The past few years my work consisted of advising companies on how to implement an Enterprise Social network. This was something I did for Microsoft in the Netherlands as a Business Consultant. This blog post has been written to share some common misconceptions I have heard while helping large but also smaller companies and to give you some tips on how to successfully implement Enterprise Social. Not sure what Enterprise Social is? Well, it’s pretty much the same as Facebook, but access is restricted to your colleagues. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Facebook is launching “Facebook at work” in a few months. Most of my experiences with Enterprise Social have been with Yammer as Microsoft acquired Yammer a few years ago.
- People are posting pictures of their cat, there is no business value in this
This is a very common complaint, but there is an easy fix. All you need to do is create the right groups so people who don’t appreciate small domesticated carnivorous mammals with soft fur, a short snout, and retractile claws, aren’t confronted with them. When it comes to work people have a tendency to look for business value in everything and that’s fine. There is a lot of business value in having conversations online about things that matter, so you can already make the business case for Enterprise Social, but why would you want people to only connect with each other to talk about work? Colleagues are more than strangers and the more connections your workforce has the better. Imagine a group of employees playing Basketball each week. Are you sure they’re only going to talk about Basketball? Chances are that they talk endlessly about work as this is just another thing that they all have in common. The more ways people are connected, to better they get in connecting people with each other. There really isn’t a good reason to try to force them into work mode, just check out their Facebook friends and you’ll see that a lot of people are having a hard time to make a distinction between a “colleague” and a “friend”. They probably stopped trying to make that distinction after the third friend request they received. People check Facebook, websites, blogs and such continuously throughout the day and some of the things they read actually could have business value if they discussed it internally, so make it more interesting for them to do just that. Something I experimented with was www.ifttt.com. What I did was create several groups on Yammer such as “TED” and I connected external sources to automatically post updates in the Yammer groups. What happened over time was that colleagues started to comment on these posts and with time actual conversations would take place.
- Let’s just wait and watch it grow organically
Can imagine that this works for smaller companies, but in general one must conclude that you won’t get the most out of Enterprise Social by just looking at it from a safe distance. Have to admit that I had some high hopes on this in the past as the technology allows anyone within a company to create a group and thereby setup a community buttom-up. The problem has nothing to do with technology, it has everything to do with people and responsibilities. Imagine a random employee creating a community to discuss the company’s public website. Let’s imagine that this community grows and that people start sharing relevant feedback. A company typically has someone that is responsible for the public website. You need this person to be part of the community or nothing will happen with the feedback people have given. You can hope that this person eventually joins and as management you could even enforce it, but that’s not always the best solution. What probably is going to happen is that some people are going to share some feedback about the website in different groups and you will see these messages slowly falling down in the feed. It shouldn’t surprise you that people won’t be as eager to share their feedback when they see that feedback they have given in the past isn’t taken seriously.
- We should force people to use it
Let’s stick to the example given above. What if management forces this person to join the community? What you are doing is expecting that this person becomes a community manager, but have they signed up for that? Probably not as Enterprise Social is relatively new, so chances are that no one has signed up for it. Most companies don’t even take it into account when they hire new people, even if this is the best moment to discuss this. Enterprise Social is rarely considered a formal responsibility and when it is it’s mostly Internal Communications that has to deal with it. Employees have an opinion of pretty much everything that happens in and around the company and the public website is a nice example of that. Think it’s also safe to say that everyone has a little bit of marketeer in them, so why would you ever want to hire a marketeer that is not willing to ask for feedback from people with a different background? It starts with “we have to do something with this”, but eventually people need to understand that Enterprise Social needs to become an essential part of the way we communicate within companies. The world around us changes and there is just too much information for only a few people to be well informed and make important decisions. Having people understand the importance of being open for feedback is a good start, but people need to realize that it’s essential to proactively ask for feedback from the larger community. Management is responsible for the success of Enterprise Social, but now it’s mostly considered as something internal communications and Human Resources has to deal with and I’m convinced that it’s bigger than that.
