Want to let your employees microblog? Don’t know where to begin? Start here

In the first of an ongoing series, a first-hand account of how to approach microblogging internally.

For many companies, 2011 will be the year that social media crosses the threshold from arcane curiosity and item of dread to sanctioned tool for the enterprise. This is not an unexpected evolution, as evidenced by the pattern of technological adoption.

What’s speeding this natural process along is the rapid adoption of social networks: half of America is on Facebook. As of this writing, we’re looking at 149 million active accounts in the United States, and recent statistics indicate that 70 percent of those are active daily.

Twitter, by contrast, “only” has around 190 million accounts worldwide. But the way the late-night talk show hosts chat it up, you’d think it was as common as oxygen. (Wait… actually, the percent of our atmosphere made up of oxygen is quite similar to the percentage of Americans with Twitter accounts…)

Unlike every other revolution in corporate communications, social media did not start as an idea handed from the top down. There was no infrastructure outlay, no meetings about how and when the corporation would invest in the technology. The only real decision has been “Will we allow it here?”

The demand and the expertise have come from every corner of the enterprise—which has also been the reason for the slow adoption. Control is ingrained. But those decisions are weighing on corporate decision-makers much faster than previous technological trends for two primary reasons:

  • Lower cost for entry.
  • Familiarity with tools.

To some extent, some tools—blogs, wikis, profiles, link repositories—do require some degree of training and official blessing for internal purposes. Someone has to set up the servers, after all. There are implementation processes, long-range roadmaps, employee training, risk assessments, and every other form of analysis. However, the internal microblogging tools (e.g. Yammer, Present.ly, Intridea, SocialCast) can be set up by virtually anyone in your organization.

There’s a critical mass of employees that isn’t intimidated microblogs, because they already know what to do with those things.

Or so they think. Successful microblogging doesn’t just happen.

If you haven’t looked at these tools in a year or so, you’re in for a surprise. The interface and user experience is designed to look like Facebook and Twitter for a reason: people will use it. They see a familiar layout, and proceed because they know precisely what they think they ought to do. Such organic growth might be valuable, but it also might not be what your company wants or needs.

I just happen to work for a company going through an implementation with a very popular microblogging service. It holds the promise of revolutionizing certain aspects of the way we communicate with and between employees. It could also end up becoming a niche tool, relegated to the Unused Shortcuts folder and never seen again.

Like most companies approaching these decisions, we started with a freemium model. Slowly but surely, some interesting use cases developed and were documented. In a matter of a few months, there were enough employees using the service that we couldn’t ignore it anymore. Questions about compliance and archival abilities propelled us to a crossroads. It was time to either buy in or drop out.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be writing on Ragan.com about what I’ve learned about this experience. Along the way, I’ll be sharing some insights:

  • The case for a new toolkit
  • Internal microblogs are not just “Twitter for the business.”
  • The culture you need to change before microblogs storm the firewall
  • Features that may clash with corporate culture
  • The balance between structured needs and emergent behavior
  • Feeding the hares without losing the tortoises
  • The top annoyances that drive away new users

Other topics may develop. Some of them will be geared toward the chief marketing officer. Others will be geared toward those trying to persuade senior executives. Some will be written with the rank-and-file employee in mind, others will come from the perspective of a manager within the company hierarchy. All of them will be relevant to grasping the opportunities and the challenges you’ll encounter as you embark on launching a microblogging platform at your company.

Ike Pigott works in corporate communications for Alabama Power. A two-time presenter at Ragan’s Social Media Conferences, he owns a crisis communications training practice, consults on social media strategy, and advises non-profits on the use of new media tools. He blogs at Occam’s Razr, and is a contributor at Social Media Explorer. Connect with him on Twitter.

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