The past ten years have seen social networks transform how people communicate. The most popular iterations – the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – are written into popular culture and hugely influence people’s lives.
Widely embraced though they are, the younger generation has grown up with social networks and has never known another way to collaborate. As they enter the workplace, they expect the same experience in their professional lives.
Discussion around the topic of social media in the enterprise is often restricted to how the aforementioned tools can be utilised to generate business value.
While there are many ways that organisations can, and should, use mainstream social networks for things like sentiment analysis and customer service, a greater and more untapped opportunity lies in emulating the experience internally.
Internal social networks can be used in a number of ways to improve company culture, collaboration and employee satisfaction.
>See also: How to become a social enterprise
‘Enterprise social networks can be an incredibly useful tool, particularly when it comes to recognising employees,’ says Derek Irvine, VP of client consulting and strategy at Globoforce. ‘These internal networks can be used for organisation-wide, peer-to-peer recognition, and allow all employees to recognise others for the contributions that they make.’
By highlighting and celebrating successful demonstrations of good work and the company’s values, the internal social network can create a more unified workforce and a culture of appreciation in which employees feel more engaged.
The millennials are coming
Examples of fully fledged internal social networks remain low as business leaders naively dismiss social media as a distraction, but technology companies are leading the way with early use cases.
Global IT services company Virtusa implemented an internal social business platform – called V+ – when it realised 86% of its 9,600 associates were millennials, and its culture reflects the social needs of that group.
‘Integrating social media into an organisation’s people strategy results in high levels of engagement and retention, leading to higher productivity,’ says Sundararajan Narayanan, SVP and global head of HR at Virtusa. ‘As a social network, V+ has helped to transform the way we work, learn, share and connect, by driving engagement with social media principles.’
Narayanan takes the view that building the social media platform, rather than buying a ready-made solution, allows the business to shape it around its staff so that it is contextually relevant.
While developing the platform internally will take more time and investment, a big part of adopting an internal social network is to engrain it in company culture – and an external solution will never understand the company more than its own people do.
Virtusa used internal teams to build V+, which meant that changes and feedback could be easily incorporated. However, it didn’t create everything form scratch – enterprise social network Yammer goes hand-in-hand with V+ and is used extensively across the company.
‘Tools like Yammer, which come as part of enterprise software packages, can be a good place to start for businesses of all sizes, allowing them to test the water and see how social media can benefit their business before embarking on a project to build their own,’ says Narayanan.
Since the introduction of V+, 98% of Virtusa’s employees have adopted Yammer, resulting in more than 7,000 posts a month, 1,000 work groups, 28,000 videos shared and 200 new employee ideas submitted to its idea portal, Vinnovate.
According to Narayanan, this has led to transparency in communication, made real-time information available to project teams, and accelerated time to delivery.
‘Through measuring use metrics such as these and observing how time-to-delivery is shortened, CIOs can ensure that any social business platform is delivering on its potential,’ he adds.
Recognition where it’s due
Another company that has reaped the rewards of an internal social network is hotel giant IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), which was looking for new ways to inspire and engage its employees and ensure that they were following the company’s core values.
IHG deployed a solution that allows its thousands of employees around the world to see ‘recognition moments’ displayed on an internal social newsfeed.
By reinforcing and encouraging the behaviour that reflects its values within a social platform, the company believes it drives greater achievements and efficiencies out of its workforce.
Within a year of deployment, IHG employees had recorded 33,000 recognition moments – or ‘Bravos’, as it calls them – and 86% of employees said they are proud to work for a company that recognises them.
‘Typically, with a well-functioning social network, staff communication goes at the same speed as the business,’ says Phil Lewis, VP solution consulting, EMEA at Infor. ‘There is no lag or latency in decisions or delay in opportunities being seized. You are not waiting for replies via email or a call back.’
Organisations can also expect an improvement in efficiency by increasing the visibility of communications and the processes behind resolving a query.
By making everybody responsible, and accountable, for getting the job done, the company can break down the barriers that would normally be where inefficiencies hide.
And millennials aren’t the only ones to benefit. The professional element of the internal social network means that those employees who did not grow up with social media don’t feel alienated by the influx of digital-savvy workers.
Such a project, however, should not be approached lightly. While initial setup costs can be relatively low, becoming a social enterprise is a culture change, which does not happen easily.
Simply enabling an internal social network can be a minimal investment, but implementing it correctly requires investment beyond technology. Monitoring and managing the health of communities, in particular, is an essential element of success.
‘Just like physical communities of people, social networks need to be engaging and evolving – if they stagnate, they die,’ says Yaron Wilf, VP, GTM Customer Success, Cloud Sherpas. ‘The true investment is in understanding what it takes to run a successful community and then being able to respond to changes and engage users.’
With maintaining the social network key, the first decision that organisations must make is whether they want it to be bottom-up or top-down.
If it is bottom-up, the community is dependent on the engagement of end-users on a platform where the people are the content. This means the business must maintain the engagement of the people and create mechanisms that will drive the users back to the network.
This is usually done via real-time analytics and process automation, such as sending messages to users via multiple channels to get them engaged.
‘On the other hand,’ adds Wilf, ‘if the social intranet is top-down focused, that will mean that community moderators will play an essential role in seeding the content and engaging the users. In this case, it is essential to have active community moderators and fresh content in order to bring users back to your social intranet.’
When done well, return on investment shouldn’t be a difficult thing to measure – first and foremost through engagement.
According to research from the Hay Group, engaged employees generate 43% more revenue and can boost performance by 200%. So in that sense, an internal social network could prove very fruitful indeed.
When social recognition is then incorporated into the platform, wider measurements of return can be enabled. The data supplied by social recognition can essentially create a real-time narrative of company life.
‘By capturing and analysing individual acts of recognition, a social recognition practice can determine who the hidden influencers are, who has strong potential and who isn’t pulling their weight,’ says Irvine.
‘Because social recognition uncovers which values-based behaviours are lacking and which are abundant, you might think of it as a “brain scan” of company culture. Executives can use dashboards to get an indication of performance across many systems and dimensions, just like the dashboard of a car.’
The important thing to remember is that this isn’t an ordinary IT deployment to cut costs or deliver business value – it is a culture change that enables employees to do those things.
By emulating the social networks that people use to collaborate, organise and share in their personal lives, organisations can create a better professional environment for the new generation of workers.