Enterprise social networks - Facebook behind a firewall?
Enterprise social networks can deliver an immediate solution for aligning employees, says Yolandi Nortje, executive of Intuate Group.
Whether it is because the economy forced business executives to find less expensive ways to reach out to customers, or that there are just more Generation Ys in the workforce, social networking is here to stay; and with good reason, as we see every day what is possible with social networks for improving customer engagement and experiences.
According to a July 2012 McKinsey & Company study, there's over a trillion dollars that could be unlocked by utilising social technologies. The study concludes that companies utilising these technologies can double their productivity through better communication and collaboration. Yet only 3% of the companies in the study report being fully networked and receiving substantial benefits from using these social technologies with employees.
So, the new question that has to be asked is: can the same be done with internal social networks to improve employee engagement and experiences, communication and collaboration, asks Yolandi Nortje, executive of Intuate Group?
The answer is "yes". The use of enterprise social networks (ESNs) is on the rise, albeit slowly, as they can deliver an immediate solution for aligning employees, while having the familiarity of Twitter or Facebook. So what is the hold-up? One significant obstacle is the lack of social media familiarity and expertise in organisations at a senior management level. A January 2013 column in the Harvard Business Review, entitled: "Look Beyond Your "Social Media Presence", observed that too many companies have kept social platforms separate from their essential businesses. Thankfully, the new generation of ESNs are not only validating and useful to staff members familiar with public social networks, but are also friendly and easy to participate in for those who are new to the platform.
While the promise of ESNs is significant to the future of how employees ultimately interact, learn and work, challenges exist around adoption and overall measurement, as is true with any technology deployment. And, like social media in general, businesses often underestimate or miss the true potential of social networks and the role they play in bringing people together. Many companies place a greater emphasis on the technology and not the people or the relationships that ESNs are designed to encourage. Rather, it is important to focus on the ways that these relationships create value for the organisation, through encouraged sharing, knowledge capturing, and employee empowerment.
It would be a mistake to think that ESNs are simply Facebook behind a firewall. Were an organisation to bring a 'Facebook-like' mentality into its ESN strategy, it might fall short of enabling a truly social enterprise. So, how are public-facing social networks (PFSNs) and ESNs different? And how are they similar?
On PFSNs, your profile covers who you are, where you went to school, what your interests and likes are and so on; while on ESNs, your profile focuses on work-related associations and expertise, such as teams, projects and skills. Likewise on PFSNs, brands and places also have identities and activity streams; while ESNs focus on the activity stream of an organisation's business areas, client accounts and projects. On both networks, updates and activity streams can include elements such as chats, video uploads, group messaging and event planning.
When it comes to receiving notifications, PFSNs allow the user to completely control from whom they get updates; whereas ESNs can push required updates, such as updates from the CEO. In terms of relationships, PFSN users have full control; on the other hand, ESN users find that their relationships are predetermined because of work associations such as department, team, project and location.
On PFSNs, the nature of relationships dictates permissions and privacy, so great care must be taken by the user to ensure that private information remains within the right circles. On ESNs, privacy becomes less of an issue as employees understand that all updates can be seen by their employer; however, greater care must be taken in terms of permissions, as companies must regulate who has permission to see what information.
In general, expectations are high for ESNs because of the wonderful opportunities introduced through public-facing social networks. Executives have learnt about the benefits associated with customer engagement through Facebook, Twitter, et al; but without establishing initial goals and then driving toward those outcomes, expectations for ESNs can go unmet. ESNs can provide value to the organisation, with improved employee engagement, collaboration, information and knowledge flow within the organisation, but only if sustainably adopted. It is essential that organisations do not adopt one-dimensional thinking to internal community building; an approach that has produced a virtual ghost town populated by inactive intranets and empty employee forums.
Instead, regardless of where an organisation is on the social media maturity curve, there should be four essential elements to an ESN action plan, namely objectives, measurements, technology, and lastly, motivation. The main objective to an ESN implementation must be the gaps in the business that relationships can fill, so identify and prioritise those, and design the long-terms goals for the ESN with these gaps in mind. When measuring the ESN, it is important to track the relationships not the conversations, and to measure gap closing not just employee engagement. While investigating the various technology offerings available, be sure to prioritise the options based on your objectives; choosing technology based on the relationships you want to build, rather than the offering's additional features, bells and whistles. Finally, get executives involved, have them foster transparency to create an open culture and motivate adoption through incentives and rewards.
Management should provide the right atmosphere, guidelines, technologies and opportunities for employees to thrive. Remember, enterprise social networks are about empowering from bottom-up to make top-down business goals successful. It is about aligning everyone in the organisation to support the organisation's mission. There is no more powerful way to accomplish that than creating an enterprise social business.