a community, the help desk could simply post the step-by-step instructions in a discussion thread. As there are follow-up questions and answers, other employees with the same issue can just read the thread, rather than calling or emailing the help desk.

How You Get Them to Use It

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds great, but employees have a job to do. Why would they take time out of their day to solve a coworker’s problem?

The answer is gamification. I want to point out a couple things on that customer community user’s profile I mentioned earlier. At the top of the page, “wb2001” has a badge that says “HP Expert:”

This is an indicator of how many questions this person has responded to, as well as how many of his answers received “kudos.” It shows other users that he is a leader in the community. This fosters competition and achievement among users. This is also monitored in real-time in the margin with “Recent kudos.”

 

These are the same kind of tools many help desk products use to increase agent productivity. They are just used to inspire employees to respond instead of agents.

Create a Sense of Unity Among Employees

My final argument for replicating the customer community concept for employees is the potential to foster team ideation.

If you spend time in any customer community, not all of the threads are about solving a specific problem. Many times, people use them as a soundboard for their ideas. The company can then use this for product development or marketing, based on which ideas receive the most comments and kudos.

In the corporate context, employees might start submitting their ideas for process development or inter-departmental alignment. Especially in very large companies, it’s difficult for marketing-sales-customer service and other departments to work collaboratively. The community gives them the venue for having these conversations.

The Technology Already Exists

Unlike the software I suggested in GigaOM, this kind of inter-office community platform already exists. Sometimes called “Social Enterprise Applications,” this includes products like Yammer, Chatter and Jive. Beyond potentially deflecting tickets from the help desk and solving problems faster, these systems have other benefits.

What do you think? Has your company effectively used community software to solve employee issues that normally would have ended up in the help desk? Join the conversation with a comment here.

 


In defence of forums

When I put “forums are” into Google, the first options that come up are: “dead”, “stupid”, “full of idiots”, and “a waste of time”. Granted, many of those are sensationalist titles for posts refuting exactly those things. Though the idiots are indeed plenty, online forums themselves are far from dead. Modelled on bulletin boards and UseNet of the 70s and 80s, forums are simply threaded discussions around a niche topic, with an invested core membership of subject matter experts. Usually. Naturally, a number of elements are needed to ensure ongoing usefulness, but as a framework for building knowledge and community, they’re pretty solid.

I’ve been an avid participant of different forums over the years. (Catching up on new posts is a great way to fill in time between those adrenaline-induced moments of “stuff is broken!” in a tech support job.) But when Facebook, Twitter, and other activity stream-style options appeared, forums suddenly looked a bit dated.

Online forums haven’t seen much innovation in that time. Some still look dated, while others like Vanilla, have improved the user experience somewhat. Game mechanics, forum analytics, search, curation and moderation functionality are all features that make forum management and engagement easier, especially when aligned with purpose. But the framework of the forum hasn’t changed much because it doesn’t have to. The structure is familiar, and versatile.

Let’s consider what forums offer:

Persistent topics – People can read and add to threads and topics any time, at a time that suits them. There’s more opportunity for a discussion to grab attention than in an activity stream where it might scroll by and escape notice.
Taxonomy – The structure of sub-forums and categories provides a browsable taxonomy. With thoughtful management, that taxonomy can grow as the community needs it to.
Deep engagement – Forums are an efficient many-to-many platform of communication, but they also allow for one-to-one and one-to-many conversations that add to the overall knowledge of the group.
Owned platform – Forums can be owned and managed by the organisations and communities who use them, which puts the security of the data in the hands of the owners; and they won’t be subject to changes at the whim of a provider.
Searchability – As long as relevancy and quality are part of the algorithm, forum searches can return related posts irrespective of age.

While I think forum software doesn’t need a whole lot of innovation, it’s the attitudes to adoption and use that do. Purpose is paramount. Clearly define and communicate the reason for the forum’s existence. Measure the engagement and the contribution to the related business outcomes. Moderation may be critical to a good experience, or maybe you’ll just need to set some guidelines for self-governance. With care and consistency, forums are fertile ground for long-lived relationships and ongoing learning, so don’t write them off yet.


Swarmconf 2012 wrap

I’d happily find any old reason to visit Melbourne, but this year’s Swarm conference promised to be a good one. I’ve been helping founders, Venessa Paech and Alison Michalk, put the concept of an Online Community Managers conference in front of more eyeballs, and I’d already known Alison through her professional forum moderation roles in the past. The opportunity to meet in person was something I’d already been looking forward to, but Swarmconf gave us all the opportunity to hear from established Community identities including Laurel Papworth, Yammer’s Global Head of Community, Maria Ogneva, and HuffPo’s Community Manager, Justin Isaf, amongst others.

