Why Use Enterprise Social Networks For Internal Communication?

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The lines between internal and external communication continue to blur and social media plays a key part. Internal communication (IC) is the term traditionally given to communication inside an organisation. However, it’s not as black and white as that any more.

Last month I examined 10 reasons why internal communication pros should participate in social media. I’m now going to look at how you can use social media for internal communication and specifically, Enterprise Social Networks.

The topic of Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) is a hot one this year and the heat looks set to increase. They are more than ‘internal Twitter/Facebook’ but are often described in that way to explain what they are to people who haven’t heard of them before. Altimeter Group defines ESN as ‘a set of technologies that create business value by connecting the members of an organisation through profiles, updates and notifications.’

Forbes’ definition is: ‘a vibrant high communication, high collaboration enterprise that uses social tools to accelerate business via connection and collaboration.’ The key word in both of these descriptions is connections.

Ideally done, ESNs enhance business within companies by bringing people together to communicate, for the benefit of themselves and the organisation. These connections are achieved via high collaboration software (I’ve listed some below) and using social tools.

Internal versus external?

The primary community for internal communication remains employees, but other external parties are often in the mix too. This can include union officials and work councils, shareholders and investors and future/previous employees.

When viewed in the context of the broader communications team, internal communication is often deemed the same as or under the umbrella of corporate communication. Semantics aside, external communication is with customers and media, public and government affairs, corporate social responsibility, sponsorship, brand, events and more.

Increasingly we are seeing the divide between internal and external comms being shattered and the focus shift to shareable and useable content. For example, theblueballroom agency in the south of England recently announced it has merged its internal and external communications divisions and is now offering an integrated approach.

Rebecca Pain, Business Development Manager, says: “Information is in constant motion in today’s digital world – what you say and do inside your business can directly affect your external reputation, and vice versa. We have removed the int/ext divide in recognition of the fact all audiences need to be considered, and combine internal communication and PR. This brings greater credibility, consistency and value to business communications as employees, customers, shareholders, partners and suppliers are all important stakeholders in business.”

It’s always been the case that internal communication has the potential to be shared externally, and my advice is to create and oversee internal communication with that in mind. Social media makes it easier than ever for internal information to find its way to the outside world, and I will cover how to put guidelines in place and create boundaries in a future column.

There are many Enterprise Social Networks to choose from including:

  • Chatter (Salesforce.com)
  • Jive
  • Lync
  • Newsgator
  • SharePoint
  • Snapcomms
  • Socialcast
  • Yammer

Think Enterprise Social Networks aren’t for you? Double check that you don’t have one in your organisation already. My  research and anecdotal feedback reveals some IC pros have the freemium model of Yammer in their organisation without realising because employees have set it up themselves. This often leads to IC pros playing ‘catch-up’ – have you experienced this?

I featured an article on my blog about How Coca-Cola Enterprises use Chatter. Neil Jenkins, Director of Internal and Digital Communications at Coca-Cola Enterprises told me: “Our people work in different roles and countries, and access and attitudes to social media vary. Even at grassroots level, we didn’t position Chatter as a sexy new way of communicating – it was about making their jobs easier, faster and better. This was an important message, especially for line managers, who may have seen it as a time-waster – the opposite of what we wanted to achieve.

“Using Chatter for collaboration with customers and between our manufacturing plants, where nearly half of our employees work and for whom access isn’t as easy, are priorities. And it doesn’t look after itself – community management is a growing capability for our digital communication teams. Our work so far shows that Chatter matters – but that we can’t stand still.”

Why use Enterprise Social Networks? They can enhance internal communication in many ways, including:

  • Opening up new feedback channels
  • Encouraging collaboration and communication across silos and geographies
  • Horizontal networking, by breaking down hierarchies
  • Being all encompassing and interactive
  • Approachability: Employees pick and choose who and what to engage with

These attributes are clearly desirable in an organisation, and social media has a role to play to enable them to happen. The list above can also apply to using social media for external communication; particularly regarding recruitment and communication with customers.

Key to a successful ESN is to integrate it with your existing communication methods and make choices that fit with the culture of your organisation. I will cover this in more detail in a future column.

People who matter

Time, money and effort is spent creating effective external communication strategies, looking at how to engage with people who matter. The same should be true of internal communication. Your employees have the potential to be your best brand ambassadors.

Take the Games Makers from the London 2012 Olympics for example. This merry troop of purple-uniformed cheery unpaid volunteers made my home city proud last summer. They were pleasant, polite, helpful, knowledgeable, informative, passionate, dedicated, excited – the list of adjectives is endless.

The Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) gave all 70,000 Games Makers a special award as Communicators of the Year, 2012, saying: “This is a group of people who took communication to the finishing line with style and expertise.”

