6 ways that enterprise social networks are humanizing the workplace

Station

When was the last time you felt that you – the whole you – showed up to work?

We spend more time at work than anywhere else. More time than with our families. Than with our friends. More than we even sleep!

Fortunately, this is all set to change. Technology is, rather ironically, making us more human at work.

In her research paper ‘Organisations in the Digital Age – 10 Key Findings’ Jane McConnell calls out ‘Digital Humanizes and Energizes Organizations by Making Work Personal’ as the number one finding. Over the past seven years an individual’s capability to co-create content, communicate in real time and share information without having to go through ‘official publishers’ (which I assume means via a company’s communications department) has gone through the roof.

Enterprise social networks are playing a large role in bringing about this change. Here are five practical ways they do that:

6 ways that enterprise social networks are humanizing the workplace:

1. Random meet ups 
feetTNHere’s the thing. Many of us are sheepish about meeting new people. We stay in our departmental teams and only venture outside the team if we really have to. The functional badges we give ourselves – I’m in HR, I’m in IT, I’m in Marketing – is a classic piece of tribalism. The problems come when HR and IT feel like exclusive ‘functional clubs’, and barely act like they’re from the same company. A great solution is to set up ‘random meet ups’. Names are put into a hat and random pairings made. Based purely on chance. I could be paired up with the head of IT, or the janitor. Its completely random. Announce the pairings in your social network (X you are paired with Y this month). The network has a funny way of holding the two people to account for meeting up, Now here’s the key: they both need to feedback on the network what they learnt, however profound or banal. Random Meet Ups are ‘comfort-zone smashers’ and attract serendipity like nothing else.

2. Sharing passion
People-fieldWe all have interests outside of work. Things we are passionate about. Subjects that your colleagues are pleasantly surprised to find out….’really, you do that? I never knew’. I always remember when a colleague told me in passing how he spends his Saturdays coaching disadvantaged children – I had no idea, why would I? Works work right? But boy did my perception of him change. Well social networks can be a way to channel some of these passion area of ours. They can encourage a real outpouring of emotion in a company that may reel back from outward signs of emotion. I saw a great example of this for International Women’s Day – a fantastic global event which encourages equal rights for women. We ran an ‘ESN takeover’ for the day, had guest bloggers, encouraged conversation around the major themes. The ESN became a hot-bed of passionate and emotional posts about the role women play in our society. I was especially touched by the outpouring of men celebrating their mothers as a leading light in their lives – me included :-) There are dozens of special days you could celebrate this way, and your colleagues will love them.

3. Geeking out on Hobbies
cookTNHobbies I hear you say? By jove, this is work! I disagree. The more you humanise the workplace, the more connected and fulfilled your workforce will be. Humanising the workplace means creating a place where it’s ok to share gardening tips, geek out on photography or gorging on World of Warcraft. A great way to encourage this is to identify the conversations in your network which sound like potential hobby groups. Then pounce! Choose the person who appears to be the most vocal on a given topic and help that person set up their own discussion group, private or public, whichever they prefer. Light as many fires as you can.

4. Narrating work
TypeTN
I often get the question ‘I don’t know what to say on the network’. I agree, it’s often bewildering where to even start. Many of us have no time or inclination to become active on external networks such as Twitter outside of work, so why would we suddenly be adept at social networking inside the company. We are not digital natives, we tell ourselves. One great way to counter this is the following: We all have lightbulb moments during our days. Some profound, others more of a dim flicker. But thoughts all the same, and some for sure will be of interest to others. We are all on some kind of learning journey. We have thoughtful ideas, exchanges, challenges…. why not share those? Narrate them? Treat your social network like a live journal where you can share with your followers how your day is going. Your followers have already chosen to follow you so they will be interested. I have seen countless people start this exercise, and great things happen as a result. It doesn’t happen overnight, but a steady trickle of narration gradually builds up an online audience who will respect and listen to you. For more inspiration on this topic check out John Stepper’s Working Out Loud blog.

