Implementing an Internal Social Media Platform is not (only) a technical issue

Portal-vs-Community[1]

source: 7Summit

I was recently writing about the value of implementing a collaborative platform within a company to support its’ digital transformation. This has been confirmed recently by Real Story Group.

Now, I may imagine that you are convinced of the need of such a platform and understand the real difference between such an interactive solution and the usual web portals all our Intranet are full of.

Then comes the main question:

“How to make this happening?
How will I put in place such new platform?”

Let be clear from start, the main question won’t be to select the right technology, but to define a real strategy. As many other topics in Digital Transformation, putting in place an Enterprise Social Media is a real cultural change where technology is actually a very small thing. To get convinced on this, have a look on this marvellous book from Jacob Morgan: “The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Emerging Social and Collaborative Tools“.

dilbert_social_mediaThis is an Executive-level project

Some past experiences have shown me that one of the key success factor of such a project is actually the involvement of Top Management. And it looks like a challenge while learning how reluctant most of Executives are with Social Media.Then, if you get asked to implement a collaborative platform, make first sure that Executives are actively supporting it. And if you want to make this happen, take the time to convince them about this necessity before moving on.

A real online collaboration strategy requires many changes on the knowledge ownership. As a consequence, you will avoid many challenging situation by making sure the requirement will come from top.

Then, you may face some resistance from Middle Management when “their” people will be invited to spend (they will probably say “loose“) their time on such platform. Here as well, Executive will need to express their willingness of getting such working environment to reduce this reaction.
Still, don’t expect it to be fully removed and this is absolutely normal: managers have their own goals, and any time spent by their staff to do anything else than producing is by principle waste. As a consequence, take care of them and dedicate some time in showing them the value of such tool. Having in your pocket a few real life scenarii on how to get benefit from social media will be of big help from this point of view.

Last but not least, the involvement of Executives will need to be clearly exposed after the roll-out. Top managers will have to show the example by contributing themselves. Don’t hesitate to actually prepare some content and ask them to publish it if they need your support, and try to have them communicate on the platform on regular basis. This will have a direct effect on the attention given to this new medium. To help them finding the right content to share, you may get inspired by Michael Sampson’s slideshare “Cultivating Collaborative Behaviour” (slides 35 to 40 but rest is relevant as well!)

Content should be relevant

One big mistake that the launch of such platform is often facing is the lack of content, and furthermore of relevant content: people spend a lot of energy to set up the tool, to configure and structure it and do hope that this will get articles and documents by itself. So, let’s make it clear from start: this won’t work.

Migrate existing data

Since it may be quite challenging to generate enough new content from day one, it may therefore be wise to not start from scratch but to consider the migration of some existing resources. In such process, make sure that the original information location is then removed (or closed during the roll-out period, if you consider a backup plan): Avoid duplicated sources or people will keep on searching for information at the “old place”, not considering the option to go on the “new one”. This way, you’ll even hit two birds with the same stone by starting making your baby the future single source of knowledge. Such migration step has to be taken seriously: take the time to have the data properly categorised, tagged, and filtered to store them at the right place on the new platform. This will require a sensitive part of your budget that you should not neglect while setting it up.

Tag is key of effective search

That leads us to speak about keywords. One key factor of collaboration platforms is the easiness to find the appropriate information. Forget then these never-ending categories through which people have to dive in, with the hope to have selected the right one.

Take ownership of these nice features that social media and modern platforms offer: the TAGs! By starting tagging any corporate post with the right keywords and then inviting people to do the same in their own post, you’ll gain in effectiveness, and later on in relevance.

Few but active and public communities

When you’ll start your nice platform, two very different cases may be faced: either nobody gets interested, or everybody wants to makes things on his own. For the first case, user adoption phase (see below) will hopefully help you avoiding it. For the second one, I would recommend to properly define the objective of each group created and prefer to have larger ones from start, with the option to split them later on if needed. To succeed in it without frustrating the most motivated people, don’t hesitate to facilitate workshops with them to define the objective of each of these communities and reasons to have it separated from the mainstream. And, in case of inactivity, be strong enough to close (or hide?) the groups not exchanging any content.

