Zoho@Zoho: How we promote and encourage linchpins

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In his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin advices people to find ways to be unique… find ways to be become indispensable in a modern world that is filled with generic drones inhabiting nondescript office cubes. There’s some good advice for individuals in there. But there’s of course another side to that coin… How can companies create an environment where linchpins naturally appear and develop?

We are not management consultants, neither we’d dream of competing with Seth Godin… but we can tell you how we we promote and encourage linchpiness at Zoho.

Of course, it all starts with the culture. Zoho Corp is a very open company where anyone and everyone can comment, propose and criticize. But that is never enough. At around 1,200 employees, we are not what you’d call small. We have a truly distributed team with 5 offices around the world… so how do linchpins get noticed across all the noise and all the different things going on?

We use Zoho Discussions internally to run everything that we might want to get communicated, discussed or feedbacked-on. The underlying idea is that anyone can have a good idea for any area. An engineer might have a good marketing idea; a lawyer will have a suggestion about usability; a marketing person might want to improve some internal process… not everyone will have a good idea, but a good idea can come from anyone.

To give you an idea, these are the most important topics today (or in the Twitter lingo,  the Trending topics):

(sorry! Had to blur a three sensitive topics there – after all, this is an internal tool!)

So if you are someone with a strong opinion on one of those topics, you can voice your opinion there. Regardless of your rank. Will that generate a lot of noise? Sure it will, but we can also separate the needle from the haystack with voting – how do others feel about your idea or your comment? That is all reflected there.

And of course, in our Zoho Discussions-powered forum we can also see who has been active in the public discussions: As you’d expect, there’s a lot more to it – separate areas for different topic (by product, division, marketing, sales, etc). Just different spaces where the linchpin-to-be can contribute and be noticed. Go to a user’s profile page and see the latest posts s/he has written or commented on. Just like in Twitter, you are able to see the people that are followers, posts, who he is following, etc.

You can set alerts, follow a particular topic or a user, even follow a particular area/theme (like following a hashtag in Twitter… Twitter guys, you can steal this from us). There a lot more to Zoho Discussions in an internal setting that I will not discuss here.

The overall point is – create a culture where employees can easily discuss any topic, but also provide a good virtual space where linchpins-to-be can be heard, encouraged and recognized. The secret to success in business is not having drones, but in having unique individuals that contribute with their unique skills.


Integrated Single Sign On for your Customer Support Community : Tailoring Zoho Discussions Part II

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In Part 1 of this series of blog posts, we talked about visual customization and branding features of Zoho Discussions. However, branding does not stop with visual customization alone. Most businesses collect user data (email, name, demographic info etc) and use it to provide better support, introduce features, conduct campaigns and also to offer a member area.

End users expect to use their profile information right in all areas of the website – including user communities. Most online community services encourage their customers to transit to “Open ID” (or Google, Yahoo, FB, Twitter based) authentication. This approach definitely has its merits since the end user has to manage one less profile and password. But, this approach presents 2 problems:

  1. Businesses need to change their existing model and develop and deploy code updates to their existing system
  2. Existing users (most businesses already have an registration requiring forum / community) will have to forget their current profile and migrate over.

These drawbacks have been a driving force for most businesses to fall back to deployable open source solutions as opposed to online-hosted solutions.

But it need not be this way! It is possible to implement single sign on a hosted community solution, thus liberating yourself from maintenance and scalability issues, without giving up on the flexibility and ease of use.

Zoho Discussions has always supported enterprise techniques like LDAP sync, SAML based authentication. We have recently added a highly simplified, yet secure, REST API based Single Sign On technique. Coupled with visual customization options, SSO integration provides a unified “one-brand” experience for your end users. This allows your end users to seamlessly navigate between your website and your community (hosted by Zoho Discussions) and use any login scheme that you currently have or choose to upgrade to.

And the best part is, implementing this technique for your community can be done without any significant programming (Learn more). You can roll out this feature – including code changes and testing in a matter of days.

And before you ask, yes we do offer migration of your existing forum content from sources like phpBB, Google Groups mail archives, EML, CSV and more. Contact us for more details.

Sign up to Zoho Discussions today and get an interactive customer support community, sans the headache of customizing and maintaining one.