5.  Posting your cat
CatTN
Often cited as a pet peev (‘scuse the pun) of many a community manager is the ‘cat photo’. Many people try to discourage this kind of silliness, stating that the social network should be a ‘place for business’. If your whole feed starts to resemble a Lynley Dodd book, then yes, I agree, something needs to be done. But a light sprinkle of pets, birthday cake pics, Halloween outfits and novelty xmas trees from around the world (to sight some real life examples I’ve seen!) can go a long way to humanize your network.

6.  Praising others
PraiseTN
We all know how it feels to be praised for doing some worthwhile. Great right. And we all know we don’t do it enough, at work or at home. Gratefulness is a hugely underappreciated habit, which, like kindness often gets overlooked in the cut and thrust of working life. Promote a praising culture in your social network – how? Like everything, do it yourself. Make a pact with yourself that you’ll praise someone every week, out the blue, for something worthwhile they have done. A couple of killer insider tips: Choose one day a week, e.g. #ThankYouThursday and make it a weekly thing with the support of your champions. Secondly, if your social network allows for it, set up a keyword alert for ‘thanks’. You’ll quickly see who’s helping who out and then go praise them!

Interested to learn more about how to supercharge your ESN? Grab my Awesome things to do with your Enterprise Social Network download below…

Giving ourselves permission. Have you?

Permission


I recently met up with Euan Semple, self professed digital cage-rattler and author of the book Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do. Among the many things discussed, one that fascinated me was that of ‘permission’. In a subservient world we wait for permission to be granted, in a networked ‘exponential’ world we bestow permission upon ourselves. 
We give ourselves the go ahead. Over to you Euan…

Permission by Euan Semple

Euan
       Euan Semple

Is authority more important to those who wield it – or those who defer to it?

Sometimes it seems simpler to give others permission to think for us, to tell us what to do, to take responsibility for our happiness. Life seemed so much easier when our parents did this for us and we long to return to that feeling of comfort and safety. We are attracted by the seductive ease of giving others permission to make sense of the world for us through the news, to industrialise story telling in film. We are drawn to the apparent safety of a job where we allow others to tell us what to do in return for what seems like stability. It is all so easy.

But we fell asleep. We stopped thinking for ourselves. We gave up responsibility. And now the world around is changing faster than ever before. Our fictionally safe lives are starting to fall apart and we don’t know what to do.

But we can give ourselves permission to take back our sense making. We can reach out to each other through our online networks to tell each other stories, to collectively work things out. We can do this at home and at work. We can use our new found skills to take back responsibility and have agency.

We can give ourselves permission to wake up.

Read more Euan Semple writings on his blog ‘the obvious’ here

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Avoid this rookie mistake with your enterprise social network

Many companies haven’t a clue when it comes to running a social network inside their business

There is an assumption, because of the prevalence of Twitter, Facebook and the like, that all you need to do is plug one into a company’s mainframe and away you go.

I call this ‘plug and pray’.

You’d be forgiven for thinking they are the same. Internal social networks have all the same accoutrements you find on external ones, lulling us into a false sense of familiarity. Follow buttons, like buttons, activity streams, groups. Heaps of similarities.

There is one killer, and I mean absolute humdinger of a reason, why they are different though.

Purpose.

Everyone knows what Facebook is for. Love it or hate it, it’s purpose is baked into its very fabric. Same goes for LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and so on.

Now take your company’s internal social network. What’s it’s purpose? Is it ‘to improve collaboration’? to ‘break down silos’? To create ‘a great place to work’? No, these can’t be it’s purpose – they are desirable outcomes – not the reason you use it.

Not defining the purpose of your internal social network is the single biggest rookie mistake. How do you avoid making it?

Simple. Ask yourself Why you need it in the first place.

The next time a colleague asks you for an ‘internal Facebook for their team’. Ask them Why as well. Why do they want a social network in the first place? What are they trying to achieve?