Often, people asks for their own “closed” groups arguing that their business is “secret” and should therefore be kept hidden to non-members of the team. There are cases where such request will indeed make sense. For instance, it is usual that you need to set up some restricted communities for confidentiality reasons. Still, the ground rule should always be to have things as open as possible, and restrict access to some elements only when there is a real reason for. This way, you provide more information to majority and may generate unexpected contributions coming from people showing hidden skills in a certain domain. Breaking barriers within the different departments / team is the main power of Social Media platform: if you reproduce the same structured model on the platform, you won’t get this huge benefit! To get convinced on this, I would recommend to have a look on the article of Meredith Rock: “Shatter Knowledge Silos With Your Social Intranet

Few but clear and established rules

Things may go wild quite quickly once people will start using the platform. There may be the wish to use this new communication space to “small-talk” exchanges. Experience has shown that it may be sensitive to forbid them 100%. Sometimes, letting people exchanging about their hobbies or after-work activities can help to build a team and to get adoption from the users. Still, don’t hesitate to have a light moderation and remind in a positive way that the main goal is to facilitate collaboration at work.

Get it adopted by the users

swampson_user_adoption

source: Michael Sampson’s blog

Another fundamental factor of success in your strategy will be the user adoption: if people don’t get convinced by this new way of working, then this will never work. Different approaches and tools can be used for this. to go deeper on that subject, you may have a look on Michael Sampson’s book.

Training

what to do to implement

source: AIIM 2009

The first thing is to dedicate time and budget to user education: most of managers think that social media platforms are so self-explaining that people doesn’t need to get trained. This is a wrong assumption. People need to understand how they can reach information, how they can post their content, and even furthermore where. They need to understand the value of a tag to then start adding them to their own posts, etc.

Embedded Champions & moderators

You may also want to get support within the teams. For this, identify some motivated people in each department and make them your ambassadors. Having the chance to get support from their neighbour instead of the usual boring hotline will motivate people to start using the platform.

Thanks to them, you may also expect higher reactivity when a new topic pops up: being fast is a key factor to get adoption from the employees. If they discover that such platform may help them to get the information they need quicker or better, they’ll directly get convinced.

“Adoption cannot be mandated. End users have to want to use the product, and will do so when they see a net benefit to them and their work.” – Michael Indinopoulos (Socialtext)

To support this, you need a new role in the organisation: Community managers. These people will have the task to follow some groups and facilitate them by putting few questions, inviting key persons to contribute and find out appropriate resources to reply when some subjects remains without answer. This is a real job that is often ignored for budget reasons but will be a key success factor. If you don’t have the opportunity to hire dedicated people for this, one alternative can be to identify the most active people of each community and ask them to play this role in their own area. But then, make sure this becomes part of their annual goals by getting agreement of their direct manager.

Make it unavoidable

You may have define the fanciest interface with the most attractive marketing campaign around your tool, still, people may be very slow to change their habits if they don’t need to. Therefore, “help” them to make the big step by not giving them the choice!

Exclusive content

First of all, shut down any other internal communication channel: make sure this platform will be the only available reference. Having exclusive information broadcasted on your social media will push people to join on their own.

One single spot for their daily tasks

Your employee community should become part of your workers’ everyday process. One way for this is to use this platform to manage any day-to-day process they get involved in like meetings management (availability of preparation documents, minutes…), project status (very useful in an Agile oriented approach). This way, you will drive them to use the platform more and more, and will then automatically increase its value. Once all these daily tasks will be included on the platform, people will save lot of time not having to navigate between different applications and physical spaces.

