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A Socially Networked Company Makes for a More Human Workforce

I love how social media has made our world just a little smaller — bringing people together across the globe who might not have met otherwise. For business, one of the biggest and most under-realized advantages to integrating social networking tools  is its ability to humanize a corporate workforce beyond just the typical four walls of a cubicle or office, and brings global colleagues and peers together to collaborate and communicate with each other who might not have otherwise known to use each other as resources. Without social networking tools, companies risk problems not being resolved, ideas becoming stagnant and employees feeling underutilized or underappreciated. So, if you’re a company wondering how you can unify your global workforce, social technologies are an excellent step to building a more collaborative, productive and HUMAN workforce.

A “networked company”: everything working everywhere. everyone working together.

Questions You Should be Asking

  • How networked are your employees?
  • How engaged are your employees?
  • How do you bring them together?
  • How do you bring down the silos and walls?
  • How do you tap into and foster employee ideas and collaboration to propel business results?

Where Companies Can See the Benefit of Social Networking

  • Cross-functional projects
  • HR matters
  • Standardized forms used daily by sales/service employees
  • Collaboration among geographically dispersed employees
  • To get all employees up to speed on new information quickly
  • Providing employees with common answers to their questions
  • Ensuring things explained in person are also in writing
  • Enhancing member or customer communications
  • Market research
  • PR, industry recognition

[ source: Ways to Engage Employees Using Technology That Deliver ROI ]

What Social Networking Can Do for Your Company

Community and Collaboration

Social networks enable community building which is an essential part of employee engagement. Communities on social network sites generally fall into one of the following categories: ad hoc groups (e.g., clubs), project teams, or communities that are more formal, such as those recognized by management (e.g., professional practice areas or forums for company-sponsored programs). For cross-functional projects that involve key stakeholders spanning multiple organizations as well as continents, group collaboration through social networks is a great platform for document management, project updates and management.

“Collaboration is a very human characteristic. Many groups have a natural preference for defining themselves by working together peer-to-peer, rather than acting solely on commands from a higher level in a hierarchy. It is hardly surprising that the tendency should be reflected in the commercial (or public good) enterprise, when a collaborative structure is feasible.” [ source: Collaboration through Web 2.0 ]

Conversation Streams

If you can’t have the physical watercooler, then having a social network provides a virtual one for your employees — connecting the workforce across the globe and providing a platform for realtime conversation and dialogue. Some companies, such as Oracle, have developed their own internal versions of Twitter.

“When employees update their status, they can also send tweets to their networks, groups. Each tweet that appears in the Activity Log includes a link to the tweet that opens in a new tab/window.  If you want to reply, you can click through to see the tweet and reply. Or you can share links to useful information, communicating info much more effectively (and less intrusively) than an email could.” [ source: Oracle’s Connect: Building Engagement with Internal Social Networks ]

Knowledge Share

Your company is full of in-house experts that are willing to share their expertise — in fact, I bet they’re dying to. Through social networking tools, you can allow each employee to create an “expertise profile” for themselves to identify their knowledge or skills on any number of topics. This should not be confused with your basic employee directory here… although, the two can, and probably should, leverage the same basic data. What we’re talking about is a place for employees to list bios, skills, interests and projects. These profiles would be searchable by other employees to find the matching “experts,” and allow them to reach out to that colleague and seek their guidance or recommendations.

User-Generated Tagging

To make knowledge sharing more effective, a good social network will allow employees to tag other individuals, links, documents or pages:

…tagging, or the attaching of label-like keywords to a person’s name in a company directory, documents, images or pages on the Web. In the context of expertise-locator systems, employees can have tags that describe the work they do, information on their division or group, external affiliations, hobbies, memberships, location and names of projects. Employees can also use tags for evaluation purposes, such as noting whether an expert has been helpful in the past, and for tagging their own areas of expertise as they evolve.

What is particularly useful about tags is they are generated by the expertise seekers and experts themselves, not by a team assigned to maintain a database. This relieves the company of any need to dedicate resources or training to the practice, and makes the tags more likely to be relevant and properly maintained over time. [ source: Who Knows What? ]

Idea Generation

Social networks are a great way to generate ideas from employees, make them feel valued and build a culture of innovation.

“By enabling communities to post, critique, collaborate on and refine ideas, companies are certain to reap the benefits of accelerated innovation. People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of genius. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be valuable insight in another.” [ source: What Enterprise Social Networks Do Well: Produce Higher Quality Ideas ]

Discussion Forum

Not only are discussion forums another great tool to drive participation, but they are also your next best thing to a corporate help desk. Having a place where employees can pose questions that can be answered in almost real-time by either other employees, or by moderators, is a fantastic way to make employees feel like their concerns or questions are being heard … and answered. When I think of my ideal discussion forum for business, I think along the lines of an internalized version of

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