- This is just another Internal Communications project
My primary contact was mostly someone from Internal Communications. That’s not that strange as Enterprise Social’s promise is that it can streamline internal communications. The thing is though that this is more than just a newsletter or news on an Intranet. People can comment on the news? Well, that makes it social which is good, but it doesn’t make it an Enterprise Social Network. More on this in point 9. The time when internal communications had to reach out to all the departments on a weekly or monthly basis to ask them politely to come up with an announcement for the newsletter is behind us. Most of my presentations on this subject consisted of examples of conversations on Yammer, conversations that could theoretically happen via e-mail, but for some reason that never did. What happened after my presentation was that the customer figured that this was something they had to discuss on a management level. They could see the potential impact, but it was also clear that they needed management commitment and that this commitment would have to be more than just “sounds good, make it happen”. More and more decisions have to be made out in the open. Technology has made it easy for them to discuss anything with everyone and it’s also very easy for others to start hitting that “like” button. Conversations can fall within the feed, but there still are many elephants in the room. This is why the entire management team needs to step in and be part of this change.
- Let’s just share some updates and see what happens
You can already find a lot of resources online that can help you become more successful with Enterprise Social and on top of pretty much each list “executive engagement” is mentioned. Enterprise Social is all about the conversations, so it takes more than just sharing a few updates. You probably are going to get responses to your post and if you don’t comment on them, chances are that people are going to be less willing to have a conversation with you next time they see your update. Don’t underestimate the power of a “like” either.
- No need to re-evaluate our processes
Companies have designed and implemented many processes to streamline operations, but some of these processes aren’t optimal after the introduction of an Enterprise Social network. Let’s take the helpdesk as an example. Within most larger company’s people have to visit the intranet and create a ticket to get help from the helpdesk. Let’s imagine that someone has to deal with a technical problem. The first thing they want to know is if this is an isolated case or not, so they just ask this question online. When it isn’t an isolated case, colleagues will indicate this by responding. The helpdesk can then ask everyone to create a ticket, but should you expect them to? You are aware of the problem, you know it’s not isolated, so why not just do some research and try to fix it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is no use for ticketing systems, but I would like you to challenge this when changes have been made to the work environment. Sure, measuring things is great, but is it that important that you won’t be open to re-evaluate an existing process?
- People are too negative for me to embrace this
A lot of people complain about the negativity of posts and I can image that this can be scary. Imagine being the department lead and seeing all this, why would you even consider to embrace Enterprise Social? It’s important that you see that people are being negative because they care and they want things to improve. Sure, people can be too negative, but hold on to the fact that a negative post is probably more valuable to you when it comes to improving things. Nobody is expecting you to be able to fix everything, all they want is to be heard and to see that you actually care. You could try to channel all of the negativity by creating groups dedicated for sharing feedback, but I’m not a big fan of this. I’m convinced that it’s better for the company if everyone becomes more critical of the products and services their company offers, but also to be more aware of all the critique coming from the world outside. Every now and then I visit the Facebook page of companies and I take a look at the posts made by customers. Some posts are completely ignored, even when thousands of people work for that company. It’s not strange that most of the employees aren’t doing anything with this, it’s not their responsibility and they want to keep their private life separate from work. Why would you bother if you don’t have to and when you notice that the company isn’t doing anything with your feedback? When someone starts to complain about all the negativity, step in and tell them that this is essential if the company wants to keep moving forward.
Enterprise Social has a lot of potential, but I understand that it can also be a little scary. What if you’re the CEO of a company and someone criticizes you right there out in the open? What if you post an update and don’t get any likes and some random employee does the same thing and their post goes viral within the company’s network? How do you deal with this? So the question is not only if you’re hiring the right marketeer, but if management is actually ready to be connected with the workforce in such a transparent way. You should also be aware of the fact that this isn’t something you can try out for a while, when it takes off there won’t be an easy way to turn it off as people will soon start to rely on it.
- It’s so easy, but still some just don’t even want to try
The thing with Facebook is that people use it for different reasons. There are grandparents that create Facebook accounts just to be able to see pictures of their grandchildren and there are grandchildren that make a living by using Facebook. You probably have different types of people working for the company as well. Not everyone is comfortable to speak up in public, in a group online with thousands of members. Some people are used to e-mail and you need to understand that it can take some time to convince them to change the way they work. Just don’t let them hold you back for too long, chances are that your competitors have already figured out how to make the change happen so your company can’t afford to “see how this rolls”. Don’t worry too much about it though, Enterprise Social will take off eventually and with time they will become a minority group within the company as the new employees are more accustomed to this way of communicating. They will eventually start reading the posts because someone mentioned something during lunch and they were missing the context. Sometimes people just need a little push, but don’t waste your energy trying to convince everyone why they need to change their habits. Give them tips that they can actually use and when they ask you a question offline, post it online and tag them so they can experience the value of discussing things openly. When they promise that they will take a look every now and then, convince them that “looking” doesn’t do much, they need to participate or they won’t see the benefits of getting onboard this moving train.
