Making Social Media Work—at Work

By Aliah D. Wright March 3, 2014
Today when business leaders say they’re embracing social media, they’re not simply talking about allowing their employees to access Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on their desktop computers. They’re actually using those sites and others every day to do their jobs.

A 2013 study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research revealed that 77 percent of Fortune 500 companies have active Twitter accounts and 70 percent maintain a Facebook page. Corporations also have embraced YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram and Foursquare.

But “in the last few years,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, “social features—commenting, liking, sharing, notifications, etc.—have started to become native features of core enterprise systems such as CRM [customer relationship management], HCM [human capital management], ERP [enterprise resource planning] [and in] marketing automation, etcetera. Having social features integrated into the tools people use to get their jobs done makes it simpler than having to use yet another tool.”

Lepofsky calls it “purposeful collaboration,” which he explains a bit further in this video. Essentially, “the way purposeful collaboration occurs is by integrating social into the business fabric of all the things your company does … to run your company today,” he said. So companies aren’t just sharing and liking things on social media sites; rather, they’re asking and answering questions, making new discoveries, collaborating on projects in real time and influencing business outcomes.

At Synergium, a nine-year-old translation company in Lithuania, CEO Mindaugas Kazlauskas said his firm initially used the enterprise social network platform SAP Jam as a repository to convey business information. Later, it became a “tool for lively, personal, emotional communication about more complex projects.”

It has become part of how work gets done.

“Social business and real strategy require a focus on process, the user experience, the flow of social into the business, measurement and business impact,” said Yvette Cameron, research director for HCM technologies at Gartner, a technology research and advisory firm based in Stamford, Conn.

She added that 70 percent to 80 percent of businesses’ social initiatives fail because people don’t focus enough on integrating them into the daily work.

Some companies are turning to platforms like Yammer, Chatter, IBM and SAP Jam to encourage social collaboration among peers at work.

“We leverage what we know by being connected,” noted Stephen Hamrick, senior director of product management for SAP, where more than 10 million subscribers are using SAP Jam. The internal social networking portal helps HR professionals welcome new hires and inspire and engage employees. It also provides analytics to onboarding managers to help them monitor engagement and flag at-risk employees.

“As soon as the client logs in, he’s introduced to his manager and peers,” Hamrick said. Then the employee moves on to groups that he should be a part of, like the “new employee success group; it also suggests a consulting group and [others] based on other connections he’s made, like the company day care or a running group,” and much more. “The employee engages his colleagues in more meaningful, helpful ways,” he explained. From a home page, “he can see feed updates, bookmarks, notifications, messages—onboarding is an ongoing experience.”

Overcoming Social-Adoption Hurdles

According to Lepofsky, instead of measuring the return on investment of the actual social media platform, companies should focus on how the social media tool helped influence business outcomes.

“So how much did you reduce your development time? How much did you improve your customer support? … Did you close your sales deals quicker? These are the things you measure. It’s not relevant what percentages of your employees are reading your internal blogs or communities. The things you measure are the actual business impacts. If you’re deploying an enterprise social network for a real valid reason in your organization, guess what? You’re going to have a 100 percent adoption.” When employees can say, “ ‘It’s part of what I do to get my job done,’ [then they’ll say] ‘I’m going to use it.’ ”

To succeed, social media use at work must have the following:

* A business purpose that answers the question: How are employees using it to get work done?

* Individual value.Social media use has to meet business goals and objectives and answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Cameron said. “You have to have focus on individuals.” This is critical to making sure social media use within the enterprise benefits employees in ways that help make their jobs more meaningful and productive.

* Meaningful measurements. Measure business outcomes and results.

* Cultural readiness. Your organization has to be ready to adopt social media—both inside and outside the business. According to statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management, 43 percent of companies block employees from using social media at work. Experts say part of cultural readiness comes in the form of encouragement from leaders who are ready to embrace social communication as a work tool.

“If your culture isn’t ready,” it may not work, Cameron cautioned.

At Synergium, “adoption was not difficult,” Kazlauskas said, because the social tool the company used was simple and intuitive. “However, I tried to lead by example and posted as many messages as possible myself [in order] to show [the tool] is useful for … top management."

The New Social Business

Citibank didn’t have a problem convincing employees of the value of social media at work.

“Citibank [was] looking for ideation technology that could help them define the future of banking,” Cameron said at an HR conference in Las Vegas in late 2013. “When they reached out to employees through their own internal social platform, they had over 50,000 people out of 350,000 participate in ideation labs, contributing over 2,300 ideas from 90 countries,” she said. The labs contained on a social platform helped “improve ideas for the way products were being developed in the organization,” she explained, adding that a process “that took weeks and months” went “down to days, [realizing] a 95 percent reduction in [the time it took] to build products.”

Chief human resource officers the world over are embracing social media use within their enterprises, as seen in this SHRM Online video.

“We know that the more employees talk to each other about what they’re doing, the more productive [they are],” said Scott Pitasky, corporate vice president of HR at Microsoft. “The more likely you are to generate innovation, the more effective you are going to be at sharing best practices.”

From National Public Radio to the Ayala Corporation, companies also are using Facebook for engagement.

“We actually have our own internal Facebook [group] that we’ve just launched,” said J.P. Orbeta, managing director of corporate resources at Ayala Corp. “What we hope to do is create a more powerful mechanism to do customer insight because all of us are customers of our own products,” he said. “We feel that it would give us a lot more intelligence in terms of insights as well into how we can develop our products and services better for our consumers.”

Other companies are using the same social methods.

“Allstate had a series of ideation labs and were trying to work across different teams to try to find better ways to get work done,” Cameron said. “They got comments on an idea, and that one idea submitted by an individual [employee] and commented on by hundreds of people helped save them $18 million in claims.”

Embrace the Inevitable

For any of this to work, companies are going to have to take a leap of faith and embrace working in new ways.

“To communicate more extensively and effectively, embracing technology inside the enterprise to leverage that is going to become that much more essential,” said Judah Kurtz, senior manager of the talent solutions practice and an executive coach in the executive coaching practice at BPI group in Chicago. “If you can understand the knowledge and expertise of people throughout the organization … [they] are the ones who are going to be able to share information and documents and best practices and data or whatever ends up becoming an opportunity for us to have this back-and-forth dialogue,” he said.

Experts say that’s when the real benefits begin.

Aliah D. Wright, author of the best-selling A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, LinkedIn…and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013), manages the business leadership and technology pages for SHRM Online.


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