Why Enterprise Social Networks Fail

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Companies have understood the benefits and pitfalls of using social media to engage customers for some years now, with Facebook and Twitter now commonly used as platforms for identifying new customers, fostering brand recognition, and building or harnessing engaged communities. However, few companies have successfully replicated the success of these social platforms internally.

Engaging employees and motivating them to embrace new ways of working often proves difficult, with companies often seeing low uptake rates of enterprise social networking platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer and Salesforce’s Chatter.

Though enterprise social networks can take off, they tend to end up supporting a small group of core users, whose interest in the platform ebbs over time. We have spoken to a number of companies who have been frightened away from internal social media after they have failed to gain traction.

The problem with internal social networks is that they often lack purpose, they are rarely facilitated, and they tend to lack sponsorship from leaders. Providing a platform is a prerequisite for enabling new ways of working, but it is rarely sufficient. People need to have a reason for engaging.

The importance of purpose

One of the most successful enterprise social networks we’ve seen, Tata Consultancy Services’ Knome platform, creates engagement by encouraging people with common interests to share their experiences. Building on people’s preexisting passions is a quick way to create engagement with a platform, as it taps into a nascent desire to connect.

Uniting a large and more diverse audience often requires the identification of a broad challenge that everyone in the organisation has a vested interest in addressing. For our FoWlab Jams, we always identify a big strategic challenge, and try to tie the Jam itself to an existing organisation-wide change program. This frames the platform as a vehicle for change, and as a unique opportunity for employees to contribute to high-level strategy.

Facilitation

Personally, I don’t like networking events because I’m rubbish at striking up conversations with people I don’t know. I’m sure it’s a common trait, and one that I know translates to the online world. Though we’re often given a confidence boost by a cloak of anonymity on certain online platforms, most if not all enterprise social networks build on our existing work identities and reputations.

To avoid everyone lurking around the canapés or pretending to check their phones, you need someone facilitating interactions. Someone to introduce them to others and reveal common interests they can talk about. We’ve found that facilitators in online platforms are almost a prerequisite for engaging a diverse audience. They may not be expert in the area under discussion, but they are expert in creating exciting questions and connections between ideas and people.

Motivated sponsorship

Unlike customers, employees have a reason to be scared of sharing their opinions. They think they are being observed by people who want an excuse to fire them. This is the default assumption, and the mentality arises even in the absence of overt authority. It’s something that needs to be actively and continually refuted by leaders in order for their employees to feel they can be honest and open.

Transparent and authentic leaders, who value and act on the opinions of those working for them, are invaluable in getting employees to embrace enterprise social networks. Even for those lucky enough to work in ‘flat’ or ‘horizontal’ organisations, there needs to be a shared understanding that your opinions matter, and that you won’t be penalized for openly collaborating with others.

By providing enterprise social networks with purpose, facilitation, and sponsorship, the chances of people engaging with them will increase dramatically. In our FoWlab Jams, we tend to see 50% of our target audience engaging with the conversation – and that’s just over three days. Employees won’t naturally transition to these new ways of working, but if you give them a reason, guidance and leadership support, you’ll remove the main barriers in their way.

One thought on “Why Enterprise Social Networks Fail

    Review: The Anti-social Network | Vfilm said:
    December 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    […] Why Enterprise Social Networks Fail (hotspotsmovement.wordpress.com) […]

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