Featured, Social media, Strategy

The Thin line between Great and Ghost Town

socialnetworkI just finished reading Using an Internal Social Network to Solve Real Business Problems by Nichole Kelly over on Social Media Explorer.

When I started reading the article, I almost closed my Firefox tab when I read “Transforming into a social business…” in sentence #1. I’m not a fan of the term ‘social business’, mainly because nobody has ever been able to give me a real, honest-to-goodness, definition of what social business really means.  Is it doing business via social media? Is it utilizing social media to improve/increase business? It is a business with revenue generated via social media?  What is it?

There’s even a social business index out there that ranks bushiness in terms of social business…whatever that means. But…I digress.  This post isn’t about my misunderstanding and/or dislike of social business.  Maybe I’ll hit that topic in the future.

You can see why I almost closed the tab on Using an Internal Social Network to Solve Real Business Problems. I thought it was going to digress into another social business diatribe about how you should turn your business into a social business. Thankfully, the article generally stays away from that argument and tries to tackle a very important aspect of business today: using an internal social network to improve he capabilities of the people within your organization.

In my experiences building, managing and using internal social networks, I’ve found most organizations try to force the use of the social network with top-down communication, which then turns the network into nothing more than an HR and PR communication network.  In the article, Nichole backs this experience up with:

If your internal social network is a broadcast channel to communicate with employees, you are doing it wrong. This is an opportunity to build connectivity between employees, rather than another HR portal for dissemination of information.

Very true.

An internal social network is great for sharing, building relationships and breaking down silos between organizations. But it is only great for these things if you allow it to be. Forcing employees to go to the ‘blog’ of your CEO to read the latest business update that would have normally been sent around via email isn’t the right way to do things. Sure, using a blog format is more interactive and better for the company if the people within the company feel like they can make comments and be open and honest, but how many organizations have the culture to allow that?

One of the keys to a successful social network – whether internal or external – is to give people a place to be ‘themselves’. In a business environment, this needs to be the professional version of ‘themselves’ but there is absolutely no reason that your internal social network can’t be a very personal and individualized network that each person can use the way they think works best for them.

The key for a successful launch and acceptance of an internal social network is to allow it to be more than a communication pipeline from the leadership team and HR. To borrow from Nichole again:

This is important. Don’t tell employees to use your internal social network purely for business communications. Encourage employees to share posts related to things they are interested in, photos of their kids if they would like, and anything else that will help employees know more about who they are out of the office. This is what will help to break through some of the turf wars. People who like each other as human beings are more likely to communicate with each other when there is a potentially heated issue that needs to be discussed. It also can help to create relationships through all ranks in the organization. Leadership needs to be a part of this type of sharing too. They need to show employees that they are actual human beings, not just their boss or a member of the executive team. Just imagine the power of knowing the CEO is a huge runner as a point of hallway conversation for other employees, or that she has a daughter the same age, or that he also is a foster home for rescue dogs? Getting employees to share what happens outside of the office helps people connect around areas of common interest. If the only thing your internal social network does is provide a forum for sharing things employees get excited about outside of work, it will still be a huge win for the organization.

Emphasis mine.

If you allow employees to share what makes them happy and excited (in a professional manager obviously), you’ve taken the first step in getting those employees to be more social within your organization. That first step is the first toward breaking down silos and building relationships within your organization.

I worked for an organization who spent a great deal of money on an internal social network. Money was spent, software was implemented, people were trained and when the network when ‘live’, it was a ghost town. The only ‘visits’ to the social network came when people were forced there to read the latest HR communication about benefits or the latest update from the CEO.  The social network was a complete failure because the organization didn’t understand the basic tenets of ‘social’ – allow people to be social, and they will be social.

This particular social network implementation still exists but it remains a ghost town because the organization doesn’t understand the power of allowing people to be social. Give employees a way to get to know other each outside of their official role and you’ll start seeing some real growth within the organization. You’ll start seeing silos being broken down and people working closer together.

A social network isn’t the answer to all problems, but it can help your organization build an open and sharing culture with long-lasting relationships if the network is approached in the right way.Its up to you to determine how well it works out for your organization.

Try to force top-down communications via your internal social network and you’ll end up with a ghost-town – but allow your teams to use the internal social network for sharing and relationship building, and you’ll have see amazing things happen.

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About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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