Does Enterprise Social Networking Really Work?

    "If you build it, they will come." -- Field of Dreams

In my No Jitter post on digital workplace tools, I referenced the need for a place to help employees get connected to people, information, and expertise. This place is often called an enterprise social networking platform. The basics elements of this type of platform are the following:

  • Central location where every employee has an identity and can establish a profile
  • Quick way to find people and expertise
  • Forum that allows people to ask questions and publish their thoughts
  • Way for people to share information, links, or even files with each other
  • Means for people to establish trusted relationships with peers throughout the company
  • Community for groups and Community of Practices
  • Place for sharing company proprietary information securely
  • Way for a global workforce to stay connected with each other, even from mobile devices

The big question for enterprise leaders is "does this really work?" The answer, as with most things that are qualitative, is "it depends."

For our business, we deployed a homegrown version of this kind of platform in 2008. It was designed to give employees a place to do three things: Ask it, Find it, and Share it. These three basic drivers led to a place that has, for all intents and purposes, become the virtual company cooler. It's a place to learn about the latest information, connect with people through forums or posted questions, and to share information that is new, cool, or generally of interest.

Over the years, this platform has evolved to become much more than what it was in the beginning, now providing a place for interactions that can be organizational announcements and discussions, jam sessions to generate new ideas or opportunities, or innovation competitions that run over a period of time that people can review and vote on. For many of our employees, it's become a go-to place for the information they need to get work done.

For some, the platform was an instant hit, a missing piece for their work puzzle. For others, it was an unnecessary thing that could sometimes be a distraction from doing "real" work. For me, it was somewhere in between. As a user of the tool, I thought it had a lot of good things to it but it lacked pizazz. My daughter, then in her mid-teens, looked over my shoulder one day as I was working and said, "Mom, is that a lame version of Facebook or what?" I had to smile. She wasn't wrong.

Since the launch, the platform has grown slowly and steadily. As we add more features and functions, the more people have turned to it. As our employee population has changed, new hires learn to use it in their orientations, and they come to see it as an essential tool.

One of the main things we did right when we launched (thinking it would be an instant hit) was that we didn't let our slow user adoption rates scare us. The slow, steady growth we experienced might not have been possible if we had a set user adoption target that we missed by a mile. Now, almost 10 years after launch, we have about 90% of our employees with profiles in the system, and about 50,000 searches are performed every 24 hours.

The ability to be patient and let people come to the platform has been well worth it. Our platform has become the glue that holds many of our collaboration tools in place, and will be a key foundational element of our new digital workplace.

Sometimes when you build it, they take a while to show up. We need to allow users the time they need to try new things and see the value. Not everyone is going to jump on board with enthusiasm. But in time, they might just decide it isn't all bad.

Follow Erin Leary on Twitter!

@erinkleary

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Learn more about the digital workplace and digital hubs at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. As part of our Unified Communications & Collaboration track, Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, will lead two sessions on these topics: Is Digital Workplace the New Collaboration? and Digital Hubs: UC's Portal to the Enterprise. Register now for Enterprise Connect 2018 using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.