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Get More Value From Your Enterprise Social Network Investment

12.20.2013
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Enterprise social networks have emerged over the last few years as a powerful means of enhancing communication and ways of working within businesses. And their potential is huge: McKinsey & Co claims a well-implemented social collaboration solution can reduce the time knowledge workers spend searching for information by 35% and their productivity by up to 25%.

The problem is that this potential often isn’t realised – held back by low levels of adoption, lack of senior buy-in and poor integration with established working practices and culture. And this means that many organisations who have invested time, money and effort into deploying and launching an enterprise social network are now experiencing flat or declining interest and usage levels, and are asking themselves what they can do to get things back on track.

Potential value not being realised

This is unfortunately a common problem, and is often a result of not managing to achieve sufficient momentum to establish the new technology and (crucially) new behaviours within the business. This means that, once the initial excitement of the launch and early adoption activities have faded, the majority of employees have settled back into established ways of communicating and working. And that’s to be expected: they probably haven’t seen reasons to change their own behaviours, or seen many others working differently or talking about successes.

The solution?

If you’re in this position the answer certainly isn’t to withdraw resources or focus from your enterprise social network programme. Assuming the objectives and benefits you were targeting when you made the initial investment still hold true, then building from an existing base will usually be more effective than starting again.

Instead you need to look at how you can jump start your network into life, and put in place a strategy and programme for building sustainable (‘sticky’) user adoption and deriving tangible benefits for both users and the organisation.

Sounds good, but how is this done?

Getting your enterprise social network programme back on track, especially in a larger more complex organisation, means taking a structured approach to building awareness, adoption and usage. We often find that networks have been left to grow ‘virally’ in the hope that employees will adopt the company network in the same way they would Facebook or Twitter, but this is rarely the case. Enterprise social networks are business tools and they require a well-planned and implemented strategy and plan in order to derive business value from them.

A simple five-step approach

At Betterworking we recommend this five-step framework:

  1. Assess the current health of your network to understand where you’re starting from in terms of adoption and usage, key communities and individuals, and existing successes to build upon. Using a mix of on and off platform data analysis, and ideally conversations with different user types across the organisation, this will give a comprehensive picture of the current landscape.
  2. Create a clear plan for what you want to achieve, with achievable objectives and timescales so you can play back successes as you get your programme back on track. Make sure your enterprise social network strategy is well aligned with wider people, technology and business strategies so users at all levels can see how it fits in and why they should get on board.
  3. To get things moving in the right direction you need to ‘reactivate your network’. We often recommend initially harnessing existing active users and groups to generate buzz on the platform before inviting new users onto the platform (and lapsed users back). Balance this ‘underground’ data-driven approach with ‘above the line’ comms to raise awareness and build adoption.
  4. Early wins are one thing, but sustainable long-term success is the real objective. It’s essential to build on early momentum to establish your enterprise social network as both a core element of your technology infrastructure, and (more importantly) a way of communicating and working that starts to become ‘the way we do things around here’. This is where effective community management is essential to support adoption, identify and play back successes and embed the technology and behaviours.
  5. Underpinning everything is the need for analytics and reporting to continually track performance, identify and share best practices and drive continuous improvement. Not only will senior stakeholders want to know how things are progressing against objectives, but you’ll need up-to-date insights on adoption, usage, key communities and individuals and a range of other metrics to successfully manage and grow your network.

Getting a lacklustre enterprise social network back on track isn’t easy, but this five-step approach gives you a plan to work to and the rewards are well worth the effort and investment.

To find out how visionary businesses including Burberry, Bupa and Deutsche Bank are getting value from enterprise social, read our guide ‘Five Ways Leading Companies are Using Enterprise Social Software’.

Published at DZone with permission of its author, @ Better_working.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)