Saturday, August 3, 2013

Building Internal Social Networks that Connect

A reason why internal  social networks fail to achieve higher uptake is the assumption that people who work together will seek to connect with each other.

Self branding and exchanging personal commentary is what external social networking is all about. However, whether individuals desire to mimic similar on-line behaviours in the workplace is questionable. 

An article published on titled 'Why are so few internal social media networks deemed a success' by Adi Gaskill, indicated that user adoption is the biggest issue. The article cited a report from Information Week 'Rebooting the anti-social network' which indicated that only 13% of IT professionals believed that their companies internal social networks were successful. Most employees preferred to use public tools such as Linkedin or Facebook.

Meyers Briggs (and other popular personality profiling tools) come to mind. An individual's persona and traits is likely to differ in work and home situations.  This insight applies to how individuals engage in social communications behaviour.

How an individual manages their work persona in relation to their personality and interests differs is a work environment. It is managed consciously as part of professional development, authority level and area of expertise. Yet, so often the launch of an internal social network site begins with an internal push to share personal interests, hobbies, family information and experiences. An attempt to mimic external on-line socialising.

Internal social networks have the potential to harness ideas, foster collaboration and breakdown structural barriers. They can provide a way to inform, engage and consolidate knowledge across diverse internal groups. Yet, they are often launched in a way that is trivial to business operations and alienates users.

So how can user adoption be lifted?

1. Clear Purpose and Objectives: I would suggest a good starting point for defining the purpose is to understand the end-user (employee) motivations for utilising the network and how this can deliver on business outcomes.

Place an emphasis on empowering employees to build their internal  professional profile. Provide ways for them to share what they are working on, success stories, and to tap into others expertise. Focus on engaging the internal community in work related conversations and commentary. Assign moderators to encourage exchanges and even seek out teams/individuals to showcase projects.

2. Community Approach: Work place communities share a common interest in organisational success, team and individual recognition, and professional development for future promotion.

Developing a community engagement road map shapes communications planning. It takes the emphasis away from the tool and back to the user group.  It helps identify the type of content and messaging that appeals to the internal audience.

Popular external social networks grow organically with individuals wanting to be associated with the group due to shared interests. Community posts are 'on topic' and can easily be shared.

3. Content Content Content: Scanning the organisation for content that has wide appeal is important. Internal social networks often suffer from a lack of ownership in generating and moderating content.

Interesting content attracts users to the network. Many social networkers are active watchers, information seekers or followers -  not initiators. Good content will seed end-user adoption sooner then directing individuals to contribute information.

As the saying goes for any system - 'Rubbish in, Rubbish out.'  

4.  Utilise Email: Email is still 'king' of business communication. Utilise email communications to lift adoption levels. Provide updates on community activity, content links and new items. Often internal social networks are launched with fanfare, followed by a lack of ongoing communication about why and how the network is being used.

5. Avoid New System Fatigue: Most businesses have many systems for day-to- day tasks. Avoid launching an internal social network with other business systems simultaneously. It will be seen as another tool to navigate and learn. If it is not viewed as  'business critical' it will become low on the priority list.

6. List End-User Benefits: The biggest challenge when implementing is the perceived lack of business value in using the platform. For leadership teams, the potential to collect ideas, reach a company wide audience efficiently, and promote cross functional collaboration is compelling. For other employees the benefits are not as obvious for their role.

Developing a list of business benefits for internal end-users and reinforcing these regularly will foster usage. Similar to defining community motivations, the benefit list needs to by viewed from the end-user perspective. Otherwise employees will view it as the domain of leaders and managers.

Internal social networks - so much potential, so little usage. Putting community motivations at the forefront of implementation will drive usage. Acknowledging that external and internal social networking are uniquely different on-line behaviours anchors the purpose and objectives in the right context.

What are your thoughts on this?

What examples can you provide in increasing internal social network user adoption?

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