Gary Koelling and Steve Bendt were about to become popular guys in the 140,000-employee Best Buy corporation. They led the effort to build an internal social-networking site.

Their objective was to obtain more information about customer likes and dislikes through the blue-shirt-wearing sales associates on the floor of the sprawling entertainment and appliance retail giant. This information would help Best Buy create more effective advertising. "If you get a decent problem to solve, you can make decent advertising," Koelling said.

Bendt conducted in-person interviews with sales associates, a process that produced great information but was time-consuming and not very scalable.

The mission: replicate the real-world experience online, make it scalable, and dig up more good information.

Koelling, a self-described journalist with little technology development knowledge, started working with an open-source content management tool called Drupal (www.drupal.org).

Little did they know that their internal social network (not too long ago, these were called intranets) for communication and collaboration was about to give them a whole lot more than they originally desired. One of the lessons learned: When you provide a forum for conversation, be ready for anything.

Listen, Provide, Learn

Getting contributions from your community and encouraging interaction are critical elements of an internal corporate Web site. If people don't use the site, you have a corporate platform that, according to Bendt, "sucks."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Albert Maruggi is a senior fellow of the Society for New Communications Research and host of the Marketing Edge podcast (www.providentpartners.net/blog). He is also founder and president of PR and social-media consulting firm Provident Partners. Reach him via amaruggi@providentpartners.net.