In many organisations, social media is still the preserve of the communications team and, where it's embraced, tends to be used for external engagement only. The social networking tool Yammer has been used internally by some organisations but with differing degrees of success. It's at least a start but what if you're looking to bring together people, exchange knowledge and expertise, and create a level playing field across an otherwise hierarchical organisation?
The good news is that some employers are beginning to exploit this exponential rise in social media to benefit internal engagement. However, how do you tread the fine line between success and failure?
One success story is Southeastern. They began with an engagement programme involving staff in a range of initiatives including the strategic direction of the business, sharing successes, improving people management skills and introducing a staff recognition scheme. They realised that social media would be a way of accelerating change so trialled a social intranet platform with similar functionality to facebook, wikipedia and twitter. Company information was loaded up alongside tools to help people do their jobs better. Staff voluntarily signed up and there was minimal moderation to encourage people to set up their own groups and conversations. To cut a long story short (you can read the full case study here on the 'Engage for Success' website), when trialled alongside their static intranet, the social intranet received 52,000 visits over three months compared to the normal 550 on the static one. Amazing!
So, the conclusion I've drawn from this and countless other case studies is that social intranets can dramatically increase employee engagement but simply swapping a static intranet for a set of social tools does not a community make. It takes (a bit of) effort and whole organisational culture change; but the rewards are worth it.
In summary, here are a couple of thoughts I have for anyone considering a social intranet:
1. Employee engagement and social intranets go hand in hand. Uptake will be much improved if it's part of wider organisational change programme.
2. Select advocates from across the organisation (including the leadership team) to act as community managers to encourage colleagues to join in and contribute.
3. Recognise that not everyone's on twitter and facebook. Like any new way of working, ensure staff are comfortable and adequately trained in how to use the tools (and why) without turning it into an instruction manual.
4. If you don't already have a culture knowledge sharing and collaboration a set social media tools won't solve this. Openly discuss existing barriers with staff, and address these as part of the project.
5. Draw up rules for engagement such as levels of moderation and monitoring, but don't make them too prescriptive. Include a space that invites feedback from staff - and ensure you respond and act on suggestions!