Getting to grips with corporate social networking (CSN)

Social networking in the workplace can provide a secure forum on which individuals working on common ground can collaborate and become more engaged.  For example, sharing new ideas, developing strategic plans and allocating...

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Social networking in the workplace can provide a secure forum on which individuals working on common ground can  collaborate and become more engaged.  For example, sharing new ideas, developing strategic plans and allocating resources by matching employee skills to appropriate projects. 
 
However, many companies are not realising the true potential value that the technology can bring to the bottom line.  

In its fifth annual survey of how social  technologies are extending the organisationthe McKinsey Global Institute found that roughly half of the organisations that had achieved benefits through using social technologies previously were not maintaining these.  

The  McKinsey report surmised that it appears it is easier to lose the benefits of social technologies rather than to become a more networked enterprise, suggesting that significant effort is required to achieve gains at scale.

Additionally, in its paper entitled, “ State of enterprise 2.0 collaboration Q2 2011’Chess Media Groupfound that most companies are not defining performance indicators to measure any type of success or progress. 

Those that are defining them do not actually have a tracking or measurement system in place - making it impossible to see any kind of tangible value or business benefit.
 
For a corporate social network ( CSN) to succeed in the long term, there are two fundamental aspects that need to be considered - firstly, how to keep the network alive and thriving with fresh content and secondly, how to manage it from a practical level.  

CSNs would seem to be the perfect tool to bring secure collaboration to the enterprise through a combination of newsfeeds, updates,  message-boards and chat rooms and so on.  They can empower teams, whether they are located in the same office or geographically displaced, to collaborate on solving problems, developing business strategies or celebrating successes. 

Too often however,  the reality is that the CSN risks becoming a glorified internal newsletter, a forum for sharing outdated Christmas party photos, or completely redundant.

With CSNs having the potential to transform working practices however, they should not be written off.  Instead, consideration should be given as to how they can be optimised to their full potential. 

Inject life

Social networks - whether they are consumer or corporate - are only as good as the people contributing to them and the quality of content those individuals bring.  The success of a CSN hinges on it systematically providing content and information that relates to workers’ jobs to encourage relevant, timely discussions. 

Where many firms go wrong is that they create the social network and then sit back and wait for it to flourish. This risks many users remaining as ‘lurkers’- reading but never contributing.  With discussions left to be generated by a select number of vocal employees, the network will run its course fairly quickly. 

Tapping into the wealth of content within a company’s workflow systems however automatically nurtures discussions that are relevant to employees’ day jobs.  For example, alerting teams when new customer accounts are set-up and initiating discussions around this as a result.  

Additionally, organisations should be mindful of the sensitivity or relevance of some discussions. Not everything will be relevant to everyone on the network.  Some groups therefore could be contained at departmental or territory level.  This approach can also encourage people who may be reluctant to have their comments broadcast to the entire organisation to contribute because they know that only their immediate team will see them. 

Practicalities 

While many may hail a CSN as the new holy grail of collaborative working, for IT departments, compliance managers,  CIOs and  CTOs, it also brings with it a raft of practical challenges which are often not considered until it’s too late. 

Keep Compliant

As with all communication tools, consideration has to be made as to how CSNs are controlled and regulated. 

Discussions still need to be held in a secure and compliant manner and any potentially contentious conversations need to be managed. 

There are a number of options by which this can be achieved.  For example, appointing individuals as community managers who are tasked with the role of monitoring how communities are interacting and then stepping in where needed. 

Alternatively, automated systems can flag up when inappropriate language is used, or can highlight sudden peaks or unusual activity in a particular discussion.  For example, a message board that usually sees 20 postings today may suddenly surge to five times if the rumour mill goes into overdrive. 

All content also needs to be stored in line with any  regulatory compliance guidelines and retrieved where necessary.  

Strain on resources

This storage requirement in turn generates one of the biggest issues around CSNs, namely predicting and planning for the impact it will have on the IT resources.  

Unlike email, which allows data limits to be placed on individuals’ mail boxes, there’s no equivalent process for CSN.  Organisations therefore need to consider how their  IT infrastructure will be able to grow with the added pressure being placed on it. For example, does it remain in-house or would switching to the cloud provide a more flexible option? How would a move to the cloud impact the compliance or information security? 

On the plus side, the CSN can help address the increasing number of apps that workers are downloading onto their mobile devices in order to access work systems remotely.  These apps pose a security risk, and they can also accumulate to the point where IT managers have to support 20 - 30 different solutions. Likewise, business users don’t want a multitude of apps, they just want access to the information stored within enterprise systems.

Integrating the CSN with the workflow system can create a  more manageable, secure remote access point and means that only one app needs to be downloaded on to a mobile device.  

The trend towards a more socially connected workforce is going to continue. The key to success is to ensure that the CSN is strategically planned from the off-set to minimise any hiccups which may put people off using again. CIOs, CTOs and business sponsors need to understand the benefits they are hoping to achieve through their social business journey before deciding on the features that will best help them achieve those benefits.

When implemented and managed correctly, the CSN can expose the most valuable asset of all, knowledge, and share it with other likeminded individuals.  Moving from closed conversations to a more open and transparent forum will create a more engaged and informed community that can, collaboratively, drive the business forward and increase productivity. 

Posted by  Daanish Khan, head of strategy,  Formicary Collaboration Group

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