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Recent years have seen many companies replacing the classic “Suggestion Box” for employees with modern “Ideas Social Networks” to create innovation communities where employees can suggest their innovative ideas on products, services, processes…

Suggestion Box Ideas Network

In order to transform the “black box” model, with no transparency or collaboration, into an “ideas social network” model, where the basic principles are transparency, democratization, participation and collaboration, there are certain factors that guarantee success.

Based on the experience of implementing ideas4all Innovation Agora among employees in companies that operate in various different sectors, these are the keys to success for “Ideas Social Networks”:

1. The Commitment and Implication of the company’s Management: Ethe Management’s commitment is the first factor for success; this commitment should manifest itself in various different ways:
Assignation of resources: availability of the necessary resources and budget, the dedication of the implementation and support teams, Communication Plan, prizes and rewards…

Commitment to the implementation of the best ideas: setting in motion the processes necessary for the selection and implementation of the best ideas.

Leadership and participation: within the project, the communication plan, in the implementation of ideas… and by leading by example: participate, congratulate, comment…

2. The implementation and support team: the exclusive dedication of big teams is not necessary for the implementation and support of ideas social networks, but what is essential is the participation of certain roles, which can be covered with part-time dedication.

The implementation and support team for an ideas social network must count on people capable of making decisions regarding implementation and operation, and of coordinating all of the members in the support team. They must have communication skills and 2.0 experience; people with the necessary knowledge to identify, evaluate and select the best ideas from their areas of responsibility, and managers with the ability to select and promote the implementation of ideas identified by people in previous steps of the process.

Various roles can be covered by one person, or by a previously created committee (Innovation Committee, Management Committee…). It is a good practice to count on volunteers who do not consider this assignation a burden and also to assign one of these roles to the most active users in the ideas network, once it has been launched.

3. A good communication and promotion/dynamization plan: In order to achieve maximum participation among employees, it is very important to make the social network known using all the internal communication media at the company’s disposal, both online (intranet, email, banners…) and offline (posters, brochures, acetates, presentation events…), as well as the management’s participation (video blogs, emails, events…).

This communication plan must have continuity; a brilliant launch is not enough: we must persist with periodic communications (newsletters, news section in the intranet, Innovation Blog, periodic emails…).

4. Competitions and Challenges that focus on certain subjects: If you want to find good ideas–good answers–you have to ask the right questions. These are presented to the ideas network in the form of ideas competitions and challenges. How the questions are defined and expressed is something to which you need to dedicate time and attention.

In your first competition or challenge your objective will probably be for employees to contribute ideas that they already have, that they’ve probably had for a long time, without the chance to share them. This first competition can be open to all types of ideas, in order to quickly build a community for innovation, while users have their first experience of the network and learn to use it. After the launch, however, the program of activities (Competitions and Challenges) should be aimed at real, strategic issues for which the company requires ideas that it is willing to implement.

Also key is the participation of directors in the selection of subjects submitted to the network for ideas. In our experience, it is initially the team’s members (Director, Community Manager…) who suggest the challenges, but after a certain period of time a demand will arise and it will be the Directors of the different areas of the company who will want to include their challenges in the ideas network.

5. Prizes and recognition: It is necessary to keep employees–the members of the innovation community–interested in the ideas network and its activities, and in order to do this prizes and recognition are essential. You don’t need to offer big prizes for competitions, but having prizes is important and even more so recognizing those who participate and those who share the best ideas. This maintains interest in the community and gives the project credibility.

The rules for competitions must be very clearly established using specific conditions for each competition (dates, conditions of participation, how winners are selected, prizes, commitment to idea implementation…), and these must be rigorously complied with. Winning ideas don’t necessarily need to be the most voted ideas (you can set up a Jury) but it is important that votes count (by preselecting most voted ideas, assigning a prize for the most “popular” idea…).

The best recognition is to see your idea become reality and for everyone to know, so you must actively recognize ideas from the very beginning: information on winners, participation in the implementation team, prize-giving ceremonies…

Ideas need to be rewarded, but participation needs to be rewarded too. Apart from rewarding the best ideas, competitions and challenges must therefore also reward participation and activity in the promotion. Promotions can be organized with prize draws, among anyone meeting the participation criteria, with small guaranteed prizes for those who carry out a given activity or reach a certain level of participation…

User rankings measuring participation are also an effective way of giving recognition to the most active users.

6. Feedback and information: This is a social network for ideas and innovation, and in all social media and networks, feedback and information are key factors.

The activities implemented by the Community Manager and experts focus on user interaction, offering them information and feedback on their ideas through comments, appraisals, highlighted ideas…

The community itself generates feedback using the means available in a social network: comments by other users, votes, followers, favorites… but the “authority roles” (Community Manager, Experts…) play a fundamental role in this task.

Publishing news on the network in internal media (newsletters, intranet, magazines…), creating a blog on innovation and the project, and keeping information permanently up-to-date in the platform (winners, implemented ideas, prize-giving ceremonies…) is all also very important in order to maintain interest and add credibility to the community of users.

7. Quick implementation of the best ideas: asking employees to share their ideas only makes sense if they are going to be implemented. The implementation of the best ideas is a key factor in order to recover the investment, as well as to maintain the interest and credibility of the innovation community.

Committing to the implementation of winning ideas in competitions through the launch of project prototypes, product development and implementation would be the official line for the implementation of the best ideas, but also give importance to the implementation of simple ideas, not necessarily only prize winners.

It is important to set up a simple process that identifies and promotes ideas that are easily executable so that they can be implemented rapidly, and executed within the current budget and resources (Business as Usual), offering the community “Quick Wins” in the implementation of ideas that promote participation and enthusiasm for the project.

In our experience with the implementation of ideas social networks for employees, we have found these to be 7 key issues to bear in mind. Notice that we have not once used the term ‘technology’ or mentioned the IT department. Although the latter’s participation may be very important…”These are not technological projects, but projects for innovation”, and here is the advice announced in our title:

Initially, keep a “Simple Project” attitude (“Keep it simple”):

Leadership must come from the business, not from technology, you don’t need extremely advanced technology, rather very simple technology.

You don’t need to formalize all the processes from the start, all you need is key processes for the project’s management.

You don’t need additional and complex ad-hoc developments; a simple implementation of a standard platform is enough.

You don’t need a big structure, the basic roles are enough to begin with (one person can initially cover several roles).