IoIC President Suzanne Peck says: “Never before has a group of disparate, diverse people come together so beautifully to form a cohesive and focused team that really made a difference. They excelled at communicating simply, clearly and cheerfully. Olympians, organisers and visitors heaped praise on how they made the Games sing, came to represent the spirit of the Olympics and helped create a show-stopping world extravaganza.”

The Games Makers at the London Olympics are widely regarded as one of the most engaged workforces the UK has ever seen. Working alongside them and doing an equally sterling job were the Travel Ambassadors (TAs). Transport for London (TfL) is the local government body responsible for the transport network across Greater London. During the Games, 3000 of its employees volunteered to be TAs to help passengers navigate through the city by Tube (Underground trains), boat, bus and rail.

TfL chose to introduce a dedicated Yammer network to provide the Travel Ambassadors with a way to communicate with each other. It was accessible via iPads/iPhones during their shifts and via web when in the office. Stats from Yammer reveal that within three days of launching the network, over a third of TAs had signed up (1254 users) and 1303 messages had been posted. They used it to share which locations were busy, tips on what to expect while volunteering and offering advice and guidance to each other, particularly for those starting their first shift.

In the same way the Games Makers were a proactive and engaged group, the TAs were too, and used Yammer for internal communication to keep morale boosted and be self-sufficient. Examples include sharing feedback they had received from the public and the #celebrityspot hashtag. This was used by the TAs to swap photographs of famous people they had spotted and led to a dedicated Photos group on the network.

Transport for London used Yammer successfully to request TAs to attend shifts in the Olympic Park and were able to coordinate 400 volunteers in less than 24 hours to cover a weekend shift via the network. Conversations happening via the network contributed to operational decisions. For example, following the Games, Travel Ambassadors successfully took to Yammer to lobby to have TAs to support other large events in London in the future.

Feedback reveals the TA project contributed to “a growing spirit of collaboration across TfL’s organisational modes as volunteers from different roles and modes worked together for the first time, and many staff expressed a greater appreciation of the operational roles that their colleagues carry out on a daily basis.”

I’m going to leave you with a thought from the social media communicators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They recently published a list of 37 ways they use Yammer and said: “…It is as awesome as you make it. Collaboration starts with you.”

What is your experience of using Enterprise Social Networks for internal communication?

P.s Want to know the stages I go through when writing a column? I’ve been experimenting with Vine over the past couple of weeks and you can watch how I wrote this column.

About the Author:

Rachel Miller

This monthly Social Media for Internal Communications column is contributed by Rachel Miller. Rachel is an Internal Communications and Social Media Strategist. She began her career as a journalist in 1999 and has worked in Internal Communications agency-side and in-house for global companies across the financial, automotive, healthcare and railway sectors. Rachel was named in PR Week’s Top 29 under 29 professional communicators in the UK list. She regularly speaks and writes on internal communication and social media and lives in London, UK. +Rachel Miller

Rachel Miller
This monthly Social Media for Internal Communications column is contributed by Rachel Miller. Rachel is an Internal Communications and Social Media Strategist. She began her career as a journalist in 1999 and has worked in Internal Communications agency-side and in-house for global companies across the financial, automotive, healthcare and railway sectors. Rachel was named in PR Week’s Top 29 under 29 professional communicators in the UK list. She regularly speaks and writes on internal communication and social media and lives in London, UK. +Rachel Miller
Rachel Miller

@AllthingsIC

Consulting, speaking & blogging on #internalcomms & soc media @ All Things IC. Share This + Share This Too author. #CIPRsm. @theICcrowd co-founder, mum of 1+2
Rachel Miller
Social Fresh West

Comments

  1. John Pretz says

    Hi Rachel, in your list you miss the number 1 : IBM Connections
    In regard of the freemium model: IT gets a tool in house that meets the first step of open collaboration, but often companies get stuck with that tool as it does not fit the requirements they have. With normal IT the business and IT set up the specs, do rfi, rfp and then choose. It’s like getting the freemium NASCAR car, but then the company want to do the Paris Dakar rally.

  2. says

    Thank you for your comment John, good spot. That’s a great analogy – and very true!

    I can see from an IT perspective why request for information (rfi) and request for proposal (rfp) processes exist. It would be true to say Internal Comms teams aren’t the only ones playing catch-up in that regard, as the impact and responsibility spreads further.

    I’ll be covering making choices that align with culture in a future column, and infrastructure and technology requirements/realities are certainly an important part of that mix, Rachel.

  3. says

    A great read Rachel, and thanks for sharing those insights with Coca-Cola, London 2012, TfL etc – great to see real examples of how businesses are benefiting from these networks!

  4. says

    Thanks for commenting Tony, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Me too, I’m always on the lookout for examples of how organisations are actually using and adopting these networks, that I can then share on, Rachel

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