- Let’s just build our own Enterprise Social network
Throughout the years I have seen many Intranet environments. Some companies make use of a forum, some use internal blogs and others look at Enterprise Social technology. Being able to “like” an announcement or to comment on it doesn’t mean you have an Enterprise Social network. Social technologies make use of algorithms that determine what might be relevant for you. By following people and joining groups you are giving the algorithm the input it needs to find conversations, people, new groups and documents that you might find relevant. The Facebook newsfeed also makes use of such an algorithm and you can compare it to the recipe of Coca Cola, it’s their big secret. Sure, it’s a good thing that you can comment on an announcement, but what if you want to share something on your own? My advice would be to start off by looking at existing Enterprise Social networks before deciding to build one on your own. When you do decide to build something, be aware that a lot of the innovation has been happening under the hood, so you need to keep innovating your solution as well. In order to innovate, you need to get the statistics and the help from your end-users to come up with the right updates.
Tips for being more successful with Enterprise Social
When a company asks me for help with Enterprise Social the first thing I want to check is their ambition. This is a transition in the way people work. They are used to being responsible for something and that allows you to make decisions without having to explain everything to a large community. You don’t have to discuss everything out in the open, but you should ask yourself how much valuable input you are getting by standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people and answering the questions a few people share who are comfortable enough to speak through a microphone. Asking you questions online is less scary so chances are that you will be getting a lot more difficult questions, but that’s a good thing, you want them to challenge you.
- Let them know how ambitious you are
Sure, I get that this is new and you are probably going to get some resistance, but if you don’t share the bigger picture people are not going to feel the sense of urgency to change. It’s fine to allow people to get used to something new, but it’s also important to let them know that a change is taking place with or without them. You need to get the entire management team onboard and it should be something you discuss on a regular basis to check if everything is moving along as planned. When you hit resistance, try to discuss it online and out in the open . When their voice becomes loud, you can point out that the technology they are complaining about actually allowed them to be heard.
- Let departments know what kind of update frequency you expect
There are two types of posts in Yammer, regular posts made by members and announcements which can only be shared by the admins of a group. The announcement will be shown on top of the interface in the browser and they will reach a member’s inbox. Chances are that people have set an e-mail alert on their inbox, so each announcement is triggering an e-mail. This is why you shouldn’t push this too much, people will start leaving your group or they will turn off the e-mail notification and you don’t want them to be disconnected. My ideal announcement frequency would be around 2 each week. Your community will appreciate it if you’re consistent, so don’t all of a sudden stop sending announcements for weeks on end if it’s not during a public holiday. You won’t be getting the same amount of engagement for each announcement and that’s perfectly fine, just make sure you actually end your announcement with a question if you need the input to move forward.
- Don’t let important posts fall in the feed
This is the single most important reason why people don’t like Enterprise Social. They share something they think is relevant and even if a descent amount of colleagues agree, it still simply falls down the feed. Make sure you have a community manager in place and that this person has a backup for when they are offline. What you also could consider is creating a private group where your team discusses the posts shared in the public group. Just make sure that the posts of your members are picked up. When you approach someone offline to discuss their post, make sure to post an update online to let everyone know that you do care.
- Make use of shared accounts
People have different opinions on this. Some say that Enterprise Social only works if everyone uses a personal account because you simply need to know who you’re having a conversation with. Sure, I get that, but why have departments started using shared e-mail accounts and is that something you want to completely ignore? Don’t forget that some departments have to be the bearer of bad news. Why would you force them to start doing this in person? Imagine being the one that has to do this all the time and think about the impact this can have on you. With just a few clicks you can create these shared accounts and if this is what it takes to get people onboard then just go for it. This also allows people to easily make a distinction between a department saying something or the department lead joining a conversation as a regular employee.
- Integrate it into your Intranet
There are many ways to push Enterprise Social forward, such as a campaign during network launch or a YamJam. You can also integrate Enterprise Social in your Intranet and when you do this correctly people won’t even need an app to join the conversations online, everything should work regardless of the type of device they are using and the most important groups are already highlighted in the Intranet. To me this is one of the most important things you can do. Intranet environments are still rather static, you don’t see a lot of updates and you can’t really add any value yourself. How can it be that someone on a commute towards work checks some random news website but not the Intranet? This is not something you can force them to do, the Intranet needs to be on par with the experience they have on the Internet as a consumer.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]