Social networking is one hot topic these days. Many people at least partially understand how to use social networking tools on a personal level. However, fewer are sure about what–if anything–these tools can do at work. Many people wonder if they should even be on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn while on company time.
I spent a decent amount of time discussing this topic with interviewees for my third book, The New Small. After extensive conversions a whole host of interesting folks, I have reached one less-than-revolutionary conclusion:
Many largely unanswered questions remain about social networking in the workplace. But we are starting to answer them.
So, in this post, I’d like to ask share with you what I have learned.
What’s the value proposition of social networking in the workplace?
At a high level, social networking tools allow organizations to improve communication and productivity among employees. Possible soon-to-be buzzword alert: Collaboration is one word that we’re hearing quite a bit. More efficient platforms allow for information to be disseminated among disparate groups of employees. Communication with vendors and suppliers is also enhanced.
Is there a formula for successfully implementing social networking tools?
No. Let’s be clear here: One size does not fit all. In other words, the benefits of these social networking apps and tools vary on the the following:
- the type of app deployed
- specific features
- end-users’ familiarity with Web 2.0 tools
- the organization itself
- a host of other “people-related” factors
Fine. I get it. You’re clearly not in sales. What potential benefits can social networking tools provide?
With that disclaimer out of the way, social networking tools can help organizations and their end users by doing the following:
- Preventing overloaded email inboxes
- Allowing more open communication filtered by relevance. This leads to enhanced information discovery and, ultimately, knowledge.
- Allowing employees to answer previously answered questions–and search those answers.
- Allow employees to discuss ideas, post news, ask questions, and easily share links with one another.
- Organizations can tap into knowledgeable resources throughout the company.
Are these tools being rolled out in a manner similar to previous IT projects?
Not always. Most organizations have traditionally rolled out software from using a top-down approach. This is particularly big corporations. In the past, the IT department purchased enterprise software, often with some input from the lines of business (LOBs). Many organizations purchased software as follows:
- key internal players and departments looked at feature lists for different vendors’ products
- IT ensured that these products were safe and secure
- Often with the help of consultants, IT rolled them out only to find that nobody used them–or at least not optimally
Social networking is different because many products are based on a freemium model. Free trials enable employees to decide what product they want to use before organizations write large checks to software vendors. Rather than the top-down approach, new products can spread organically within organizations for one simple reason: employees already enjoy using them. This approach makes the purchasing decision much easier for IT. Basically, IT merely has to ensure that the product is safe and secure. IT knows that the employees already want the product, as evinced by their levels of adoption and engagement. In short, the purchasing challenge is not as significant now. Adoption of the new tool is less uncertain.
What are some of the most common mistakes that organizations make implementing social networking tools?
I actually addressed this a while back in a previous post. To recap, I’d cite three main mistakes. First, organizations often fail to implement usage policies that establish a clear set of guidelines. Second, without encouragement, training, and guidelines, employees are sometimes scared to use new apps and tools. Other times, employees are confused about how these new tools work. Third, old habits die hard. Many people will continue to rely on what they know: email and voice mail. Organizations need to wean themselves from long, drawn-out email chains and encourage people to embrace new ways of doing things.