Making The Case For Enterprise Social Networks

Why is it that so many organisations still struggle to (a) understand what an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is and (b) how it might benefit their business. Despite the fact that social networking technology has been around for over 10 years, there is still a general lack of social business maturity on the part of many organizations, who appear to lack the culture to be able to understand, appreciate, and leverage ESN’s.

Gartner have reported that over 80% of Social Business efforts will not achieve intended benefits by 2015. At least part of the problem is that where ESN’s have been implemented, they have been treated as technology deployments with a focus on adoption and usage. A different way to think about this is that ESNs represent a new way to communicate and form relationships — and because of that, can bridge gaps that exist in terms of information sharing and decision-making processes.

For anyone yet to be convinced of the benefits of social collaboration within the workplace, here are a few points to add to your business case:

Enterprise Social Networks:-

  1. let employees become happier at work: by allowing all facets of their personalities to be expressed.
  2. connect employees with each other: thus forming deep, long lasting and more meaningful relationships.
  3. encourage every employee to believe they can make a difference.
  4. promote innovation, creativity and change within an organisation. This is achieved through the network culture of communication and collaboration that is created and encouraged by use of Social Media tools. This is opposed to the traditional top down way of management and communication, which is acceptable for some forms of official control and communication in the enterprise. This however is not good for fostering creativity at work and deters innovation from flourishing within the organisation.
  5. avoid the problem of duplication of work in the enterprise by giving much more visibility to what other people are doing. This can be achieved through the use of wikis and open collaborative platforms that encourage sharing and dissemination of ideas and thought processes.
  6. put people with similar interests and skills together and make it easier to search for someone with the skills you are looking for. This allows cross-departmental efforts to be exchanged more seamlessly and organically because the relationships are based on skills and interests rather than the traditional departmental or project base relationship.

Point 4 is perhaps better illustrated below, showing the relationship between traditional command and control structures vs. social networks.

Hierarchies & Networks

It’s also about time organisations got over the mental barrier of making sure that the content on their ESN is strictly about work. They fear that personal discussion will result in less productivity or inappropriate private content. If anything, the organization should encourage “personal” postings because social networks are a representation of who you already are. If you are an unproductive, time-wasting team member, your activities (or lack of) will be plainly visible to everyone. I can think of many other less productive activities,  such as sitting in meetings that have no purpose!

I know it’s been said before, but I’ll repeat it here, because I still see the same old approaches to ESN deployments – focus on behaviours and relationships, and less on the technology.  That way you are more likely to think about value creation rather than tools and features. It’s only through investment in behaviours and relationships that value can be created through:

  • Knowledge sharing
  • Knowledge capture
  • Improved decision-making
  • Employee empowerment

Otherwise Gartner’s predicted 80% failure rate will become reality!

 

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Author: Steve Dale

Stephen Dale is both an evangelist and practitioner in the use of Web 2.0 technologies and Social Media applications to support personal development and knowledge sharing. He has a deep understanding of how systems and technology can be used to support learning and facilitate smarter working, where connections and conversations are the key to self-development and creativity within the organisation.

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