Business

How to put social tools to work at your company

Image Credit: Peshkova via Shutterstock

Bryony Cole is Yammer’s head of community and thought leadership.

Enterprise social initiatives fail because they lack a purpose and they lack support.

But when teams start strong with a vision for success, identify their goals and metrics, generate executive buy-in, and can remain flexible, they are poised to get enterprise social right.

Social media has redefined the way we learn, share, and communicate. It has bought the power of open communication to everyone, and in the context of business, unlocked the voice of the employee. By connecting the dots up, down, across, and beyond the organization, enterprise social networking (ESN) releases the potential for business transformation and culture change at a scale previously unattainable.


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Many companies who want to use these tools underestimate the organizational and cultural change required to help employees shift to a new, more collaborative and transparent way of working. As a result, Gartner predicts through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve the intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology.

Simply buying a platform and turning it on won’t be enough. Without dedicated organizational and cultural change management, a company implementing social runs the risk of being overwhelmed with “digital landfill.”  The good news is there is a growing list of companies paving the way. Here are 5 keys to getting enterprise social initiatives right:

1. Assess & define

Before you can change your culture, you need a firm grip on your starting line.

Most companies say they want a more open, collaborative culture but have organizational structure and policies in place that actually prevent it.

Before jumping in the deep end with social, define what you hope to achieve, and identify a timeline to match the organization’s current state. View enterprise social as a journey, not a campaign, and be honest in identifying any pain points, which may slow adoption and engagement.

Start small with specific projects among specific groups, build on success, and learn along the way. At the same time, remain open to organic and unexpected value that may arise. Don’t expect things to be perfect; instead, adopt the motto of “aim, fire, adjust.” View failures as a learning opportunity to refine your efforts.

2. Get specific & map to value

Once you have a sense of what’s achievable with enterprise social, you can begin to map out how this vision will translate to tangible business results. Start small with specific projects among specific teams. Make sure those projects are aligned to strategic value and evaluate the benefits and differences of using this type of tool along the way. You can build off of this success and use it to help educate other teams about the benefits based on your experience. Here are four ways to think about value:

  • Team collaboration: One of the obvious benefits of social is not just connections to people, but the ability to collaborate with people. Whether behind their desks, at home, or on the go, employees from all over the world can share updates, form unique groups and come together in teams to edit documents in real-time. Teams can now extend their work together much more easily beyond the meeting room walls, allowing for broader collaboration. This environment of simultaneous sharing stimulates productivity and innovation.

  • Employee engagement: Less than half of the American working population likes their job , and less than a third are actively engaged in it. Employees want to feel like they have a voice, that their work is recognized, and that they can contribute to the company’s success. An enterprise social network removes the pre-existing communication barriers that prevented this from happening. Participating as a collective on an open platform allows employees to feel like they’re part of something bigger. By sharing what projects they are working on via an enterprise social network, employees increase their visibility to the company and feel their own work is important.

  • Connected organization: In an ever-changing business world, harnessing the wisdom of the collective organization has never been so important. The challenges of working in silos, such as duplication of work and limited access to experts, are resolved when all employees can “work out loud” in a connected platform. By connecting not only employees but also existing systems and business applications, you can make the most of your people and technical investments.

  • Business agility: Whether it’s an exciting acquisition, new product launch, or reorganization, business transformation has the potential to propel a company’s growth and increase shareholders value. Successful transformations like realignments or entering new markets can increase revenue, boost customer satisfaction, and even cut costs. During times of rapid change, employees can often be resistant, as they don’t fully understand what’s going on. They can be misinformed on your company’s intentions, whether their jobs are at stake, and how this change aligns with the company’s mission. Use social as an opportunity to move fast by focusing on people, culture and communication to align everyone to the mission, values and strategy.

Finally, find the low-hanging fruit! A good place to start is identifying teams within your organization where enterprise social can drive immediate value and get started.

3. Get executive support

Leadership is a critical step to any culture change, especially when it comes to baking social business into the fabric of a company.

Strong and public leaders in an organization need to set an example and truly engage on their enterprise social network by submitting ideas, asking for feedback, and experimenting. Not only is upper management responsible for driving strategic initiatives; if employees see executives chiming in on the network, it helps to validate the tool and drive engagement.

By involving leaders in the social deployment and encouraging them to embody the social business process from the outset, it builds credibility and sends a clear signal for other managers to emulate. This behavior ripples out to the edges of the organization. While some executives are very socially sophisticated, others may require extra coaching.

In order to drive executive engagement, it’s helpful to educate executives on the benefits they’ll reap from social. ESNs enable open leadership, which means executives can gain greater visibility into their organization, keeping a pulse on employee projects and morale. You can use these tools to increase alignment; social also allows C-level execs to engage with their companies in a much deeper away.

4. Measure

To ensure the long-term growth and success of your enterprise social endeavor, it’s critical to establish metrics for success. The best place to start is with metrics your business already uses and deems important (things like customer service response time, employee retention, employee satisfaction rating, etc).

Adoption and engagement are two common proxies for measuring progress along the way. While they are both required to achieve success, the real value is in the outcomes they drive. Keep in mind that as your network evolves, you will continue to see more and more value, all the while discovering new use cases and benefits.

Measuring value in enterprise social is different from traditional “industrial age” standards. Analytics can and should play a significant role in assessing engagement and adoption, but other simple practices can also help monitor success. For example, try highlighting success stories as they happen. Use tagging to identify instances of value inside the social network (tags such as #SocialWin is a good starting point). This is especially important given that a lot of success stories will come as a surprise.

In other words, while creating metrics for success from the get-go is important, there will likely be unexpected social wins that you continue to uncover throughout your journey. One of the great things about enterprise social is that as a network matures, new use cases keep surfacing.

5. Make the journey

There is no perfect, calculated way to bring social into your organization, but these tips should serve as a guide to overcoming many of the common hurdles. Try to remain willing to make adjustments along the way, and be open to unexpected value.

Awareness is everything. Start by organizing a launch day or event during which all employees can both learn about and engage in the product. This will increase visibility of the tool and also provide a chance to demonstrate best practices moving forward. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase executive sponsorship. But also understand that the formal “big bang” launch event isn’t everything — you’ll need continued governance and engagement in order to see long term success with enterprise social.


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