In last week’s blog, I wrote about Pitney Bowes and internal social networks being a great catalyst for creating greater engagement and communication within the company.
That leads to better teamwork, and retention, since the employer is building stronger relationships. Being the CEO of an HR technology company that builds internal networks for the purpose of engaging employees to recruit via referrals, and the author of Social HR, I have seen great case studies on how companies build winning strategies for internal networks.
It’s best to pilot an internal social network with a sample group of employees to see if it’s a good fit for your culture, like Pitney Bowes did with IdeaNet, before rolling it out to the entire organization. However, you should use a combination of computer savvy and non-computer savvy employees as a test group to attain an informed dataset that measures both ends of the spectrum.
If you get good participation rates and quality ideas coming out of the network, then gradually expand it to more employees. It’s also important to get support from the executive level and, for most large organizations, set an agenda for the network.
Organic growth versus systematic approach
Facebook started out as a social network for college students in the United States. It went through organic growth, where users dictated how they wanted to use it and what features it should have. Because of its sheer size, Facebook is now run in a systematic, top-down approach.This is also partly due to the various privacy laws around the world it has to adhere to.
Organic growth can be sustained for very small groups, where there are no defined agendas for the internal social network. In order to create organic growth, you need to engage employees with intrinsic factors. For example, Wikipedia wouldn’t be the successful user-created encyclopaedia it is today if users had been paid to participate. Instead, Wikipedia engaged users to create and edit content because they wanted to share knowledge with other users and learn from each other.
However, for larger organizations, a more systematic approach that sets the agenda for how employees should be using the network works better. You can still have employee feedback, but the goals, guidelines and parameters of the tool need to be set by the executive team. IdeaNet is very systematic in its approach, with business unit leaders posting specific challenges and the managers responsible for the tool collecting ideas for review. However, there is flexibility in how employees can submit ideas, either posting ideas on their own or working in small groups first and then submitting an idea.
Executive support and participation
As with any initiative, it is imperative for the executive team to support and be involved with the internal social network. Their use of the tool shows employees it is a priority and will lead to faster adoption of the network.
Rewards and recognition system
An internal social network should have some sort of recognition system, whether it is designating specific employees as experts in a particular area or thanking employees publicly for their contributions.
However, monetary rewards may not be the best way to inspire employee participation. This is entirely dependent on the end users you are trying to engage. Nonetheless, building a system that awards employees through competitions and challenges may be more engaging and successful.
Not everyone is comfortable posting their own ideas in a public forum for fear of criticism, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a valuable contribution to problem solving.
To engage these users, you can create a rating system where employees can comment on other users’ ideas or, if even that is too scary, give an anonymous “thumbs up” (agree) to ideas they like. It’s best not to allow a negative “thumbs down” (disagree) option because this can discourage employees from offering their ideas. Deloitte, which had employees create videos about why they loved working at the company, used an internal rating system where employees voted on their favourite videos.
Opening collaboration to external stakeholders
There is value in asking the general public for ideas, as seen in Proctor & Gamble’s Connect + Develop initiative.
However, sometimes companies are dealing with an issue that involves proprietary information. But an organization can still solicit collaboration from external stakeholders in a limited capacity. This could include having customers offer ideas for product improvements or asking candidates for feedback on the organization’s employment brand. There are many opportunities to collaborate with people other than employees to increase diversity of thought and innovation.
Hopefully this gives you a bit of insight on winning strategies in building internal social tools. This is just the tip of the iceberg in building a vibrant internal network where end users such as employees, candidates and/or alumni may interact with your organization. What were some ways you attracted engagement, whether it is from a recruiting, communication or collaboration point of view? What are some issues you are currently facing?
Harpaul Sambhi is the CEO of Careerify, a company that develops social recruiting tools focused on employee referral programs with offices in Toronto and San Francisco. He is the author of Social HR, published by Carswell, which sheds insights in how social media is impacting human resources. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (416) 840-6216 or visit www.careerify.net for more information.