Here’s what I call ‘The Five Whys‘ for using an internal social network:

1. For projects. Set up a group, community, whatever your ESN of choice offers you, for a specific project team. Use the group as a virtual meeting place. Use it as the place to ask questions, reserving email only for one to few communications. And tell people that. More, get your leaders to live by that code. When you see group email, go direct to sender and ask that next time they post the question in the social network. Hold a webjam in the group every month. Could be ask a senior leader webjam, could be a round table discussion one – it doesn’t matter. Mix it up.  Share agendas, killer documents that people always need, videos, whatever is most viral in your group.

2. For communicating. Every company has an internal communications department. How do they communicate? By email. Problem is people are swamped by emails. How do you ensure your message has the right cut-through? Well, you can’t. Why not channel the majority of your communication through your social network? Set up a generic account for ‘yourcompanyinternalcomms’ and post from that. Encourage others to follow it. Then your communications pop up in their activity feed. Yes maybe they’ll ignore, just as would ignore your email. But within the network there is one key difference = people can respond. Or like. Something! With email the most intel you can get is open rates. Communicators want to know what people think. Social networks encourage that.

3. For generating ‘themed’ discussions. What’s one of those? A ‘themed’ discussion is a particular interest / passion that a given group of people in the company have. The more specific the niche the better the outcome. Too broad and there’s too much leg room. Keep it tight, and people who are passionate about a given topic will come in droves. And it doesn’t need to be high-brow, intellectual themes.  Some of the best themed discussions can be around trivial things.

4. For campaigns. The next time a department wants to run an internal campaign, lets say you’re a car manufacturer and you want to run a safety campaign for your assembly lines, use your social network to do it. Don’t just push out messages. Use the power of social to grow interest around a topic. Create online competitions, scavenger hunts, quizzes – use gamification techniques to bring the subject to life. Make it fun, relevant, vital. Enlist support from your biggest advocates across your network, ask your champions for support.

5. For events. For your next conference use your social network as the back channel. Lets say you have 60 people in a room with 1000 people not there. They could be dotted around the globe. They would love to be there. Well they can be. In the room with you. How? Make a big call out to everyone…this is how we’re going to do this. Make the leaders commit to commentating throughout the sessions. Make the 60 people in the room commit to sharing their thoughts. You’ll find some of the best conversations in the room are happening in the network, with people in the room. Why? Because a heap of people are not comfortable taking the mic and riffing on a topic, but they are in written format. You’re catering for those guys too. As well as creating an awesome broadcast of what’s going on.  What’s more, you’ve got a record of the event in those conversations. Sweet.

Summary
It’s easy to be duped into thinking that your company’s social network is an internal Facebook. Don’t be. In large corporate environments if you don’t define Why you want to use it, the only thing you’ll see is organisational tumbleweed blowing through your network. Define the Why first.

Here’s a download of ‘The Five Whys’ document I use with my clients. Grab it, give it a whirl and let me know how you get on…and say good riddance to those rookie blues!

Rookie Cop images used by kind permission of mycomicshop.com

8 reasons why ‘messy’ social networks beat intranets. Hands down.

Life is messy. The world of work is messy. Platforms are messy.

Despite this, we try and categorise everything. Ambiguity is bad, order and structure are good.

Interesting then, and hardly surprising, that companies often have lofty ambitions to categorise their information.

Every company wants to be more efficient, of course they do, creating what Bill Gates called in his 1990’s book (Business @ the Speed of Thought) ‘a world-class digital nervous system…so that information can easily flow through their companies for maximum and constant learning”.

Fast forward 20 years. How far have we come?

Well, take a look outside the company walls and we see a ton of innovation in every shape and form – we have Uber reimagining the taxi industry, AirBnB giving us an alternative to hotels, Netflix instead of cable, Spotify replacing our music collections…the list is inexhaustable.

How are businesses getting on? Have they created the digital nervous system that Bill envisioned above?

Not really. What’s the closest thing we’ve come to?

The company intranet. Oh dear.

Despite grand intentions, intranets often fail miserably.  Unrealistic expectations. Lack of strategy and direction.  A shortage of people with the right skills. Zero engagement and ‘taking it serious’ at the top which trickles down throughout the organisation. Poor tech (I put this last as paradoxically its the least important – some of the best intranets I’ve seen have been built on the oldest tech).

