featured, IT, Social

Rise of the Social Business

10 May , 2013  

In addition to the commercialization of IT, BYOD, and the use of personal cloud services, mid-sized businesses are grappling with how to manage, adopt and embrace social media as a tool for internal business collaboration and communication. Social media has proven its value in our personal lives, through the sharing of ideas, opinions, stories and personal status. In the business context, social business tools can bring similar benefits to employees and staff, serving as a platform for communication and collaboration that breaks through traditional organizational and communications barriers.

Generational Shift In Communications

Why do mid-sized businesses struggle with the internal use of social media? Like a majority of the current workforce who didn’t grown up in a world enveloped with texting and social media, businesses are experiencing the effects of the generational shift to this new model of communication. In a subtle but fundamental way, social media doesn’t rely on the same large message, sender controlled communications model inherent in email, fax, telephone and voicemail. Business oriented social media tools appear at odds with the tried and true communication methods relied upon for decades.

How is social media different than traditional communications? Lets use email as an example. With email, control of the content and who consumes that content is sender controlled. The sender specifies the audience (one or multiple recipients) for which the information is intended, and the sender by in large is in control of who receives the email. Unless the email is forwarded, only the a limited set of intended individuals can access the contents of that email. Additionally, email messages can be of any length, frequently containing lengthy, rich content and attachments.

Social media flips this traditional communication model on its head. The sender is no longer in control of who receives their communications; the universe of “followers”, friends or potentially anyone (including automated processes) can consume content when it’s sent. The sender likely never knows who consumed their content, unless recipients reply, converse or direct message the originator. Content consumers have total control over who’s content and what content they wish to view, follow and be in conversation with. The sender’s content is “out there” for virtually anyone to consume, often by content consumers the sender may never know.

Social media tools often enforce message size limitations, such as Twitter’s 140 character limit which drops to around 117-118 characters when a URL is included. While other social media tools such as Facebook don’t enforce such a limited message size, social norms emphasize brevity, shorter and more frequent messages that often include URLs to articles or additional content. Lengthly and verbose posts are ignored by most content consumers and go unread. The same brevity norms apply to text messaging.

Understanding the fundamental shift of social media aides in increasing user adoption and makes it easier to understand how social business tools can increase engagement and knowledge sharing, and better facilitate collaboration compared to traditional communications tools.

Increasing Social Business Adoption

Digital social interaction isn’t new to mid-sized businesses; it’s already happening via email, instant messaging and online forums. The challenge is getting the frequently long threaded email chains out of email and into conversational social business tools, where broader groups of participants can interact. Migrating from online forums to social business tools such as Yammer or Jive is less challenging than getting users to try tools beyond tried and true email. It’s often too easy to live out our work day in Outlook, versus expecting users to take the conscious steps of using an alternative tool.

New applications, particularly unfamiliar social business tools, can appear intimidating and users often need compelling reasons to try out something new. Here are five ways to help encourage interaction on social business tools.

  1. If you know Facebook, you can use social business tools. During a meeting, one participant sited his reason for not using Yammer was due to his lack of knowledge with how to use the tool. The answer provided to him was actually very simple; he already knew how to use Yammer because of his experience using Facebook. Re-enforce with users that social business tools operate very much the same way as the social media tools they already know.
  2. Lighten your Inbox load. Who doesn’t suffer from too much email in their inbox? Everyone can relate to solutions that alleviate influx of email into their inbox. Suggest to users that social business tools help move those annoying email threads they are frequently cc’d on to a more appropriate tool where you can more easily chose to participate,  follow the conversation thread (versus fragmented email conversation threads), and manage your notification level.
  3. Asking the question can be more important than the answer. Asking the right questions can rapidly create engagement amongst staff who have views and ideas on the topic. Put questions out there and see what topics and types of questions generate the most interaction. Post questions such as; “What is the one thing you would do to most improve customers’ experience when doing business with us?”, “What’s the best product you’ve recently discovered?”,  “What could we do to improve our presentations?”, “Why is our company a great place to work and what could we do better?”, and “How would you reduce calls to customer service?”.
  4. Create opportunistic social collisions. When senior leadership posts on a social business tool, employees pay attention. It often creates an implicit expectation to join in. If the CEO posts about a topic, or encourages employees to participate, it’s a pretty strong message to everyone that we should all join in. And there are many ways to create opportunistic collisions through content that engages staff. Social business tools often include the ability to host an online poll. Create an area to post about interesting and thought provoking posts, industry related news, and feedback about company products or events. Or create a section about ideas for innovation.
  5. Integrate important content with your social business site. Most mid-sized businesses already have an intranet, likely in a wiki or content management system such as Drupal or Joomla. Integrate social business tools into your intranet and other frequently accessed internal content. The opportunity for interaction is much greater if users are already going to the intranet to get a form or lookup information.

Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/HbBNp

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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