Social Media at the Crossroads: selling ESNs to your own company

Social media is big news (perhaps you’ve heard?) and has come a long way on the external front. Internally, on the other hand, it’s a different story.

A recent poll carried out by YouGov found that just 26 per cent of employees work in organisations that have developed an internal social media platform (or ESN – Enterprise Social Network), with only 16 per cent of employees thinking that their company makes good use of social media.

But with the growing trends of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), the blurring of lines between external and internal communications, and the so-called Generation Y increasingly occupying senior positions in the next few years, the growth of social media internally is inevitable. The message from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is that early adoption of social media is key to employee engagement – in other words, it pays to be ahead of the curve.

However, one of the greatest problems with implementing social media internally is getting buy-in from senior figures and stakeholders: being able to demonstrate the value of ESNs in driving up employee engagement, productivity and overall development of the business. And that’s a tall order at the moment because, generally speaking, the use of social media internally is still in its infancy.

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Highlighting the benefits

McKinsey reports that the biggest block to productivity is people searching for information – ‘the inbox black hole’. So the transition from email to ESNs is expected to improve productivity by 20 to 25 per cent, provided that the platform is implemented effectively, with employees being directed towards using the ESN rather than email.
As its name suggests, social media encourages open interaction and networking. So using an ESN can support culture change by encouraging collaboration between employees at all levels, and among stakeholders across multiple locations.

With emphasis often being given to the importance of social media in external communications, it is worth noting that, as an internal tool, it will naturally aid outward marketing – generating debate and content that can be used to attract clients. Whether your business has an ESN or not, it’s vital to have a social media policy in place and providing an internal social platform will encourage and strengthen necessary social media training.

Jackie Nixon, Head of Marketing for the UK and Ireland at Cisco, highlighted this point well in an interview with the Guardian, stating: “As social media continues to break down the barriers between personal and professional lives, more and more of our employees have a role to play here. We don’t seek to limit them or prohibit them in any way, but we do issue clear guidelines and training, so that they understand their responsibilities to the company in social media.”

Have a plan

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To successfully ‘sell’ the use of social media internally, it’s crucial to consider your own company culture, the demographics of your employees and the resources you have available.

Introducing social media should not be considered in isolation; it needs to be incorporated alongside existing internal communication strategies, as well as future business plans, to highlight how using an ESN will help you get to where you want to go, and benefit the bottom line. Clarify your social media objectives and targets, and how you’ll measure performance. As well as looking to the future, think of the day-to-day issues – who will be responsible for managing and updating content consistently?

Assess your company and survey your staff to see whether they would welcome an ESN and what their concerns are. There is little point launching an ESN and expecting staff to take to it immediately, so you need to plan the build-up to its launch by discussing ways to promote the platform internally and by looking at possible employee training needs.

And finally

Be sure yourself that an ESN is the right way to go. Social media has great potential if it’s introduced properly, but shouldn’t be implemented simply to follow a trend.

It’s crucial that effective measurements are made before, during and after implementation. Gaining the internal buy-in that’ll be needed in order to push plans forward can be hard, so planning and preparation are crucial. Above all, you’ll need to show the benefits that an ESN can bring to your organisation as part of the existing strategies – and how you intend to prove its worth.