6 ways to get executive buy-in for an internal social network

Do your executives balk at turning employees loose on a social platform? Here’s how to win them over.


This is the fourth 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.

Perhaps you’ve read enviously about organizations that use internal social networks.

Or you’ve attended a conference where the speakers gush about the business value of digital collaboration.

But as for talking your leaders into investing in this—well, where to begin?

If your senior leadership balks at jumping in on an enterprise social network, there are ways to persuade them to give it a shot.

Executives are no fools. They’ve heard about the benefits. But they want to know that this won’t just become a time-squandering internal Facebook, cluttered with cat photos and posts about employees’ precocious children.

Valerie Brown, communications manager at ServiceMaster, says the bosses ask, “Are [employees] going to start hanging out and not doing anything?”

Here are some tips for winning over your leadership:

1. Tell the execs the network will keep them in touch with the troops.

Top bosses often feel isolated, unsure if they are getting the real story or if their goals are widely understood.

At Nationwide, an insurance and financial services organization based in Columbus, Ohio, leaders wanted unfiltered access to its 30,000 associates, says Chris Plescia, associate vice president for enterprise collaborative technology. An internal social media platform adopted in 2008 made that possible.

“One of our senior leaders said, ‘Look, I need a way to communicate to the front line, and hear things the way people are talking, and not through filters and email that comes to me a week later and is not the full story,” Plescia says.

This allows him to have conversations with people, and, with 450,000 connections companywide, amplification of his message many times over.

Download a complimentary case study to learn how one of Fortune’s Best Companies to work for benefited from using Socialcast, an enterprise social platform.

2. Show how it helps meet the execs’ business goals.

Since bigwigs need to see the value, discuss how an internal social network helps your organization’s goals. At ServiceMaster, whose work includes disaster cleanup, that means collaboration among 21,000 associates and another 31,000 people at franchises.

“When you present it to [the execs] … you ask them, ‘What are your initiatives? What do you want to see working?” Brown says.

Show them how social networks help them reach these goals-and use case studies to bolster your point.

3. Make participation a requirement.

People often worry that employees will waste time on social networks. Stop us if this sounds crazy, but there is a tool leaders can use to help underlings manage time. It’s called an evaluation. Remind your exec.

When Humana launched its internal network, it emphasized the importance by requiring participation in the social network, says Jeff Ross, community manager for internal and external online communities at the major insurer and Medicare provider with 40,000 employees.

Leaders are graded in several areas, including the question: “Is he [or she] participating in Socialcast?” Ross says.

4. Find a visionary champion.

Companies that use enterprise networks—such as Coors, Deloitte, Disney and Honeywell—often have newer executives who aren’t afraid of trying something different, Plescia says. The platforms provide a new tool for connecting with employees, but leaders need to be willing to jump on a social network and not be afraid of looking dumb by misspelling a word (people are used to that).

“If you’re comfortable stepping out and being the leader who’s a little more innovative,” Plescia says, “it’s a new way to communicate, especially with your millennial associates. They live in this space.”

5. Use jujitsu.

When a social network was launched at Archant—a regional publisher based in Norwich, U.K.—some managers were skeptical, feeling their employees didn’t need another distraction, says Chris Thompson, head of group business development.

Thompson turned the perceived downside into a plus. There is a business value to the Facebook-like commenting and groups that some leaders were leery of, he says.

“That social area actually brings people to the network,” Thompson says.

If employees get interested and check in socially, they are more likely to participate in areas with more obvious business value, driving innovation and other benefits.

6. Remind them that it takes leadership.

Tell the poobahs: Want your social network to succeed? It’s the same as any other area of your organization. Somebody’s got to step up.

If execs like the idea of an internal social network but aren’t sure it will catch on, tell them they need to make it happen. There’s nothing like seeing the bigwigs involved to keep employees focused.

At ServiceMaster, executives were encouraged to listen in, then join in, says Brown.

“Just sit in on the conversation as it’s going on, and then become a part of it,” Brown says. “Then take that leadership role and say, ‘OK, you’re doing great here. How about we try this?’ and, ‘What do you think of that?”

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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