This is the first article in a five-part series on Enterprise Social Networks, which will bring to light how having an internal social network strategy can help increase employee engagement and productivity. This series is in partnership with VMware.
You’ve probably been there yourself. You start a new job, amass a million questions, and have no idea whom to ask.
There’s an easy fix for that—if you have an internal social network, says Dan Wire, media and communications manager at VMware, which produces the Socialcast enterprise social platform.
Don’t fire off emails or bug your fellow employees; instead, pose a question on the social network. Or search the network, and you’ll probably find your question has already been answered.
“Rather than spending half of your first day trying to figure out which health plan you should be on,” Wire says, “you can quickly get that information and move on.”
Streamlined onboarding of employees is just one benefit touted by those who use enterprise social networks. Here are some other pluses organizations are discovering by encouraging Facebook-like social interaction behind the firewall.
Download a complimentary case study to learn how SAS benefited from using Socialcast, an enterprise social platform.
You’re planning to host that big conference again this year, but the employee who headed it up last year has moved on, taking along all the requisite know-how.
Well, maybe not—if you have an internal social network.
“A new employee can come in and look at all the activity around that event and say, ‘OK, I’m 70 percent caught up. That’s something that couldn’t happen when we were communicating by email,” Wire says.
Discovering subject matter experts and new talents
At the analytics company SAS, its internal network, the Hub, has helped formerly unknown talent to become known and gather an audience, says Becky Graebe, internal communications manager at SAS. Some have hundreds of followers.
“These are not just executives, but employees at all levels who are making a name for themselves by showing up every day with interesting ideas, links to resources, and relevant information their colleagues find useful,” she says.
For example, a leadership development consultant in SAS’s human resources department has started a Hub group called “Leaders Develop Daily, Not in a Day,” Graebe says. The group has grown to more than 700 opt-in members.
Similarly, when a company stopped providing cell phones and allowed employees to use their own, social communities allowed people to quickly swap knowledge on the best devices and plans.
“You saw people surface and really provide expertise,” Wire says.
Linking far-flung employees worldwide
3M, a Socialcast customer, has research and development labs around the world, and by connecting these labs, they could improve innovation, accelerate product development and save time answering employee questions.
“3M has created the experience of working in “one big lab” where employees can collaborate as easily as turning to a trusted colleague down the hall to ask a question,” VMware’s Wire says.
Improved context and credibility
At the electrical utility AEP, an internally built social network is “the most trusted source of information about the company—over e-mail, supervisors, top executives, co-workers, external media, and other sources, says William Amurgis, director of internal communications.
Communications through the platform—which includes blogs, profiles, group, and other features—are trusted “because we encourage employees to react to any topic and share their thoughts with the entire organization,” he says. “A kaleidoscope of context results, from a variety of perspectives, thereby providing a richness—a reality check, perhaps—that enhances credibility.
Creating a focus group
Internal social media provides the internal communications team with “a daily focus group” at AEP, Amurgis says.
“We can monitor, in real time, what employees are thinking, what they understand, what causes them anxiety, etc.—and we can modify our messages accordingly to enhance understanding and fill gaps,” he says.
Improving employee engagement
SAS staffers can get to know others in the organization with whom they might not work directly.
“Encouraging the day-to-day use of our social network is one of the biggest moves we’re making internally to prepare for the next generation of SAS employees,” says Graebe. “Millennials will expect to be able to collaborate at work the way they have learned to connect throughout school and in their personal lives.”
Boosting productivity and efficiencies
A sales representative in Australia jumped on SAS’ Hub to ask if anyone had experience dealing with a specific competitive situation, Graebe says. Within 24 hours, he had six answers representing four countries and seven departments.
“There is no way this sales representative could have gathered this type of feedback via email as quickly and broadly as he did via the Hub,” Graebe says, “particularly not knowing that thought leadership even existed.”
Creating a culture of mutual respect
At AEP, Amurgis says all employees are invited to participate, without regard for rank, function, location, or tenure. The “logic and lyricism of a comment carries more weight than the title of the person offering it,” he says. Dissent and debate do emerge, but the most common form of interaction tends to be praise and appreciation.
Improving communication with the leadership
Hierarchy is hard to break down, but enterprise social networks enable high-level executives to comment directly into the activity stream and engage every employee at once.
“It gives employees an opportunity to interact in a friendly, unintimidating way with the C-suite, and the executive level to show they are approachable,” Wire says.
When Pat Gelsinger joined VMware as CEO, he asked employees several questions about what were the top priorities for the company,” Wire adds. “He also posted in a group asking for advice on finding a housekeeper for his new home.” This showed everyone across VMware that he is both serious about connecting with employees in his new role and trying to solve the same daily challenges we all have in our lives.