How Not to Fail at Enterprise Social Media

How Not to Fail at Enterprise Social Media

When you signed up for your first Facebook account back in the early 2000s, you were probably curious. You wanted to learn more about this new “social media” platform and see if it might be fun and useful to you. After a few weeks, you were hooked. Facebook made reconnecting with old friends possible. It made sharing photos of your newborn easy. And you were able to do it at your own speed, on your own time. The same ease of adoption doesn’t always happen in the enterprise.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Tammy Erickson discusses challenges to adopting collaborative technology tools. She looks at personal social media use and why people are eagerly engaged in it compared to enterprise social media. Control and choice are at the heart of the comparison.

  • We choose to set up accounts for personal social media and engage with others through them. A supervisor or management is not requiring it.
  • We control what we say and share through personal social media. We are not being required to share and produce certain kinds of content.

Enterprise social media can be valuable to every level of your company. When strategies are successful, they can grow employee engagement, tear down knowledge silos inhibiting the sharing the information and help your company recruit and support top talent. Enterprise social media can give rise to serendipity where subject matter experts and information are easily found within your organization, making your employees smarter and more productive. But when social media strategies are implemented haphazardly or pushed onto employees by force, these benefits are more difficult to realize.

Business strategist Dion Hinchcliffe shows how 10 big-name companies made social media work for their internal teams. His profiles illustrate how social media strategies are rolled out, modified and being used by brands from Alcatel-Lucent to Burberry. There might be some hiccups along the way, but these challenges are manageable because a clear strategy is in place.

Whenever you implement enterprise social media, it is as much a business process change as it is a tool implementation. It’s a different way of doing business. It’s about crowd sourcing ideas and questions and potentially tasks. It’s about making social interaction a part of your day-to-day processes. Treading into this new territory requires preparation.

Measure First, Then Step

Anyone who has built a tree house or baked a cake knows that measuring before cutting the wood or pouring the baking powder is necessary to get a good result. Before choosing a suite of social tools or asking your company for its support to launch an enterprise social media change, take a hard look at your organization.

Assess how your people and teams currently collaborate and where they find each other and information. Consider how social tools can streamline those processes. Analyze your current team structure. Evaluate current and past communication patterns and collaboration patterns both inside and between these teams. Your enterprise social media strategy should complement and perhaps improve these structures and patterns — not go head to head with them in a death match.

Evaluate the organization’s current culture. You must understand your employees’ propensity for collaboration and the type of work they do. If one team’s research experience is very introverted and analytical, their work profile will be very different from someone playing the role as liaison between a number of groups who carry out a similar function. It’s not appropriate to assume that all groups will use a tool in the same ways.

If you haven’t already, develop your organization’s internal work personas. Different personas exist within every team and enterprise social media tools should be considered or ruled out in accordance with those personas and the goals of the business. Determine which tools are appropriate for your employees.

Context key to esn 1Where people are in their employment life cycles effects how they will use and benefit from social tools. The ability for a new hire to start using a tool, asking questions and interacting will be very different from the ability and comfort level of a 10-year employee. The veteran is probably interested in quickly connecting with people globally who share a common area of expertise, while the new guy is just getting his feet wet. A manager interested in monitoring workplace interests and issues will be using tools in yet other ways. Alumni of an organization interested in staying connected and being advocates of your brand will be using your tools differently as well. Elizabeth Lupfer does a great job of covering issues like the employee life cycle on The Social Workplace.

And yes, it is possible to look at a business group and determine that collaborative tools aren’t appropriate for it. The best way to come to this conclusion, however, is by careful analysis before launching a social tool. Corporate communicators should be able to demonstrate an acute level of specificity and analysis to support work patterns and collaboration before stepping into enterprise social media.

How to Fail at Enterprise Social Media

If an organization doesn’t measure before launching an enterprise social media initiative, it will more than likely fail. If a company’s new social tool is not integrated to be a real part of its employees’ work, it will most assuredly fail. If an organization decides to haphazardly pick a tool and force it on its employees, two scenarios will likely occur:

  • At best, people won’t use it.
  • At worst, they’ll rebel against it and use it inappropriately to show what a bad idea it was.

If your initiative does fail, it will take a long time to recover, which will keep your organization from experimenting and trying new social tools because it has failed once. If you randomly choose a tool, it can slow people down. If someone gets the wrong tool in their hands, they will be frustrated by their inability to use it well and waste time trying to make it work.

If your tool fails, your organization’s bottom line loses. This is why companies like TrustRadius exist. When it comes to trying out new software for your business, you’re only going to want the best. As technology can make a lot of difference to many industries, it is important to at least look into the tools that can help get your business to the height of success.

License fees for tools, implementation costs — possibly including internal and external resources — and opportunity costs are at stake. Think about how much time your employees spent on this failed tool when they could have been focusing on their primary responsibilities.

I’m a strong believer in the benefits of enterprise social media, but only when a sound strategy is in place. Careful examination of your organization and its people must come first.