10 ways to launch a social network employees will use

You need to work to get employees involved if you want your internal network to take off. Here’s how.


This is the second 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.

Remember the movie about a farmer building a baseball diamond in a cornfield and waiting for Shoeless Joe Jackson to show up?

Inspiring, maybe, if your cup of tea is Kevin Costner obsessing over a voice that tells him, “If you build it, he will come.”

But that’s not the way to launch an enterprise social network, an activity stream-based communication platform similar to Twitter and Facebook that have tools to help employees find and share knowledge within organizations.

“The thing about an enterprise social network is, if you build it, they will not come—necessarily,” says Toby Ward, chief executive of Prescient Digital Media.

You need to work to get employees involved, he explains. A minority of in-house “propeller heads” will always be eager to use any new gizmo. But to get the masses on board, organizations need a strategy.

1. Set your goals

Before you even begin to create an internal social platform, ask yourself why you’re doing it.

“Make the case for the business value it will bring to the workplace,” says Robert Holland, owner of Holland Communication Solutions.

The good news is that more and more companies are using enterprise social networks, providing case studies that demonstrate their ability to improve efficiency, speed the flow of information, and aid in decision-making.

Download a complimentary case study to learn how SAS benefited from using Socialcast, an enterprise social platform.

2. Roll up your sleeves

At Black & Veatch, a global consulting, engineering, and construction firm, internal social networks provide enormous potential for uniting a company that operates in 100 countries. But it doesn’t all start the minute you launch, says Jonathan Mast, emerging media manager.

Get the help of departments that see the value in what you’re doing, he says.

At Black & Veatch, a generation of employees are beginning to retire and take a great deal of knowledge with them. The company would like to capture that in blogs and post that content on its social platform.

Mast is planning to partner with management to do training—brown bag lunches, videos—and urge workers to take part so that when a future young engineer who’s trying to solve a similar problem, that expertise “doesn’t walk out the door with you.”

3. Start with key influencers

At the business analytics firm SAS, 10,000 out of 13,000 employees use its Facebook-like social platform, the Hub, and there are 900 groups where they share information. They talk about work-related matters, such as technology and the competition, but they also discuss outside interests, including adoption, hiking, and photography.

But it started small. SAS tested the Hub with a group of 10-20 employees—and it took off.

Communicators assembled a “core project team,” about three dozen people representing every department and division, to help envision what that might be.

They reassembled the team members, asking them to take it for a test drive to look for bugs and other concerns. They also asked the group to forward the site to anyone else who might be interested in testing it out. Read how SAS attracted 5,000 employees in just weeks.

“They started sharing it, and it went viral,” says Karen Lee, SAS’ senior director of internal communications. “Before we ever [officially] launched it, we had close to 2,000 people on the Hub.”

4. Share successes

If the masses resist mastering a new platform, try the parts of the organization that are most likely to benefit from social groups, Holtz says. Is there a research or planning department that needs to collaborate? Teach them how to do it.

“Once we get those successes, those are your biggest currency,” Mast adds.

Internal publications and platforms can spread the word. Black & Veatch recently ran a story about an employee who is moving to China, and is blogging about it. He’s discussing challenges many face in a company that often relocates staff abroad-such as what to do with your car while you’re away.

5. Create an adoption plan

Organizations need to figure out in advance why they’re launching a social platform and plan to make those goals happen, says Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology.

Holtz was working with one organization in which IT implemented the new network but employees were left to their own devices.

People looked at the main stream of posts and shrugged, “Well, it’s just a bunch of people saying, ‘This is cool, but how does this work?’ and sharing irrelevant information,” he says.

It died. The organization had to reintroduce the network-and try to get it right the second time.

6. Draw up an internal social media policy

Concerns about trolls may be overblown, since no one posts anonymously and flaming would damage careers. Still, you need to set boundaries, and a reminder from the organization may keep the pitchfork-wielding mobs at bay.

As Mast describes Black & Veatch’s policy: “Don’t pick fights. Be respectful.”

7. Go mobile

When a customer outside work asks a SAS employee a question, it’s easy to find an answer. They post their question on SAS’ Hub, and they have a potential knowledge bank of 13,000 employees to provide a quick answer. You can’t do that through email, Lee says.

“Without social media you wouldn’t even be able to reach the people with the answers to the questions because you wouldn’t know who they are,” Lee says.

8. Give ’em a hearty “attaboy” or “attagirl”

Align your rewards and recognition to support the new platform, Holtz says. People modify their behavior in response to rewards and praise. If you continue to reward people for doing things the old way, they will never change.

Rewards don’t just have to be financial. The CEO should highlight successes, saying things like, “I want to talk about this guy who used collaborative social tools to shave 30 percent off his time to market,” Holtz says.

9. Recruit volunteers to train their fellow employees

Some organizations offer one-on-one mentoring. If employees say, “I’m struggling with this,” a volunteer mentor steps in to offer tutoring, Holtz says.

And don’t overlook the power of video. Short videos can explain one small aspect of the network, rather than asking employees to sit through a 40-minute production on the whole program.

10. Elevate the good stuff

Unexpected people may emerge as thought leaders through internal blogs-experts who’ve been shyly working away back in their cubicles. You may find their thoughts are worth sharing outside the firewall.

“Some of our best bloggers have become now become ambassadors for SAS and are external ambassadors,” Lee says. “We never would have known if we hadn’t given them the opportunity to be heard.”

Socialcast by VMware is the enterprise social platform that connects people to the knowledge, ideas, and resources they need to work smarter. Socialcast unifies communication and collaboration across the organization into one streamlined flow of work by integrating a robust social layer within the business applications and systems people use every day. Sign up for free at www.socialcast.com/free50.

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