Intranets are also commandeered by communications departments who are not custodians of information for the business. The intranet is a means to delivering a news article, a new campaign, an emerging strategy. This results in a lot of ‘vanity pages’ that serve no-one except the ego of the leader whose mug-shot adorns the page.

So back to Bill’s point, is this digital nervous system implausible? Will companies ever crack this nut? Yes, I believe they can. Moreover, the way to do this already exists – the enterprise social network.

8 reasons why social network’s beat intranets:

1. social networks are people-centric. We forget that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn have only been around a few years. Their existence has brought into being a whole new level of peer to peer interaction. I have witnessed how this transforms a business when it happens on the inside, its hugely powerful.

2. social networks help you filter out the signal from the noise. You will never make sense of everything on the internet, as you will never make sense of everything in your organisation. Choose your followers well and they help you filter the good stuff from the chaff.

3. social networks create community. Unlike the typical file repository you find on an intranet, members of the community help each other in solving problems. A huge amount of time and effort goes into creating structured hierarchies for finding information, often leading to an information cul-de-sac for the person looking, who quickly gives up. Much simpler for that person to ask the community ‘can anyone help with this?’ and get an up-to-date response.

4. social networks are a truer reflection of life. They are spontaneous, unpredictable, frantic. In real life people resort to asking other people anyway when they need help – the real knowledge of the company lives in people’s heads.  Social networks create a place for people to ask for stuff and get answers. Not in search of the holy grail of documents.

5. social networks have energy. The network can build momentum and create talking points at lightening speed. Because it’s a network of people and their ideas – and ideas can travel at an unbelievable pace.

6. social networks do not have hierarchy. An individual’s worth is judged on his or her contribution to the network, regardless of whether that person is a production operative or senior vice president. The most followed person is not the most senior. The most followed is he or she who serves the network most.

7. social networks have an inherent sense of trust. Trust is implicit in all interactions. The network is very quick to disenfranchise the person who it can’t trust. See a great example of this in Don Tapscott’s TED talk ‘Four principals for the open world’ (minute 14:35) where he talks about how birds repel work in unison to repel enemies.

8. social networks are substance over style. The interface is relatively simple. No time is spent creating vanity pages. It’s all about communicating.

Summary
We feel the urge to compartmentalise knowledge, to put it in boxes, in virtual filing cabinets. This desire misses something blindingly obvious = People. In any organisation every person has a heap of knowledge locked away which will never be labelled, categorised and stored away. Ask that person a question though, and most will be only too happy to help. The social network provides the means of doing this but is boundless with regards to geography, language, even time.

Yes they can be messy, and no not everything is neatly labelled and categorised – but when set up properly the benefits are staggering.

By the way if you’d like to get an alert every time I post a blog, just sign up here and I’ll ping you an mail. I won’t spam you, promise!

How to run a webjam

yamjam-x3

Running a webjam for your organisation can be a game changer. They can literally be the catalyst to your social network’s success. In this post we’ll deep dive into what you need to do to make them successful. We’ll focus on internal (aka inside the organisation) webjams as opposed to external ones. Strap yourself in, this one goes deep…

First off, what is a webjam? Webjams are virtual ‘gatherings’ and to a large extent are platform agnostic. I have predominantly used Yammer to run mine, but there’s no reason why IBM Connections, Saleforce Chatter, Jive or any other enterprise social network won’t cut it. Webjams can be a refreshing alternative to the tried and testing (and often ineffective) teleconference or group phone call.

This is principally because webjams are active formats as opposed to passive –  webjams encourage you to participate by interacting, not purely listening. We all learn differently. Many of us find it hard to concentrate if one has to purely listen (me included). The webjam is a more exploratory way of learning.

So you’ve decided you want to try a webjam. Great. Your initial hurdle is going to be explaining what one is to your colleagues. Habit sticks, especially in the corporate world, and people are often perfectly happy with the existing way of things. Well, at least you may think they are.

