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A Socially Networked Company Makes for a More Human Workforce (Revisited)

I could be rehashing a topic that has been addressed many times before, but recent conversations within my own organization have resurfaced this for me and I know it is something that other peers are still sorting out as well. Companies are very much implementing social technologies to engage audiences externally, but still struggle with the advantages of implementing it internally. And this is something that I, in particular, am very passionate about. So, I’ve updated a blog post that I had written late last year focusing on this topic and have included what I hope is some fresh, relevant information and resources. Enjoy!


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. 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.

The Elephant in the Room

Every company acknowledges that social technologies is a growing trend that is a new way to engage with employees, but why is it such a hard sell to senior leadership? For most, it’s the elephant in the room that no one really knows how to address or, more importantly, how to implement. And why is that? Here are just a few of some of the reasons I’ve heard:

  • Social technologies decrease productivity rather than increasing it
  • It doesn’t align with our business goals
  • It’s more valuable for external marketing campaigns than for internal engagement
  • It costs too much money
  • There’s no way to measure the return
  • If we implement social technologies, aren’t we admitting we don’t know how to motivate our own employees?

To be perfectly honest, social technologies is a different way to communicate within an organization that most companies aren’t used to. Rather than top down communications, the essence of social technologies is to invert that traditional communications pyramid and allow conversations to be generated from the bottom up. Yes, putting some control in the hands of your employees. Scary thought for most senior leadership? YES.

It’s also been a struggle to get senior support because of the misconception that implementing social technologies is admitting that your company doesn’t already know how to motivate or engage its workforce. Absolutely not true. What it means is that you CARE about your employees and value their input and ideas, and that you are INTERESTED in them.

There are quick ways to measure engagement through web analytics (click-throughs, page views, etc.), but the real value of social technologies requires an organization to think longer term and more broadly. It’s somewhat an intangible ROI that is hard for a company to financially support when there are no direct correlations to the bottom line. But employees who feel engaged stay at the company longer, they perform better and produce more results, and they interact and connect with their colleagues more effectively.

What Business Priorities Can Be Addressed

  • Strengthen and change corporate culture by building innovation and engagement with employees
  • Extending beyond the brick and mortar corporate walls to unify a global workforce
  • Increase productivity through collaboration and communication, giving employees a platform for knowledge share and expertise
  • Creating a high performing workforce where employees understand how their work is connected to business strategies and are executing results
  • Internalizing external marketing messages so that employees understand your products and services

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
  • 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 truly is the next best thing — connecting the workforce across the globe and providing a platform for realtime conversation and dialogue, and virtually creating the natural social synergy that you would have if you were physically next to the person with whom you are communicating. 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

  • 67% believe colleagues can help them do their jobs better
  • 39% have difficulty locating the right people
  • Only 25% frequently go outside their department to seek or share knowledge
  • 38% don’t get asked for their help or information

Source: Social Media to Improve (Corporate) Internal Communication

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. These profiles are not intended to replace your basic employee directory… 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 that are inclusive of their current core duties as well as their personal interests. It’s about putting faces to names and being able to connect visually to colleagues that work in the next state or on the other side of the world. 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

Every company I know has one consistent complaint from its workforce… they can never find the content they are looking for on the internal portals despite having a Search capability. In my experience, Search is a more passive approach that only performs as well as the content that has been pre-tagged. It also makes assumptions on what the business thinks is important to the employees, which doesn’t always align to what employees actually need. In an Enterprise 2.0 environment, knowledge sharing is made more effective by allowing employees to create user-generated tagging of other individual profiles, links, documents or pages — giving employees the ability identify content that is relevant to them and potentially to their colleagues.

…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

Some of a company’s best ideas for process improvement or product enhancements come from the very individuals who develop or use them — the employees. Often times there is a gap between communicating company business goals and getting employees to understand the relevancy of these goals in their day-to-day work. Creating a social network for idea generation is a great way to address this gap because it provides a platform where employees to foster ideas that support these goals. It’s a great way to recognize and acknowledge 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

You Are not Alone in Your Effort

It’s only natural that everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing. Building an effective enterprise social technology strategy means looking into what other companies have deployed and whether or not they have seen positive results from their efforts. With that in mind, I’ve researched many other companies and have come across a few excellent case studies and examples. The credit for the creation and management of this list really goes to Jacob Morgan, who performed or found some of the case studies found in this list for his own blog, Jacob Morgan: Social Media Globetrotter.

Has your company implemented any of these social technologies? If so, have you seen any increase in engagement from them and / or do you see an high-level of usage with them? If so, I would love to hear from you!

1 thought on “A Socially Networked Company Makes for a More Human Workforce (Revisited)”

  1. Pingback: Making the Jump – Successfully « Being Social in a Corporate World

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