Oracle's Connect: Building Engagement with Internal Social Networks

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Internal Social Networks are starting to appear inside some organizations. Early adopters are finding positive business results by helping employees connect through “internal Facebooks.” By effectively harnessing these new networks, organizations are seeing positive impacts on internal brand building, as well as employee engagement, satisfaction and motivation — which leads to higher levels of productivity, revenue, and profit.

But the world of the internal social network is the opposite of command & control. That said, reasonable guidelines, a group of informal influencers, and a posse of community managers who help keep the dialog lively and the network on track.

It’s clear that no matter where your company is on the social media ladder, social networks and Web 2.0 skills are becoming a part of today’s work landscape. All businesses need to be aware of how to deploy networks for higher ROI, collaboration, innovation and customer service.

Oracle’s Connect: An Internal Social Networking Case Study

IdeaFactory

Connect began in July 2007 as the IdeaFactory. We were collecting ideas from teams in Applications Strategy, and none of the usual ways (email, spreasheets, wiki) worked for a team whose sole purpose was to (ahem) innovate.

So Rich built the IdeaFactory in 24 hours using Rails and LDAP. You can see the legacy of the original IdeaFactory in Connect today by paging through Ideas.

Here’s a taste of what it looked like:

The original IdeaFactory

Connect 1.0

Ideas were great and pretty successful, but we’d always planned to add social networking into the mix. Aria has always been the corporate directory, and we love it. We wanted to add a dash of social though, so in August 2007, Rich debuted Connect, which was IdeaFactory plus social networking and some other nice features.

Traffic went through the roof. We quickly realized there was strong demand for networking inside the firewall, and with Connect 1.0, we were off and running.

Here’s what the first version of Connect looked like.

Connect 1.0

That 1.0 version underwent several UI makeovers. The next version added the short-lived Connect logo and removed the AppsLab branding and centralized the navigation a bit, teasing features to come.

Connect 1.0, the sweet logo

The last 1.0 UI went from gray to white with a more Oracle standard logo and look/feel. I think Connect 1.0 had this UI for the longest amount of time. People were really accustomed to it.

Connect 1.0, white and red

Connect 2.0

After a long break to build and start up Oracle Mix, we turned our attention back to Connect, armed with even more ideas that had sprouted from Mix. Connect 2.0 went live in June 2008, adding SSO integration and a fully revamped architecture and infrastructure.

The big new feature in 2.0 was Groups, which we had built into Mix first. Now people could collaborate in ad hoc ways for work or personal interest.

The blue was a shock to many, and we got more than one negative comment about it (as compared to the white/red).

Connect 2.0, true blue


Connect 3.0

So far, the new UI has been a big hit; several people have commented positively. Connect topped 10,000 pageviews on the day it launched.

Introducing Connect 3.0


Profile Page:

New Profile

Enhanced UI — The UI has changed from blue back to white, and the main navigation is now on the left, versus on the top.

OraTweet integration –  when employees update their status in Connect, they can also send tweets to their networks, groups. Each tweet that appears in the Activity Log includes a link to the tweet that opens in a new tab/window.  If you want to reply, you can click through to see the tweet and reply. Or you can share links to useful information, communicating info much more effectively (and less intrusively) than an email could.

Pages – a new feature for groups where each group can have any number of pages editable by its membership.

Connect 4.0

Our main goals for this release were:

Put the focus on people, not on objects
We set out to emphasize the human element of the network, i.e. focus on who contributes, not on what is contributed. Twitter proved the value of this model, and Facebook has gone the same route. Now, you can scan the activity log and immediately recognize people you know, which in turn can help you find interesting content.

Make it dead simple to share anything
Rich built the posting widget as we’re calling it to make posting a snap. In the last version, you could only post your status on the home page and post ideas, questions and blog entries on the group pages.

The new posting widget

Now, you can share:

  • Your status.
  • A note. Notes are a catch-all for blog posts, messages, announcements, events, pretty much anything that’s not an idea or a question.
  • A link.
  • An idea. Since ideas have been part of Connect from the beginning, we have a soft spot for them.
  • A question. Questions have been around in Connect since 2.0.
  • Some media. Media provides a shortcut for posting videos, podcasts and images, just provide the link, and Connect does the rest.

Aggregate information by supporting multiple sources
We’ve borrowed FriendFeed’s import a feed capability and now you can pump all your feeds into a Connect group for collaborative discussion.Bare-bones, but hey, it works.

My hope is that people will use the feeds generated by blogs (in/outside the firewall), wikis, forums, news sites, other Connect groups, portals, enterprise search queries, etc. to aggregate useful content into a single place for discussion.

Provide intelligent filtering for easy viewing
Making it easy to share and aggregate information necessitated excellent filtering. People frequently asked for better filtering in the old Connect, and we knew this version would really need it. So, we now offer you three filters in a widget: Viewing (what post types), From (what time period) and Sorted by (how new or popular).

Consolidate output of the information we aggregate
We are already working on an email this post feature, which should drop soon, and beyond that, we’re thinking about a Posterous-style feature that’s dead simple. We’re infatuated with email integrations, and this would give everyone a blog without even knowing it. Posterous is super cool, by the way.

Give groups a more independent experience
When you navigate to a group’s main page, the navigation changes to focus on the group, rather than keeping the group bottled up inside the Connect navigation.

The search box moves down slightly to indicate its context is group search. Constraining search to include only a group’s content was an enhancement requested by several people. Also, the main navigation is replaced by the group’s about, which now includes a group home page and email address and will eventually include linkage to an OraTweet group.

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3 thoughts on “Oracle's Connect: Building Engagement with Internal Social Networks

  1. Thanks for the post about our work with Connect. If you’d like to learn more or have questions, hit us up over at our blog or by email if you prefer.

    FYI, your spam settings are blocking comments from behind proxies, which makes it a bit tough for people to comment from their workplaces.

    1. Hey there… I think Connect is awesome and definitely what we’re striving to achieve at Verizon Business. I was jealous to read how much social media integration you’ve achieved — I would love to see tweeting and status updates integrated into our social networking platform!!

      Thanks for the heads up regarding the spam settings! I modified it. :-)

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