In my experience many leaders are frustrated with how they reach out and communicate to their teams. So often the best way to get a leaders buy-in is to come out and say it: teleconference calls don’t work. Mention the awkward ‘any questions?’ silence at the end of them. Ask them if they wish their teams were more willing to voice their thoughts, opinions, objections. Most will say yes. Position a webjam as a way to bridge the communication gap.

Remember webjams are not necessarily a substitution for teleconference or any other meeting for that matter (although they can be). They are complimentary.

So we know what a webjam is. We’ve pitched it to management. They are interested. What next?

Ok, two things:

1. Purpose – what is your webjam about? If you aren’t clear no-one else will be either. The more concise the better. What is it about? What are people’s expectations? What learning outcomes do you have in mind?

Some ideas for purpose:

  • Senior leader webjam. Position webjam as ‘an hour with X to answer your questions around Y’  where a given topic could be a new strategy, vision, anything they please. Serves as a powerful message that leadership is open and transparent, and leaders genuinely enjoy the interaction.
  • Round table discussion webjam. Less hierarchical than the above, can still include senior leaders but the engagement is around a particular topic. The moderator manages posing the questions and timekeeping.
  • Live event webjam. That town hall event, the next results cascade, next month’s conference – all these can be opened up for anyone outside the event by throwing a yamjam during and after the event itself.

2. Process – these are the practicalities. who manages it? how do people know it’s even on? how should they behave once they join (the rules of engagement)?

webjams are like parties
Webjams are like parties – you are the host

Think of it like you’re organising a party. You’ll need to send invites, book a venue, work through the details so the ‘guests’ can enjoy themselves. That’s your job as webjam organizer, and the better job you make of this the better the outcome. Lets break it down for pre, during and after the webjam…

Before the webjam :

Announce the webjam with as much notice as possible (ideally 2 weeks prior to session) communicate the webjam on your social network (and any other channel for that matter, newsletters, posters, etc) and ask people to ‘like’ it – telling them you’ll send a calendar invite if they do.  Below is the calendar invite I sent to all interested parties (I got around 30 likes from the post). I sent this as a calendar invite, not just an email. This is vital if you want people to remember to join. Make the invite informal, informative, tell them what a webjam is (stress its an online discussion, no phones), include webjam URL in ‘location’ field in the invite. Encourage people to forward on to other interested parties – word of mouth can be really effective here.

Example invite for a webjam. In this case I used Yammer, hence the 'Yam'.
Example invite for a webjam. In this case I used Yammer, hence the ‘Yam’.

Pick up the stragglers. A lot of people may have missed the above, so go direct to them with a personal email asking for their support. Speak / message / cajole as many people as you can to agreeing to attend. Try approaching senior interested people and asking them personally to join.

Make sure you do ‘on the day’ comms (I pushed out a reminder announcement first thing in the morning and again an hour before)

Key to preparation is writing a conversation plan. This isn’t a script, more a flow of how you’d like the conversation to go. Your plan will differ according to the type of webjam you are running, but the basic premise is the same. How you start, moderate and finish the webjam, with timing, speaker notes, pre-prepared questions, etc. This may feel like you are ‘rigging’ the webjam. To that I’d say two things. One, any meeting of any value should have some structure going into it. Webjams are no different. Two, experience tells me its nigh on impossible to stick to the plan anyway, such is the nature of webjams in general, but the presence of a plan makes the moderators feel like they have structure to fall back on should they need it.

Download webjam conversation plan

Identifying champions is another key element to a successful webjam. Your champions are your wingmen.  In one webjam I ran the topic was how to drive the use of Yammer in the organisation (using Yammer to talk about Yammer – a good way incidentally to get your network fired up!). I asked three of our Yammer champions to talk about what they have done to drive the platform. I made sure they had prepped their words beforehand rather than hurriedly trying to write during the webjam. A good idea is to open up a private conversations with them during the Jam – so they can act as a your eyes and ears and advise if you need to quicken the pace, slow it down or do nothing!

Prepping your audience. Share some tips beforehand for how to webjam. I usually send around a 3 page PDF with some basic instructions on how to turn off notifications and other tricks that I’ve found work.