It was certainly the most comfortable conference I’ve ever been to, complete with hammock, beanbags and in-room coffee cart with baristas; and being at Hub Melbourne’s co-working office, there’s plenty of power for laptop and phone charging. But despite the hipster environs and the hipster-gourmet catering of Kinfolk Café, the functions community managers perform aren’t just the purview of, well, hipsters and their start-ups. There were delegates from “stodgy” financial institutions, “conservative” motoring organisations, other large corporates, plus a healthy representation of not-for-profits and consultants.

Kicking off the event, Maria Ogneva took us through the cast of characters that make up a community and busted some myths common to enterprise social tools.

Maria Ogneva busts community myths

Photo credit @hughstephens

She also highlighted the potential $1.3 trillion in value from untapped internal communications.  We were then onto Huffington Post’s Justin Isaf, who explained how, aided by technology, a team of 28 moderators working 6 hour shifts from home (or anywhere), 6 days a week, pre-moderates 9 million comments a month. Think about the maths on that. Phenomenal. Justin believes in moderation for the safe environment it provides for community participants

The future of the internet

The future of the internet, according to Justin Isaf. Photo Credit @SocialMediainOz

After morning tea academic, Matthew Allen, presented his paper Is There Room For Community in All These Social Networks? As the “person becomes the portal”, we no longer go to Facebook; it goes wherever we go. And so it was good timing that the next speaker, David Hood, concentrated on the always-on nature of our modern lives. Those with community management roles are nourishing their communities often at the expense of their own time to reenergise.

As we moved through the afternoon, Laurel Papworth warned us of the coming “shitstorm”, where community management as an emerging profession will need to navigate legal decisions and changing paradigms. One of the problems is our inability to define the role of community management. As Craig Thomler revealed from a recent industry survey, people identifying themselves as community managers are doing a mix of marketing, PR, moderating and social media management.

These are the comments that have resonated the most since Swarmconf—the emerging nature of community management and its ill-defined parameters. There’s no doubt an industry body will need to form as legal rulings around social networks begin to impact companies and communities in new ways.

In knowledge management, communities of practice are part of the toolkit, but as a greater percentage of employees work remotely, our CoPs will be formed online via company forums or other enterprise social tools. And, as ITSM advances to promote more self-service, the vehicle on offer may well be a self-help forum. Therefore, understanding the functions and concerns of community management comes under the umbrella of KM and, for that reason, I highly recommend future Swarmconf events.

More details

Storify threads by Matthew Cox and Hugh Stephens.

Official Swarmconf blog.

Laurel Papworth’s 9 Step Social media Strategy


Community Management in Government—Craig Thomler’s Best Tips

Craig Thomler, Managing Director of Delib, Australia & New Zealand, is a leading social media and Government 2.0 advocate and practitioner. He’ll be speaking at Swarmconf on Community Management: is it a profession or a task? Like most community management specialists, he’s had a varied background as both a marketer and entrepreneur and has spent five years in the Australian public service improving public governance through the strategic use of digital technologies. Craig is well recognised for his contributions to Government 2.0. In 2009 he was awarded the inaugural Government 2.0 Individual Innovator Award by the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce. In 2010 he was named one of ‘The Top 10 Who are Changing the World of Internet and Politics’ by PoliticsOnline and the World eDemocracy Forum.

Craig will be joining speakers covering a range of session topics at Swarmconf including: the key differences between social networks and communities, how to build a movement, scaling online community, what role gender and age plays in social media management, managing an ‘always on’ job, the future of community management as a profession, and more.

Swarm Conference

These are Craig’s 5 best tips for community management in government.

  1. Consider carefully whether you should develop a new community or participate in existing ones. Why would people join your community? What are you giving them that they value that they don’t get elsewhere?
  2. Make the terms of engagement and moderation principles publicly available, simple and clear – and apply them diligently and fairly.
  3. Don’t assume your community will grow itself. Actively seed it with content and market it through other communities in a sensitive and respectful way.
  4. Trust the people in your community to do the right thing. If you don’t trust them, don’t expect them to want to participate.
  5. Be prepared to moderate, manage and participate in your community during evenings and weekends. Few people have time to participate through the working day.

Thanks Craig! Find out more about Swarm Conference.


