By Yann Motte, CEO and co-founder of Webjam, a social publishing and engagement company.
Social networks are often associated with external communications due to the success of many high-profile promotional campaigns cleverly created by consumer brands such as Dell, Cadbury and Burger King, trying to generate additional buzz via popular platforms like microblogging site Twitter.
More and more organisations see the rise of social networks as one of the best channels to keep in touch with their customers and other external audiences. However, there is still a big question mark when it comes to how this trend will evolve in corporate environments.
As the popularity of social networks continues to grow and gradually replaces traditional communication channels such as email, they can be used more than simply as an internal communications tool to share company news and corporate updates.
Let us look into the business cases for social intranets (or sometimes called enterprise social media), before we move on to the challenges and advice when implementing social networks internally.
The first step of problem solving
In a corporate environment where businesses need to achieve certain sets of objectives, social media provides a purpose for organisations to drive communication between employees, sharing problems and coming up with collective solutions.
Social media provide exactly the tools for people to connect, share and discuss through ongoing conversations. In a formal company structure, people are likely to build on ideas related to specific projects; in a more informal company culture, a simple comment on having a bad day might initiate others to share and offer help to their colleagues to make a better day out a tricky situation.
Ideation and innovation management
A corporate social network is more than a traditional collaboration tool for sharing confidential information and marketing intelligence within the organisation. It enables employees to discuss early ideas and innovations in a slightly informal environment where creativity often begins.
It empowers every member of staff to start the process of innovation through casual conversations. As the idea snowballs (or dies) through ongoing conversations, whether it is on a corporate forum or more microblog-style dialogue, it can then go through several stages up to a proper working group leading to anything from product innovation to strategic initiatives.
Similar to many public social networks, users’ personalities and strengths often shine through via consistent clever comments or the ability to help others solve problems.
A private social network within an organisation provides a fair and transparent platform for managers to identify the next leader through their initiatives to help others and ability to tackle issues. As time goes by, it highlights staff who constantly contribute in a positive and constructive manner.
These are only a few business cases to start organisations thinking about their needs for an internal social network. Next, let us explore some of the challenges organisations might face when implementing their first corporate social network, as well as offering some advice from my experience working with both smaller businesses and large enterprises on their internal social network strategies.
Before you start choosing the right social network for your company (should it be company forum, microblogging feeds, Facebook-style groups or a combination of these), you should first consider your organisation’s culture.
One golden rule to success is to listen to what your employees want. Don’t forget social networks are user-centric mechanisms, where content will always be driven by users themselves.
I agree with Phil Simon, author of The Next Wave of Technologies that a traditional enterprise 1.0 top-down approach when technology is chosen, bought and then implemented for employees to use is not going to work and is a recipe for disaster when driving human interactions.
We have seen much higher success rates when an enterprise 2.0 approach is taken from the beginning, and when employees (end-users) are invited to be involved before and during the platform choice or build. A bottom-up strategy is ideal for driving a corporate social network strategy.
Clear user guidelines and social network policy
Honest conversations are essential to social networks, but it is also a challenge for organisations to ensure all conversations are positive and constructive. The aim of raising an issue on corporate social networks is to find a solution through collective effort, instead of letting that issue to grow uncontrollably through improper conversations and destructive complaints.
Clear user guidelines should be provided to managers and employees, along with basic training (either online or offline). A social network policy is also needed to have in place to prohibit verbal abuse or aggressiveness towards constructive criticism.
Similar to many new technology adoptions, education is essential at the beginning. It is risky to assume that your employees are savvy about social networks simply because they have a personal Facebook page or Twitter account.
Engagement driven by purpose
Once your corporate social networks are set up, how do you ensure the conversations taking place are meaningful, constructive, encouraging innovation and helping to improve business productivity?
Moderation, or rather pro-active community management, is often necessary to keep track of objectives and to strike a balance between investing appropriate resources in generating ideas and wasting time on irrelevant topics.
Rather than try to play big brother on a few comments that will die by themselves anyway, we recommend organisations nominate ambassadors in social networks, who are passionate about what they do and are eager to initiate involvement from others.
A group of ambassadors can take turns to moderate their corporate social network(s), especially within global organisations when there is more than one time-zone involved.
It is obvious that corporate social networks have multiple benefits across organisations, from operational to HR, and from product innovation to business strategy.
As we have learned from consumer social media the concept encourages interactions, which often lead to stronger branding and more powerful incentive among users to communicate, whether it is about sharing existing information or discussing innovation in the making.
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