During the webjam :

Kick off by introducing yourself as the moderator. Say something like “I’ll be facilitating todays session. This is the structure of today’s webjam….and would love your participation.”

Cover some housekeeping. I always cover the basics of how to navigate the webjam. This obviously varies from platform to platform. For Yammer I use this line “You will see in the info box at the top right of this page I’ve put some tips for how to participate in the jam. Remember you can press the period key (.) to refresh your page. You can post in your own language if you wish (click on the translate button). And remember YamJams are all about participation, don’t be shy!”

Note the conversations feels like chaos at first. Unlike traditional meetings, people don’t wait to be brought in to the conversation to speak. They just start chiming in. At times you’ll have numerous conversation threads going on at the same time. Accept that, embrace it. And remind people you will be summarising key themes after the event.

Finish promptly, even if the conversation is still flowing (it will be). I like to use a poll to finish up. Remember to remind people the conversation will continue in the group beyond the webjam. That’s one of the main benefits of the webjam remember, to inject some energy into a community.

As webjam organiser you are most akin to the host. Starting it, madly dashing about making sure conversations are flowing, then drawing a close to it all…and cleaning up!

After the webjam :

Take a deep breath. It’s over, well done! Now the clear up begins…

You now need to replay what’s happen back to the audience. Do this by writing a summary deck. Don’t try the summary immediately after the event though. Give yourself time to distil what’s just happened, you’ll find you automatically start to group the key themes in your head.

Take a mind management piece of software (I used mind manager) and start to collect all the comments from the Jam. This is time consuming so don’t expect to be done in an hour. We had 344 comments and within one comment alone could be several themes, so don’t expect it to be quick.

As you start to group things you’ll see there are natural themes. Create the  summary deck with a strong narrative telling the story of the what happened. The idea is you want the deck to get socialised as much as possible with as many people as possible. So having the deck telling a compelling story is important.

Share this summary back with participants, ideally within two days of the event so it’s still fresh. You’ll find an interesting conversation may fire up off the back of the summary deck and that people are sharing it days and weeks after (which is what you want)

Wrap up

There you have it, your first webjam. They are exhilarating to run and can be quite to begin with, but definitely worth it. Remember you are introducing a new way of communicating, so it’s bound to be tricky. Only good things will come from it though, and that can’t be a bad thing.

What to do next? Rinse and repeat. You’ll get better in time and the organization with gradually become more networked as you go. Good luck, and please share your results with me would love to know how you got on.

Download webjam conversation plan

How social networks are set to change communications in business

network

There was a time, before the onset of the internet, when news was controlled by relatively few media outlets. To influence the news agenda your only choice was to go through one of these channels, and the news corporation themselves would be the arbitrary judge of whether your story was newsworthy or not.

The world has moved on considerably since these times, with social or ‘web 2.0′ technologies like Twitter and WordPress giving voice to literally anyone with a desire to express something, however profound or pedestrian it may be. We have seen the extent to which these new found liberties have changed society, from the arab spring risings to the London riots.

In a nutshell, we have become uber-connected. We are not bound by physical location, language or even time anymore – anyone can connect with anyone else. The long term effect of this inter-connectedness remains to be seen. Optimists predict a world of infinite possibility, pessimists see a dystopia around the corner. One powerful consequence however is the liberation of the individual and the new found power to not only publish but to find an audience. People can become influential almost single-handedly.

Large business has remained largely unscathed by all this recent technology change. Technology has had a seismic effect on business processes from automated supply chains to the advent of email and desktop publishing, but social and web 2.0 technologies have done little to infiltrate their ways in to large corporations and how employees behave.

This is all set to change. With Microsoft acquiring Yammer last year, the new Microsoft Office platform (called Office 365) has social networking threaded throughout it. Facebook are due to release their ‘Facebook at Work’ product and a plethora of other vendors such as Jive, Zimbra and IBM Connections are all permeating their ways into organisations. Social networks in business looks to be the next big thing.

This is set to profoundly change not only how businesses operate but also the role of the internal communicator and every single employee. A direct parallel can be drawn with the change we’ve seen in the outside world mentioned above. Employees are used to receiving news from a central source, be it your internal communications team (in much the same way the public used to receive news from a select few news outlets).