Venessa Paech’s 5 Best Tips for Tip-top Governance

Well, I’ve just booked plane tickets for Swarmconf. Held at Hub Melbourne in Bourke st September 13-14. The one day conference + one day workshop will feature top community managers and thought leaders, including Justin Isaf, Community Manager for the Huffington Post, Maria Ogneva, Global Head of Community for Yammer (recently purchased by Microsoft for $1.2 billion), Head of Internet Studies at Curtin University, Matthew Allen (no relation of mine); and social media consultant and author Laurel Papworth.

Other speakers include Social Entrepreneur of the Year David Hood, government and citizen engagement specialist Craig Thomler, Conversation.EDU editor Jane Rawson and social strategist Stephen Johnson.

Venessa Paech is an international community management authority and one of the founders of Swarm Conference. She spent four years as global head of community management, social strategy and customer interactions for Lonely Planet, and is a published academic and popular speaker.

Swarm Conference

Here are Venessa’s 5 tips for tip-top governance

1. Self-moderation is a myth

Some communities are proactive in regulating tone. Usually these are communities that have been around for some time, and have had a chance to establish a sense of group identity. But even these groups need a simple scaffold to help them stay safe and stable.

Offline communities need police forces, fire brigades and other specialist groups of people looking out for them when stuff goes awry. Ideally, they’re never needed. But knowing they’re there (with training, equipment and accountability) if stuff happens, is an important comfort that lets us relax and get on with life.

Online communities aren’t much different. Knowing they’re supported acts as a stabilising force.

An external, impartial guiding hand ensures that certain voices or personalities don’t hijack or dominant moderation, and will look out for the community as a whole, rather than special or individual interests.

If you’re a member of an online community, do you really want to be concerned with warning people about bad behaviour, removing spam, responding to copyright take-down notices or defamation claims? You want to get to the point, and let others look after the fine print, for everyone’s safety.

2. It’s all about context

Whether creating criteria for usernames and accounts, community guidelines, terms and conditions, oversight procedures and mechanisms for reporting, you need to ensure your governance acknowledges the legal and social contexts of your unique community.

A support community for a serious disease will have very different attitudes to anonymity than a community of public officials. A community of teenagers will have a different take on when insults cross a line than a community of small business owners. And sometimes you’d be surprised at those differences!

Don’t assume anything. Learn about your community and your members. Work to understand their needs, objectives and where they’re coming from. Do your best to appreciate what makes them tick. (listen to what they’re not saying as well as what they’re saying). Then make sure your choices, your style, the words you write and the processes you put in place resonate with and respect those realities.

3. Consistency, consistency, consistency

Flawless consistency isn’t human, but building a strong community over time means applying the rules equally, repeatedly. It’s even more important to strive for consistency when you’re behind a screen and usually not able to share all the details about a decision or moderation action. Your members will point to any sign of favourites or special treatment, and call you out on it.

A long term member who’s been a great contributor suddenly goes rogue and seriously violates the rules of engagement. Decisions and consequences can’t be lighter than a newcomer, but you might want to spend a little more time explaining the outcome to the community (or them).

Be careful of over justifying your actions in public, and keep it professional. Whlie transparency is the ideal, too much detail about moderation can actually breed dissent and weaken your community over time.

4. Share the burden

Letting community members contribute to their own safety and harmony gives them a critical sense of empowerment. While likely only a handful will step up to do this regularly (and you can’t rely on this alone), you can’t afford not to let your members help you with regulating the space.

As you scale, it’ll become indispensable. And there are legal considerations. You have to give members a straightforward, quick way to report things like defamation, copyright infringement or issues concerning younger users to ensure compliance and protect each other.

Over time, listening to and learning from the way members report bad actors, or behaviour they consider gives you invaluable insight into the true social mores of the group (which may be different than the ones they’d articulate if asked).

5. Consult, but don’t design by committee

Good governance steers but doesn’t trickle down or impose.  If you have the good fortune to develop guidelines and rules of engagement with your members from the start, do so. Involve them in a way that shows you’re truly interested in their ideas about what their community will and won’t stand for, and how that bears out in operational practicalities. It shows you’re wiling to let them truly extend ownership over the shape of the community.

However, manage this input and the expectations around it smartly. For example, offer them input to a draft of guidelines, rather than open slather on creating them. Be careful not to imply that they have responsibilities they don’t, or more power than they do.

Until the law catches up with the realities of our networked lives, those keeping the lights on bear the cost and liability, and get sign off on house rules.

 

Thanks Venessa! Tomorrow you’ll get five more tips from one of Swarmconf’s speakers, Craig Thomler. FInd out more about Swarm Conference.


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