This is the fifth 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.
It's well and good to have internal social tools to exchange knowledge and dig out ideas from those smart-but-shy types.
But an enterprise social network won't do you much good if it's populated by digital wallflowers. So how do you engage employees? And where do they like to hang out on your platform?
Maybe employees aren't so different from executives: They want to see the value in a network before they will carve out time to participate.
While it helps to beat the drum about the benefits of social communication, successful organizations also search for engagement points through the popular elements of their internal social networks.
Deloitte—which provides auditing, consulting and risk management services—takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach to engaging employees on its network, whose members number 79,000 worldwide. Profiles, groups and chats are proving popular.
"Over the past year, there have been efforts large and small to generate interest and awareness," says Jeffrey Ward, Deloitte's senior manager in brand, communications and corporate citizenship.
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"Tremendous activity" in groups
Deloitte hosts chats where its leaders "are online answering questions real time," Ward says. And dozens of champions around the world do grassroots activities to educate employees through groups, which are the most popular areas in Deloitte's network.
The 180 people in Ward's department have joined in a group that has seen "tremendous activity," he says.
"When it's really relevant to what you do every day, the engagement is exponential," Ward says. "If it's just general conversation out there, people are much less inclined to participate."
Commenting is one of the most important aspects of social engagement. Messages from the CEO or other top execs draw a big response, even if it's just a Thanksgiving greeting, Ward says.
Non-work interest groups
Social gathering places are also the most popular feature of the network among the 40,000 employees at Humana, an insurer and Medicare provider. The number of groups is approaching 1,200, says Jeff Ross, manager for internal and external online communities.
While some employers take a strictly business approach to groups, Humana, SAS and others allow non-work-related social gathering places. At Humana, there remains a consistent split between business (60 percent of activity) and non-business (40 percent). That's fine with Ross.
"If people want to come because of the dog lovers' group, God bless them, we're glad you're here," Ross says. "And along the way we know you'll find some other business value as well."
Groups include health and wellness, sports, technology, Apple- and Android-related interests, and even ("heaven forbid") politics, Ross says.
But obvious business value comes through areas like its suggestion box. It is one of the more active groups, and employees voted it the one with the greatest business impact, as employees have come up with improved processes.
Another popular aspect of the network is Twitter-like tagging, which amplifies employees' voices in places like the suggestion box.
Archant, a regional publisher based in Norwich, U.K., has found enormous value for its sales staff in its social network, says Chris Thompson, head of group business development. But keeps its 2,000 employees engaged in part through pursuits that may seem trivial, but serve an important role.
The company hosts a weekly competition to name a "green champion," based on a photograph of a green object or a gadget. People guess what it could be, sometimes seriously, sometimes in good fun.
"So that creates a lot of discussion," Thompson says, "and in turn people then check the rest of their groups or the company stream, because it's a reason to engage and come into the network."
News about themselves
Others, such as ServiceMaster, find that employees love news about themselves and will eagerly repost it, says Valerie Brown, communications manager. So on its social network, the company pins up pictures on things like a Habitat for Humanity house its staffers built.
"They're all on it," she says. "They want to see that. They want to hear about all the great things that we're doing. So that's the first touch point, and then you mix in the business with that."
Nationwide, an insurance and financial services company in Columbus, Ohio, finds value the social communication with its 30,000 associates, says Chris Plescia, associate vice president for enterprise collaborative technology. But it realizes that successful engagement also requires work from above.
Members of Plescia's team "drive and push this culture of collaboration," he says. These advocates are helping others get their sites up and showing them how to leverage the tools in their daily activity.
Nationwide distributes a collaboration radio program through its social network, "so every other Friday we broadcast to associates," Plescia says. "You can chime in for part of it, for none of it. It's totally optional."
Internal viral video
Another popular use of the network has been its videos, he says. When Nationwide rolls out a new function for its call center technology, it shares the news through videos.
In one, a guilt-wracked supervisor confessed that he had forgotten to do one of his daily tasks, Plescia says.
The narrator informed him, "You know, that's automated in the system now."
The supervisor said, "Are you kidding me? I haven't slept for a week now because I was so worried about this."
The video ended with bullet points about the new function. Popular? The video drew 15,000 views as employees shared it socially.
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