With a social network employees are now empowered and have a voice. And something important happens — many people will be happy to observe, as happens in external social media, but some will embrace the network, gaining a huge follow-ship and thereby creating massive influence. What they say will be as newsworthy or relevant to their followers as any corporate communications they receive.

Call these your internal key opinion formers, they will be as vital to create change in your organisation as any broadcast communications. The skill of the communicator going forward will be as much to nurture and serve the network as it will to generate broadcast communications. One can call this the ‘democratisation of the organisation’ where influence (and dare I say power) will be less about position and more about an individual’s own network and how they contribute to it.

Social networks solve the needing-knowing gap in big business

bubbles

I read a remarkable statistic today. 20% of a knowledge workers week is spent looking for information, according to a McKinsey report. According to their study (the social economy) social media can reduce the time employees spend searching for company information “by as much as 35 percent”. Being a champion of enterprise social networking in big business I am constantly looking to capture the business benefits. Increasing employee productivity could be a great ‘carrot’ to senior leadership who often dismiss social networking as a drain on time, not a saver of it. How plausible is this claim then?

First things first. Some degree of time is undoubtedly wasted in big business looking for information, it would be hard to refute that. Regardless of the exact percentage, anyone with experience in working for large organisations knows the challenge of information gathering across large and often silo’d parts of the organisation. Many companies have mantras along the lines of ‘if only we knew what we knew’ for good reason — the answers to their own questions are usually locked within it!

That knowledge is often locked away in someone’s head, in a deeply buried email thread or tucked away in an obscure file server or intranet page — and the means of seeking out the person who can help or ‘that file which explains x’ is practically a dark art. Employees who have been around longest usually have the best chance of knowing who to speak to or where to go, but as for a new starter it can prove near impossible. And when you take large multinationals with employees who are dotted around the world, in vertical reporting structures, often speaking different languages, what I call the ‘needing-knowing gap’ gets even more problematic.

This isn’t through any lack of good-will or wanting to hold back knowledge. It’s simply the fact the systems in place are not up to the task of facilitating this knowledge exchange. And certainly not at a organisation-wide level. It is often cited there needs to be a ‘culture’ of sharing in place too. This is also true, but I suspect all the right culture in the world will make no difference unless there is the capability (i.e. the platform) to allow this to happen.

When one thinks about the outside world, it’s strikes me that information exchange works incredibly well. Just think about Google. Within seconds of typing a simple ‘how do I…’ question you are confronted with a endless list of useful reference points. Someone has had the exact same question you now have, posted it on a help forum or similar and found the answer. In this case Google directs you to that conversation. ‘Can’t we just have a google for my business’ is one common demand made by business leaders. Well, they have a point!

As things stand, there are various reasons why a Google for business is a complex proposition. Not wanting to completely rule out Google venturing into the internal business search space (Facebook just announced last week it’s plans to launch a ‘Facebook at work’ so anything is possible) — but one significant reason behind Google’s success is the fact there are literally billions of pages being updated simultaneously, each in competition to appear as high up on your search results ranking as possible. Businesses can’t compete with this — they don’t have the time or resource to be updating pages even if a search engine like Google with it’s intelligent algorithms were ‘pointed’ internally.

Fortunately that isn’t necessarily a show stopper. One thing can and does plug this gap: an internal social network. Social networks can be as good a means (if not better) of helping people find information, ask and answer questions.

As to whether 35% of an employee’s time can be saved per week, that is another matter, and presumably some industries would benefit more than others depending on how much information gathering goes on. A considerable amount of time is spent searching for information though. Businesses tackle the needing-knowing gap in a variety of ways, many attempting to catalogue and categorise information in a myriad of different (and often unsuccessful) ways.

Social networks on the other hand are relatively simple, organizationally ‘flat’ environments and can very simply provide a solution for the needing-knowing gap. The key ingredient is of course that which most businesses have an abundance of = People. And the great thing about People is they tend to like helping each other.