Deal with resistance, don’t fight against it

Some employees may not express engagement to your project. That may be due to different factors. The most typical are usually resistance to change and cultural issue. In any case, don’t confront it but deal with it. If some people are from a generation that is not used to such tools and approaches, dedicate time to them, maybe through specific training sessions adapted to their profile. But at the end, in any case, to give any chance to escape: if you start creating one exception, you’ll get another one, and then another one, and then…

Communicate before, during and after the project

As usual in any change management project, communication will be a key factor to get acceptance from the employees. Few basic actions before, during and after the launch could be executed to support it.

Transparency

During the development phase, make the project visible and transparent. Don’t hesitate to share progresses and from time to time even think of the opportunity to interact with some groups to get their feedback on one specific feature. Select it well to make sure that the outcome of this feedback will fit to what you will deliver. Otherwise, the risk of disappointment will be high.

Share stories

During the final setup phase and with the implementation of the first communities, take the time to share stories. Show to the mass how easily the first pioneers get used to the platform and how happy they are. Even better: make them speak about it instead of you. During the first weeks after the launch, manage to generate a handful of quick-wins that you could use for your communication. At a later stage, try to extract a few success stories to share during company events or press releases. This will be the best advocate for your project image.

Online AND offline communication

That leads me to a third tip: communicate about your project online, but not only. Try to use as many opportunities to make the platform better known. And for this, offline events like department meetings or internal magazines are potential supports not to forget.

Select the right platform

Finally, we reach the IT side of the project. I started by writing that it is not only IT but, still, there are some IT topics to have in mind to reach a success.

All the same

source: IT Central Station

source: IT Central Station

The choice of the platform is a sensitive one. Forget about opinions on one specific application. For sure, Sharepoint, Tibbr, Jammer, IBM Connections or Facebook for Work have all very good fancy features but that should not be the real decision factor when comes the time to choose the right one. Why? Because, any of them will anyway bring you a professional environment with all the key functionalities you are expecting from a Social Media platform.

The integration factor

So, the first real point to take in account when selecting the platform is actually its’ integration capacity with your existing/upcoming IT ecosystem. Indeed, the easiness you will have to setup interfaces with existing application, the cheapest it will be. Moreover, think about the idea of making this platform your centre of knowledge: if you manage to have easy connectivity with existing data sources, you’ll save huge amount of time in not having to migrate some data.

Focus on few features at start

Once selected, think deeply about the core features you really aim for by setting up your Social Media. Identify them and then hide/remove any of the useless ones: if people get too many features from day one, they’ll get lost. It may therefore be wise to start with only a basic discussion thread and document management system to later on add-up micro blogging or other side features. To help you on this selection phase, don’t hesitate to write down use cases where concrete daily life scenarii will be described in the way you expect this new platform will reply to. On that, don’t let IT run the workshop: make real users expressing their needs!

Keep it standard

I already mentioned in another article that a standard software should remain standard. This works as well for such a platform: avoid as much as possible deep personalisation or you’ll face huge challenges when you will have to execute your first release. Prefer widget containing external features than direct integration.

Be fast!

Last but not least when it come to technology, have a fast roll-out. Focusing on core functionalities will actually help on this as well since your IT will only have to configure few parts of the system. You’ll avoid people getting bored about something that was promised to them too long time ago.

Measure results

Last but not least, don’t forget your objectives!

If you aim for a social media platform, you need to know why. And this should be measurable in a way or another. So, consider to define a list of few actionable KPIs!

McKinsey_ROI_social_media

source: McKinsey 2012

As example, according to McKinsey, the average worker spent 2.6 hours a day reading and answering emails in 2012. In their report about social economy, they consider that the setup of an Enterprise Social Media could reduce drastically this waste of time. This could be an interesting KPI to consider if your objective is productivity increase.

Another objective could be to activate employee engagement. In that case, the approach suggested by workforce could give another idea for KPI to put in place.

Conclusion

After gone through these different elements, you may have understood that setting up an Enterprise Social Media is not an IT project but a real cultural change project where technology will be only one factor of success. Top management support, user adoption, and transparent communication will probably be even more important and should therefore get your priority during your implementation journey.

 

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