My post – ‘Internal Social Networks – Are They a Waste of Time?’ received a lot of attention when I polled people on Linkedin.
Some recommended using Facebook and other external channels rather than compete against them. Others felt employees needed to be given more accountability. A few were divided about the viability of internal social networks.
Manoj has therefore a great deal to think of:
- He is dealing with a internal communications leader who doesn’t think his network adds value.
- His employees are on the network although they don’t seem to know if they are getting what they need.
- He isn’t able to ‘prove’ that his network is working right.
Look up the following strategies that can possibly help Manoj get his internal (enterprise) social network off the ground.
To begin, here is some context on how enterprise social software fare. According to Gartner’s research – Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, ‘within the enterprise, social software has started to evolve as an information-sharing platform’. The research evaluates and places such vendors in the magic quadrant based on their ‘ability to execute’ and ‘completeness of vision’.
A majority of the vendors in the magic quadrant mimic networks such as Facebook and Google +. It factors activity streams from within and external systems. Personalization of information and tagging allow users to streamline content. There is a need however for such social networks to help users ‘make sense’ of the flood of content and consider their newer expectations.
The benefits outweigh the issues: Issues such as time wastage and productivity loss that worry many leaders are unfounded. The benefits of an internal social media network far exceed all the concerns which get voiced. Internal networks help users find each other, manage work, collaborate, organize, discover experts, get alerts, learn, grow and a whole lot more. Such networks are known to retain staff, improve referrals, increase productivity, enhance collaboration and raise the image of an organization that innovates. A study by McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by completely implementing social technologies companies stand to improve productivity of high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent.
Clarify your purpose: Research reports that close to 57% of companies are increasing social software spending although only a small number (18%) of those businesses have a dedicated social planning team or social networking strategy in place. An insightful article – Why Building Your Own Corporate Facebook Will Usually Fail quotes Anthony Bradley, the co-author of The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees who claims that only one in five companies is able to build an effective corporate network. His three pronged approach includes articulating a clear objective, identifying a ‘what’s in it for employees’ and knowing the audience and what kinds of participants will be on the network.
Culture can potentially be playing a role: ‘Wasting time’ isn’t looked at very positively anywhere in the world and definitely not in the western world is what I understand. If there is control over the system and if employees engage with a purpose there are higher chances that there will be value to everyone. The change needs to be led by the business leader rather than the technical expert. Read the article – ‘the emerging wave of enterprise social networks’ for case studies from the Indian context as well as great ideas to implement a network.
Internal networks self-moderate content: If there are employees posting irrelevant stuff over time they get distanced and lose their reputation. Internal networks have their own way of regulating what makes sense to all. If employees aren’t self-moderating it means that there is something odd with the company culture and needs fixing.
Have a learning strategy in place: Before you get employees to add and see value there needs to hand holding and coaching on how and what business value it brings to the workplace. Education people on the differences between e-mail exchanges and social networks will be useful.
Know what employees seek: Research findings from Gagen MacDonald’s study indicate that employees look for quality of content, engagement and dialogue and optimization in that order. This means that a whole lot of attention needs to be paid to what content gets shared and used.
Leadership participation drives engagement: Although social media is thought of a tool for the ‘young generation’ employees expect leaders to participate actively. This in turn fuels perception of their abilities. Gagen’s study points that executive leadership accounts for 75% of employees’ perception of internal communications.
‘Pay for participation’ may not work always: Daniel Pink’s in his book ‘Drive’ argues forcefully on the practice of ‘pay for performance’ causing more damage than good within organizations. With internal social networks, I argue that ‘pay for participation’ works against the principles of the social world. Employees don’t share because they want direct monetary gains or recognition from their organization. They do so because they ‘care’ deeply and ‘feel’ passionately about the issues on hand. Yes, ‘gamification’ is considered by many organizations although there is evidence that it can be detrimental if not well understood and carefully planned. It also gets rarely implemented well.
Start with the basics: There are many employees who need help with the basic ‘how to’ of creating blogs, discussions, polls among others. Often, we assume employees know how to use these tools due to the growth and presence of social media around us. They may know the theme but may not know how to frame up a conversation that gets the reactions to fuel meaningful content.
Find the bright spots: Every change management effort will find resistance – be it engaging employees on a social network or launching a policy. However, if you look closely at the social media action there will always be excellent examples of employees who get it ‘right’ and influence their network. Identify and develop best practices that others can learn from. Look up how this company made their network tick. What I found interesting is the way the organization viewed it as a ‘culture’ shift
Begin slowly: Take small steps to encourage participation. Share how employees can get value – by using the various tools available. Encourage employees to build their profiles. Like the way people have their own online profiles on Facebook and other places the best place to begin is ‘about them’. If people don’t engage, don’t have much to say via their ‘status’ it only means they have nothing much to add.
By thinking deeply about the purpose and relevance for their audiences’ internal communicators can arrive at solutions that work.