Be a social learning general contractor and build the structure

I like to do my own home improvement projects and because of that, when I’m not watching sports or Game of Thrones, I’m checking out my favorite shows on HGTV. That’s a good frame of reference for today’s topic because building the structure for a social learning capability is much like being a general contractor. Just as a general contractor subs out work for specific expertise and does some work on his own, so will you. So start channeling Mike Holmes, or Bob Vila and let’s dig into how to construct a social learning architecture.

Last week I wrote about the temple of social learning and how important sponsorship is to the process. But you need to give your sponsors something to believe in and you need to give your users somewhere to go. The temple has to be sound and there are four factors to make that happen:

  • Ecosystem
  • Community
  • Strategy
  • Partnering

As the general contractor of social learning, you’ll need to work with experts in all sorts of fields, keep them coordinated, on-time and on budget to build your temple. Refer to this graphic as we dig deeper, it will cover the bullet-by-bullet points so we can talk about the bigger picture.


The biggest mistake you can make is to go outside of your company ecosystem. We were fortunate that our intranet has enabled social functionality. Now, is it perfect? Of course not, nothing is. It lacks badging and the microblogging is not as elegant as it could be. But the company put it, my learning org didn’t, which means we didn’t pay to implement and don’t pay to maintain it. They also worked with legal and got them onboard, which in a highly-regulated field is crucial.

I’ve witnessed folks who talk and talk about social but won’t implement without all the features they want. I say you need to use what you have and then work to get things you need implemented. If you wait for the perfect system, or build it yourself, you’ll wait forever or pay a fortune. You must also connect your communities to the larger corporate community structure and tie all of your learning technologies into your learning communities. We want to make all of our learning available through the community; mimicking how people learn on the web today. We want learners to search for something and get formal, informal and social content, including SMEs to contact, in one result. We can’t do that unless we tie into our LMS and other systems.


You need to establish clear roles and responsibilities. Some of this is established by the internal team that runs the social (communities) within our company intranet. What we did was build on those definitions and worked within them to set roles and responsibilities for our social learning communities. You also need to preach how the social world is different than the traditional corporate world. I coach that leadership in the social marketplace comes from sharing, posting and communicating, not hierarchy. This is a tough concept in a corporate setting, especially with more established, old-school teammates.


This is really about integrating with lots of strategies. You’ll need to know what’s going on in IT, Mobility, Talent Management, Divisional or Organizational Communications and Learning. If your company is like mine (and it likely is) you’ll have a significant gap in social media skills throughout the company. Your social learning community is going to cause upheaval in culture. You need to have a solid change plan so that you don’t lose your learners and more importantly, you don’t lose your sponsors. Being interconnected with the other strategies in the company will make it easier to implement change, architecture and provide value to the business.


This may seem like the most obvious, especially since at its heart social learning is collaborative. It is doubly important if you do the ecosystem piece properly. You need to partner with IT, Mobility and anyone else who owns a piece of technology you’re trying to leverage. What most people forget is your support center. Don’t leave out the help desk. If you plan on having them in your community to answer questions, you’ll need to make sure they’re trained on how to use your community. Also, most call centers are set up to just answer calls. They may not have the skill set to work support in a social realm. They’ll also need to know that your community is a hub for learning and that questions can be answered in the community. Our learning community is a mix of social, informal, dynamic and static info. We need to constantly mine to create content. The help desk can provide you with content for FAQs and such that can be used for self service. They’ll love you for it, it will reduce calls and make their lives easier.

Much like sponsorship, the connections you make in building your structure need to be continually nourished. If you can, represent learning on the decision making bodies of your company intranet site; we are and it helps us influence future enhancements and keeps us close to their strategy. Unlike a real general contractor, once you build this structure, you can’t just walk away. It’s like being a homeowner; there’s always something that needs to be fixed or improved.





About John Buonora

Social Learning Manager and Strategist working on career number three. An Old School guy with Millennial skills and a lover of my family, sports and food.
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2 Responses to Be a social learning general contractor and build the structure

  1. Praveen Maknoor says:

    Hi John,

    Great enlightenment of 4 pillars (factors) of social learning, each of them very important.

    I like the following principle, to me it is the key strategy and going to retain in my mind.

    “You need to have a solid change plan so that you don’t lose your learners and more importantly, you don’t lose your sponsors”


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