Business social networks launched without the full backing of the leadership team frequently struggle to gain traction. Senior leaders need to provide the necessary funding and act as champions.
Photo: Brendan Smialowski
A report earlier this year by McKinsey & Co offered the tantalising possibility of improving the productivity of employees it described as “interaction” or “high-skill knowledge” workers, including managers, by between 20 and 25 per cent by improving communication and collaboration through social technologies. The paper, The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies, argues that although 72 per cent of companies use social technologies in some way, for most the potential benefits remain “largely untapped”.
“The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 per cent of the workweek managing email and nearly 20 per cent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks,” McKinsey explains.
“But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much 35 per cent, the time employees spend searching for company information. Additional value can be realised through faster, more efficient, more effective collaboration both within and between enterprises.”
However, reaping the benefits of social technologies requires organisations to make some effort, including substantial organisational and cultural changes. They must, according to McKinsey, “transform their structures, processes and cultures: they will need to become more open and nonhierarchical and to create a culture of trust”.
No wonder, then, that Sydney employee engagement researcher David Croston believes that organisations are struggling to make the most of enterprise social networks.
Croston, principal of Inside Communication, says many companies, while recognising that they should embrace social networks for their organisations, typically launch platforms without a clear purpose or strategy, resulting in “little or no business value”.
Croston offers these rules to ensure that your organisation makes the most of social technologies.
- Ensure networks have executive sponsorship and involvement – Networks launched without the full backing of the leadership team frequently struggle to gain traction. Senior leaders need to provide the necessary funding and act as champions. Once the network is up and running they need to be among its most active participants.
- Establish the link between social media and the business strategy – It needs to be clear exactly how the network will facilitate the achievement of corporate goals and objectives. Broad aims such as improving communication and collaboration are worthy, but they lack the commercial edge that captures the attention of senior and middle management. Articulating the platform’s business purpose at the outset is critical.
- Give staff time to establish specific work uses for social technology – At the planning stage it is difficult to predict exactly how people will use the network. It pays to set time aside to let employees explore how they might fit these tools into their workflow. Typically, employees are quick to see where the opportunities lie. The uses that emerge from this stage of work are the foundation of a successful launch.
- Integrate the network with the rest of the organisation – The social network needs to integrate with the rest of the organisation’s enterprise systems or it will become just another communication channel. A successful integration brings people, processes and content together in the one spot, which allows the “network effect” to create real business value.
- Communicate benefits to employees – Communication programs need to do a lot more than simply tell employees when the network is launching. Employees want to hear what’s in it for them. Fortunately, the benefits are many: feeling more informed and connected, receiving more feedback and recognition, achieving more goals and objectives. These are the messages that encourage employees to jump on board.
- Provide the necessary user training – Although these networks are intuitive to use it is a mistake to skimp on user training. While much of the training takes place online, “digital immigrants” almost always require face-to-face training. This supplementary instruction builds their confidence and ensures no one gets left behind.
- Appoint a community manager – Left untended, communities can quickly fall apart. The role of community manager is central to the ongoing health and success of the network. The community manager prompts conversations, provides answers and, if necessary, enforces policy. Over time they focus on the performance of the network, highlighting successes and, if necessary, devising strategies to lift flagging participation.
“Australia desperately needs to lift stalled productivity rates and accusing fingers are often pointed at the government for failing to provide the necessary settings,” Croston says. “It is a pity business leaders appear to be overlooking this opportunity to add rocket fuel to the performance and productivity of their organisation.”