Lackluster social intranet? 3 things you’re (probably) not doing

Most employees ignore new technology that can improve the bottom line. Here’s how to fix that.

For years, employees have been subjected to the “Godspeed” method of their employers introducing new communication technologies to the workplace. Here’s how it works:

The IT department configures the new technology, subjecting it to rigorous testing to ensure that the bits get to where they’re supposed to go and that the tool works they way it’s supposed to without interfering with other systems. Once they’re sure the technology works right, they issue the following instructions to the workforce: “Godspeed.”

As a result, each employee is left to his own devices to figure out how—or if—he’ll adopt the technology.

I’m not blaming IT, mind you. Instilling a cultural sense of how a new communication tool should be used is not their job. Unfortunately, it’s not anybody else’s job, either, which could explain the slow adoption of social intranets.

Despite abundant research demonstrating the value of integrating social media into intranets, a Forrester study reveals that only 28 percent of information workers use these tools at least once a month. The Forrester study further reveals that this quarter of the information workforce shares a number of characteristics in common. They are early adopters, well-paid, highly educated and pressed for time. In other words, they’re the same people who likely adopt new technologies on the Web.

What’s more, only 22 percent of those who use these tools report the technologies are vital to their jobs. Mostly, according to Forrester, they “remain on the periphery of an information worker’s workflow.”

According to a study from McKinsey & Company, social intranets can lead to reduced time-to-market, faster access to subject matter experts, lower travel costs, lower operational costs, increased innovation of new products and services and even increased revenue. Further, the research shows that benefits accrue to the organization not only for internal purposes, but also with customers and partners/suppliers. (The measurable benefits for each of these three categories are listed in this chart.)

But these benefits only accrue to the company whose employees use the tools, which include social networks with employee profiles, blogs, status update tools, commenting, rating and a range of other channels.

So how can organizations encourage their employees to embrace these new technologies? I can think of dozens of tactics, but it ultimately comes down to three strategies few organizations adopt.

1. Marketing

You need to let employees know not only that the social channels are available, but what’s in it for them to start using them. The marketing effort needs to begin before the social tools are launched, creating anticipation so employees will want to go look at them when they are unveiled. Then, ongoing communication should point out the benefits of using the channels as well as quick-and-dirty tutorials on how to use them.

This Camtasia-produced video from Hudson is a good example of what a company can do to market its social intranet:

2. Reward and recognition

Getting employees to adopt an entirely different approach to doing their work qualifies as a culture change. (“Culture” is, at its core, “the way we do things around here.”) Changing culture requires that the rewards and recognition be realigned to reflect the desired behaviors.

You can promote and market the hell out of the intranet’s social features, but if people continue to be rewarded and recognized for the older ways of getting things done, most people will never make the change.

Recognition is where you’ll find most of the opportunities. The possibilities are endless. If you have formal recognition programs (like a president’s or chairman’s award), you can include an honoree who did something particularly innovative or creative using the social channels. Informal recognition goes a long way, too. Just having an executive on stage at a town hall meeting pointing to an employee who shaved two months off a product launch by using social channels will inspire others.

3. Message mission control

Ultimately, somebody has to take responsibility for the culture of messaging. It has been a shocking 14 years since Pitney Bowes released a study (conducted by the Institute for the Future) calling for organizations to adopt a mission control strategy for messaging, one that “demands organizational and strategic knowledge to analyze, sort, and filter message content, and help coworkers navigate the maze of communication.” I have not yet heard of a single organization that has created a position with this responsibility, yet it becomes more important every day.

Until we start treating messaging as a part of the culture that needs to be managed, we’ll continue to suffer through the Godspeed approach. And we know how that usually turns out. In this case, three-quarters of the organization ignoring new tools that could have a profound impact on the company’s bottom line.

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