Numbers don't lie. Consumers are ensnared by social media. One in seven use Facebook, a half billion use Twitter and millions more participate elsewhere, according to recent estimates.
With so much traction, it's easy to see why executives are keen to leverage similar engagement within their respective companies. So far, however, those efforts have failed to deliver a measurable impact.
But success is possible. Enterprise social networking can be so much more than an online "hang out" for employees. What's more, it shouldn't be viewed as a drag on productivity. On the contrary, enterprise social tools and techniques can actually boost productivity, collaboration and efficiency when properly realized.
Here's how to get there:
Have a plan.
For an enterprise community to reap optimal and predictable results, it needs to be thoughtfully architected with the business in mind. Obviously, there's no way to predict whether a social platform will take hold or improve a business process. But knowing what you're after will be key in getting you there.
Assign a community manager to encourage participation.
For consumers, social networking is spontaneous and natural. Consider a group of avid sport fans. Participation and/or "armchair quarterbacking" is commonplace, if not inborn, without the need for a formal discussion director. But in business communities, this type of self-propagation doesn't just happen. To overcome this, you'll need to assign a respected evangelist to stir the pot for you.
Stay on topic.
Most social communities are built on the idea that if you get people into a virtual room, they will collaborate. Unfortunately, when communities grow, they often veer off topic and generate more noise than value. Understandably, this dissuades people from participating and leads to abandonment, so you'll need to institute policies and controls accordingly to stay on point.
Instead of asking users to create their own instances of enterprise social ideation, why not automate the process? For example, the moment a worker takes action on something, a smart community will habitually notify enrolled members, prompting feedback and participation. In other words, involvement cannot be discretionary. It must be required.
Get executive sponsorship.
The tail follows the head. Like so many other enablers in our Future of Work series, if the top levels of enterprise aren't on board with social media, your plan will fail. That said, only half of all companies say executives were informed and convinced of their companies' social strategy, according to a recent Altimeter Group survey. Garnering support from the top requires both education and making social a daily occurrence for executives, the study found.
Distinguish involvement by use case.
Different collaboration goals require different use cases. For example, if a business process requires specialized discussion, such as preparing a complex sales proposal, the ideal community would only enable dialog between well-chosen experts. On the other hand, if the business process seeks the widest possible participation, such as training and company policy, the ideal community would enable dialog across the entire organization and encourage use with gamification (i.e., leader boards, contests, etc.). All in all, business processes can be categorized into four types: high degree of collaboration, information broadcasting, operational processes and customer feedback (see Figure 1).
Start with peer-to-peer interaction.
When building a new enterprise community, evangelists should encourage participants to engage in business-oriented discussions as much as informal ones, including entertainment, lifestyle and popular subjects. More than anything, this simple policy builds encourages engagement and establishes the new platform as the default place to be virtually present.
Publish official correspondence users can't get anywhere else.
Once engagement is established, the community manager can further boost involvement by broadcasting exclusive communication, new information and important updates to the social channel. This lends credibility and solidifies the platform as a strategic initiative, not just a cool place to hang out. When the platform is seen as the official communication channel, employees will start to use it for more work-related missives and enable them to transcend hierarchical walls, particularly when C-level executives are involved and respond to employee comments.
Expand the conversation to include transactions.
Once you've established your enterprise social network as a legitimate "conversation platform," you're ready to evolve it into a true collaboration tool. Community managers can achieve this by incorporating actual work flow into the discussion, keeping specific business goals in mind. Be it a vacation request system or completing a customer deliverable, in this the most mature phase of enterprise social networking, participants should begin to use the network to transact as much as inform and communicate.
Measure Progress And Improve Reach.
To avoid becoming a "ghost community" — a platform designed with all the bells and whistles of social media that is abandoned by participants who see no value in it — community managers need to measure progress, in addition to the above recommendations. Doing so will enable course corrections, extend usage and adapt social policies as needed.
Given its global embrace, social networking is here to stay and it has a lot to offer in terms of enterprise productivity, business performance and organizational effectiveness. But unlike the consumer world, enterprise social media doesn't just happen. It has to be cultivated with purpose, leadership and involvement.