Why Enterprise Social Networks don’t work 80% of the time and what you can do about it

tumbleweed

In this article I look at some common misconceptions around why enterprise social networks don’t work, and I put forward the case that more often what stands in the way of success is a lack of clarity around how social networking can help solve real business issues

Earlier in the year Yammer Co-Founder and CTO, Adam Pisoni, delivered an opening keynote about the impact of disruptive technologies on business. He argued innovative technologies are becoming so ubiquitous that there’s no longer much of a competitive advantage to just having it — and that specifically the new competitive differentiator is an organization’s ability to work differently in order to take advantage of the technology it already has.

Exactly what ‘working differently’ means will vary from company to company, depending on what it is your business does. Sadly, social networks are often put in place without any real thought going into how they are to be used. This often results in the perception that social networks are little better than a Facebook for business and largely a waste of time. The term ‘social’ in this context only confounds the issue!

Gartner prediction for 2015 isn’t easy reading either. They predict a massive 80% of all enterprise social networks will fail — that’s only 1 in 5 social networks expected to succeed. So why is the fail-rate so high? Let’s take a look…

Gartner argues the shockingly low rate of adoption is due to ‘inadequate leadership and an over-emphasis on technology’. Leadership engagement and reliance on tech are often in the frame for poor performance. And for good reason some of the time. What is often the culprit though is a failure on behalf of the business to articulate what social is going to be used for. Too often we talk about how the trend towards social is all-pervasive (‘look whats happening on the outside’ we say) and reason what’s happening outside must have a role to play on the inside. However if a business fails to articulate exactly how social networking is going improve or remove business ‘pain points’ then the network quickly loses its reason for being and quickly descends into a place to ‘say hi’ and never return!

To the question of leadership engagement, of course having your leaders understand the value social networking can bring to the company is important. But senior leadership don’t necessarily need to be actively contributing by joining in conversations and outwardly demonstrating participation. Deloitte’s CEO Giam Swiegers reads their All Company feed at least every other day to keep a finger on the pulse of his organisation, which is obviously a great thing to have happening in your network. But success isn’t reliant on the CEO or any other senior leader actively participating. This isn’t a must have for successful adoption (in fact there is a certain line of argument that says too much senior engagement can actually be fatal). Success isn’t about senior leadership participation per se, rather success lies in getting down to ‘brass tacks’ and addressing real business problems, regardless of seniority or involvement of leadership.

Much is also said about the need for an ‘open and transparent’ culture for success. Indeed it’s often said that the most effective social networks are the ones where a culture of openness is already in place. (Paradoxically, the introduction of an social network is often the the catalyst that brings about an open and transparent culture! How else did the company converse previously?) The question shouldn’t be whether we need an open and transparent culture for success, as that will come about as a by-product of having the network in place. The question needs to be ‘how is our network going to address our real business problems?’.

So, what do we need to do?

  • Strive to understand the pain points in your business. Speak to people and seek to comprehend existing processes that don’t work — understand why they don’t work and be creative about how your social network can offer a solution. Don’t try force-fitting a solution either. If your solution isn’t an improvement on what’s already in place, it won’t take off.
  • Strive to understand what people are already doing on your network (if you have one in place already). Owing to the nature of social networks they are relatively easy to start using. The entrepreneurial people in your business will already be giving it a whirl. Seek them out, speak to them, understand what they are trying to do, and help them. Chances are you have advice that can help them. You’ll also learn from them. You need to sniff out these rumblings and speak to these people.
  • Don’t worry about bringing everyone along with you. Follow the energy, some people and departments will be excited by the prospect of using social networks, others wont be. That’s fine. Embrace the early adopters and gather pace with them. Once your successes materialise, take those examples, write them up and share them back into your network. Success breeds success.
  • And remember the dancing man. That is you! You need to lead by example, and that means not just talking the talk but actively living in the social network. Plugging yourself in and ‘being everywhere’ as much as humanly possible – becoming your companies social networking go-to-person. Like the dancing man, in subtle ways people will start to imitate what you do. Give it a try, and remember you may look and feel silly to begin with, but in time a legion of followers will join in!