Creating a Technical Community at Intel

*** This post was originally published in 2007 on the old IT @ Intel blog - I am reposting it for the benefit of this new community site , with some updates to bring it up to date. ***

Back at the beginning of 2007, the managers of my organization had a dilemma and they  needed someone to help solve it. Now, I’ve got 13-16 direct reports which is already a full  time job, but their need was something I found pretty interesting, and since I have a  passion for social media it seemed right up my alley.

Here was their problem - how could they help a group of developers in another country learn  everything that our US resources knew about an enterprise software we’ve been using for  over a decade? Keep in mind, these US resources had stayed mostly static for the last 10+  years…the people who implemented it are the same people who engineer it today. They have  significant “tribal knowledge”, and are intimately familiar with how we have configured and  modified the software through the years to adapt to changing business needs.

But the new teams in other countries did not. Not only were many of them new to the  technology, but they had no idea what we’d done over the last ten years, or why we’d done  it in the first place. So I was chartered to go off and “build a community“…and that’s  what I did.

Here’s where we are today, then I’ll tell you how we got there (keeping in mind that we  still have more work to do)…

Today

  • Over 500 people on the community email list, with participation from senior managers,  first line managers, project/program managers, analysts, developers, customer support,  infrastructure teams, and business reps.
  • Monthly newsletters with technical and business topics, including featured articles on  external blogs and forums (meetings and the newsletter are the top value areas rated by  community members)
  • A wiki-based knowledge center of technical content about product features, projects,  infrastructures, “tribal knowledge”, etc.
  • 11 discussion forums, an online calendar of events, and fully archived meeting and  training materials (including video replays)
  • Weekly video podcasts presenting updates on major program and project status
  • Technical and Business related blogs, presented by community leaders and guest  bloggers
  • 40+ technical training brown-bags, quarterly “Town  Hall” meetings for the entire community (meeting attendance averages 10% - with many  meetings repeated off-hours to accommodate geographical attendance)
  • Quarterly community health surveys to identify areas of improvement and gather ideas from the group
  • All that came from 8-10 different sites across multiple countries, who used to only talk to each other if they happened to be on a project together - and even then, only when time zones overlapped (which in many cases they don’t), or if someone worked early mornings or late evenings.

    All of that started from no common distribution list, no newsletter, no blog, no consolidated wiki  (only a few scattered pages), no forums, no global community.

    So here’s how we built it…

    First, I created a global distribution list. I needed a way to get the word out that we  wanted to build a community, and I wanted a mechanism to have ongoing communications with  whomever wanted to sign up. It’s a voluntary community, and people can opt-in and opt-out  just by sending an email. I scoured some existing distribution lists and org charts, then  came up with my first target audience. They received an email blast from me explaining that  we were creating a community and I wanted them to be a part of it.

    Out of that initial blast to about 40-50 people, exactly one person declined. Everyone else was ready to go and wanted to sign up right away. The distribution list grew over time - people forwarded it to their friends who were interested, and people even saw posters in the hallway telling them about the community (I was using every communication medium at my disposal from posters, to personal blogs to word of mouth). For about six months, I was getting sign-ups almost every business day.

    Next it was time to build a “portal”. I wanted a single website that I could send everyone  to that would give them access to all community offerings. This was built on the wiki. I  started to consolidate a bunch of existing material, then created one main jumping page  that listed everything we had to offer. I created a quick and easy to remember URL alias  (using an internal system that does things like tinyurl), and started sending people to the page.

    After the wiki started, it was time for discussion forums. I selected a few topic areas, created the forums on our internal systems, and added that to the portal page. Pretty soon, people were posting technical and business related questions, and eventually, people started answering. Now, I will tell you that I sometimes have to track people down to answer the questions that sit for a few days without a response. I don’t have to do that too often though, because now people are subscribing to alerts and if they see something new that they want to talk about, they usually do.

    Four months went by and I thought it might be time to see how the community was doing - in  the form of a “health survey”. So I created a survey of about 10 questions and sent it out  to the list (which was around 200 at the time) - I even offered one lucky respondent the chance to win a $10 gift card. The responses indicated that we were on-track, but could do more. People wanted to see podcasts! So in less than a week, we kicked off our first video podcasts with topics about major program status. The podcast continues, and is produced by two of my peers, and they have enjoyed great feedback on the content and quality. Instant turnaround on the survey.

    I continued the monthly scheduling and facilitation of technical and business brown-bag discussions, and then kicked off a quarterly Town Hall meeting for the entire community. These meetings gave members an opportunity to hear about community metrics, updates from senior managers about important programs, or other events of interest. The mailing list steadily grew toward 300, and new people began authoring pages in the wiki and participating in forums.

    Soon it was time for the next health survey (September 2007). This time around, people wanted to see technical blog posts…in less than a week we published the first, and now we have guest bloggers who have stepped up to provide discussions of a more technical nature.

    That brings us to end of 2007…and we launched the next exciting offering from the  community - the Web Jam. It’s not a group of people getting together to make holiday fruit  puree - it’s a 2 day event, housed in our forum environment, to get people talking about  technology and interacting with each other. With sponsorship from senior management (and  not just sponsorship - committed active participation), we have discussions  that are community driven about any topic they can think of. There are people out there who  question what we’re doing, and we want to hear from them and give people a chance to  respond. We have technical resources who want to gather BKMs from peers in other countries  - so they will start that conversation going.

    In two days we gathered an insane amount of feedback about what concerns people, what  interests people, and what they want to see next. It’s going to be pretty exciting to see  what happens next (more about the web jam in a subsequent blog post).

    2008 was a continued flurry of activity, with even more technical brown bags, web jams, project video contests, community logo contests, and more. We built off a wildly successful start into the largest professional networking community at the company, and we've still only just begun. In 2009 we're kicking off a technical mentoring program and a leadership/steering committee. Upward and onward!

    So that is the story of how one person kicked off a global community, then signed up more  and more people to continue the creation.

    But it’s never that simple is it?

    Here’s the big challenge…and I don’t have an answer for you yet on this one… How do you make the move from awareness, to participation. In other words, if you’ve got  thousands of people reading your content every day, how to get those thousand people to  actually reply to, change, or add to your content? How do you get more people to create pages  on a wiki, or add/answer questions in a forum? How do you turn visibility into action?

    That’s where I’m focusing now. And if it’s a journey you want to hear about - let me know  in the comments!

    - Heath

    P.S. if you haven’t already seen this amazing video about social media / communities / Web 2.0, it’s a great introduction to where information exchange is headed… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g