This is the third article in a five-part series on enterprise social networks, which will bring to light how internal social networks can help increase employee engagement and productivity. This series is in partnership with VMware.
Ah, the reply-all nightmare. You fire off an email to a group of coworkers, innocently seeking an answer to a question or input on a document.
Suddenly your in-box is flooded with clutter—along with essential information that gets lost in the round robin of replies.
Some companies like Nielsen are even close to abolishing "reply all" altogether to eliminate "bureaucracy and inefficiency," reports Bloomberg.
Of course you can't eliminate email, but you can create a Facebook-like internal social network to make email more efficient, and employees more productive. Enterprise social networks employees the chance to post questions and collaborate on projects without getting buried in floods of email.
A study this year by McKinsey Global Institute reported that social technologies improved internal communication and productivity by 20 to 25 percent.
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Internal social exchanges have improved communications at Humana, a major insurer and Medicare provider with more than 4.5 million members throughout the United States. Its Buzz network allows 40,000 employees to collaborate, ask questions, or find expertise, says Jeff Ross, Humana's community manager for internal and external online communities.
Employees write 6,000 posts each week, and have created more than 1,150 groups. It's easier to notice posted questions—80 percent of which are answered—than to notice something in "an in-box with more than 100 emails coming at you," Ross says.
Social networks also archive information in ways that are easier to find than digging through years' worth of emails.
The Buzz has made a difference in Humana's customer support, allowing employees to quickly find answers to questions, Ross says. It has shown results in company-wide health campaigns such as its "100-Day Dash"—campaigns that are critical when you're in the health care business.
"Previously," Ross says, "there would've been some big top-down announcement email going out to everybody: 'Hey, we're having this 100-Day Dash. We're giving away pedometers to you.'"
The goal was to have participants take 4 billion steps over 100 days. Humana exceeded this by 1 billion steps, and Ross credits the social communications.
The Buzz allows conversations: People can throw out random questions or statements, such as, "How do I do this?" "Is anybody else experiencing this particular issue?" or "Here's my goal. What's yours? I've lost this many pounds."
The network also has been a boon for IT. When new software is launched, team members used to communicate through emails flurrying back and forth, as technicians reported bugs and fixes. Now, the company can launch a short-term group to discuss the issue without the inefficient email exchanges.
Archant, a regional publisher based in Norwich, U.K., found that an internal social network brought greater efficiency to information exchanges.
Archant got its 2,000 employees onto the social network because it allows better discussions and updates than non-social exchanges, says Chris Thompson, head of group business development.
"Our accounts department uses it to communicate with our sales department to chase payments," he says.
Archant publishes regional newspapers and owns three magazine companies which produce about 80 magazines covering topics from weddings to current events, it reports. But local news means it deals with many cash clients whom sales staff must chase at the end of the month.
"That's normally a very lengthy email process between accounts and salespeople," Thompson says, "and they don't always check their email or they're not in the office. So by using messaging and groups and those parts of those numbers are sent to specific groups of salespeople. … It's a very interactive process."
Better collaboration with less email
ServiceMaster—a Memphis-based company that offers preparation services before hurricanes and other disasters and cleanup afterwards—must communicate with 21,000 associates across seven brands, as well as its franchise group, which employs another 31,000 people. The company uses separate internal social networks to communicate with the two groups.
This allows users to build a page, where people can discuss a document without losing track of the edits in multiple emails back and forth.
"Somebody will say, 'I updated this on page seven,' or 'I've removed this,' so they can see how far things have been changed," said Valerie Brown, communications manager.
Also, ServiceMaster users can build groups within the tool and invite franchisees who are outside the firewall. What once would have involved simple email can turn into a far-flung exchange of ideas.
"Somebody in California has an idea, and someone in Maryland can say, 'Well, yeah, I did that but then I found this,'" Valerie Brown says. "So that partnership network has become close, and they're really honing their skills and their knowledge as a super collaboration tool to strengthen business.
All this, she adds, "has helped them cut down on email."
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