Professionals are always looking for better ways to collaborate and communicate. Team meetings, away days, promoting active listening – there are plenty of tips and techniques that can encourage better co-working and connection. But how can you implement this ethos in a more established format? One that entrenches these traits into the cultural mindset? While there are plenty of digital tools available to do this, the most popular of these is through enterprise social networking.
And as well as helping improve the way employees interact with one another, social networking has brought about real improvements to internal communications.
Like the public social networks like Facebook and Twitter, there are channels specifically for business – to connect, network, and communicate with each other. This is done on a private, secure setting, and allows organizations to communicate with each other in an informal way.
Whereas smaller businesses have a flatter hierarchy and can enjoy communicating and collaborative processes with ease, it’s the larger businesses – those with one hundred employees or more – who struggle to maintain that close-knit feel amongst their staff. Which is where internal comms and ESNs come into play.
But before we look at the impact of enterprise social networking on internal comms, we should look at the definition of IC and understand its importance in business.
There’s no clear-cut definition for internal comms. Some experts state that IC involves all approaches that an organization uses to communicate with its employees, to get them to comply with different organizational policies and practices and assisting them to perform better.
Others define internal communication as the exchange of information and ideas within an organization with two primary roles. Firstly, it should be used to deliver information. Secondly, it should create a sense of community within the organization. Some experts argue that IC has a much broader definition that can span from informal chat and gossip in the office to more formal corporate communication to all employees.
So, if we are to understand IC is all formal and informal communication taking place internally at all levels of an organization, we realize the importance of having open channels in which this communication can take place. This is where an enterprise social networking plays its part.
ESNs have had a significant impact on internal comms. If effective internal comms rests upon the connection between the hub and its people, then an ESN directly aligns precisely within these principles.
Here we’ll look at how an organization’s internal comms can improve with the help of enterprise social networking.
Eases collaboration: Just as public social platforms enable people to come together, so too do ESNs. By allowing open access to everyone in the organization, employees not only have a way of communicating freely but can create specific groups to aid collaborative processes. Communicating in real-time, the ability to share documents easily, and gather knowledge from all corners of the organization, this is fast response collaboration, perfect for public-facing employees as well as desk-based users.
Provides a two-way street: Traditional internal comms channels are very top-down ways of communicating: a message from the CEO, important information about annual leave, news about an impending office move. While the message may get received fine, that’s all that happens to it. There’s no way of responding or commenting on it. An ESN, however, provides a voice to employees and allows them to share and interact with the message. This can have some valuable consequences, especially in situations that require a solution or help.
Checks the mood of the organization: Another benefit of enterprise social networking is its role in hosting polls and pulse surveys. A successful ESN should see users make daily visits to it, which means a holding page with your questionnaire or eNPS is in the ideal place to get as much engagement as possible.
A great internal brand builder: Several high profile companies have excelled at building their brand on social media. Think Innocent Drinks, Netflix, and Wendy’s – all of whom have created a fun, entertaining, shareable voice amid the noise of social media. In the same way, ESNs can do this with your organization’s internal brand, immediately getting onboarders in on the company culture, and turn your employees into fans of your brand. When this happens, you’re more likely to experience the exchanging of ideas, knowledge sharing, and engagement – you have created a corporate area that can engage, inspire and support, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a traditional workplace.
Increases productivity: Following on from this, creating a useful, often fun place to visit online, which is positioned within your digital workplace can boost productivity. How? When you have your workforce together on a network, you allow users to contact each other with ease. There is the ability to upload and share large files; there is better access to information, and meetings can be scheduled more quickly – even if it’s a quick exchange on the ESN’s instant chat.
Brings remote workers in from the cold: It’s easy for remote workers to become isolated, alone and at worst, ignored. But with the rise in homeworking, there are now services out there that allow remote workers to feel part of office life, without having to commute. ESNs are one of the ways organizations can bring remote workers in from the cold, allowing them to get up-to-the-minute internal communications, communicate with peers and get in touch with other remote workers, and other offices for conversation, information, and support.
De-silos the organization: With access to all members of the organization, departmental silos are removed. ESNs act as a crowdsourcing tool that helps to get help and resources from people you might not necessarily know. This has an incredible impact on the way workers communicate with each other. With the traditional hierarchical structure removed, enterprise social networking promotes transparency, allow open discussions, and help encourage people to collaborate more easily.
Reaches a wide audience: One of the challenges of an enterprise network is engagement. But once you make your ESN relevant, usable, and informative to your employees, engagement will grow company-wide. This has multiple benefits on the business, but from an internal comms professional’s point of view, it creates the perfect place to send important company information. Even crisis communications – bad weather, system outages, or security issues – can all be communicated through various forms on ESNs.
Encourage internal blogging: For an IC expert, internal blogging can be an incredibly useful resource. For the department, blogging is a great way to inform peers about new initiatives, policies, or good news. It’s also a great way of encouraging others to blog. When you have bloggers in every department, you have an abundant source of knowledge, information, and expertise at your fingertips. Blogging connects people, it encourages discussion, and it promotes the idea that everyone’s voice is welcome.
In theory, an ESN ticks all the boxes: boosts employee engagement, eases collaboration, connects peers. However, with anything new, you’re likely to encounter some challenges in successfully implementing it across the workforce. So here are some things you need to ensure that your enterprise social network must do:
It must be easy to use: when introducing anything to an indifferent workforce, you need to make sure that it’s INSTANTLY easy to use. If your users come up against any obstacles that impede their progress, you run a massive risk of drop off. Testing and doing trial runs is essential for any implementation like this.
It must meet the needs of your people: before you commit to implementing any ESN, you must make sure it’s fulfilling a requirement. If there are problems with communication, accessing the right people, engaging remote workers, then make sure your ESN addresses these.
Make a proper introduction: Ever tried landing a new product on your workers without explaining what it does? If you don’t teach and introduce your workforce properly to your ESN, they’re not going to find out for themselves. If you want engagement, you have to make sure you explain why your workers need to use this new service, how it helps them with their day-to-day jobs. You need to motivate them to want to use it.
Get stakeholder support: One of the best ways to gather sway in the office is by the help of key figures in your organization. By getting a gang of senior leaders and team members to champion your new initiative, you gain considerable influence and are more easily able to gather the attention of your workforce. When your stakeholders are using your ESN, other employees will follow suit.
Position it wisely: Implementing something like an ESN can often feel like spoon-feeding your workforce. But because there is so much to do, see, listen to, and complete every day, that paying attention to something new can be regarded as a massive distraction. This is why making sure your ESN is ideally located is so essential. Having it on a destination site – as something separate to the central hub of work – is never going to work. ESNs need to be embedded within the digital workplace, and users mustn’t be able to miss it. It must be integrated into all the other digital tools they use for work, and therefore will slowly become a natural part of their working lives.
As we’ve demonstrated, enterprise social networking can help your internal comms. If done right, it can increase engagement, boost productivity, and provide an up-to-date comms platform that allows you to get your message across effectively.
Aside from its massive impact on internal communication, several other applications are of benefit to a business. Marketing, sales, and product development can all be enhanced with the help of an ESN. Even areas like customer service can see improvements. Customer-facing staff can flag up issues and queries within the ESN, which can then get picked up by customer service and other relevant departments. This can provide transparency, and a solution-led approach is created as issues are brought up.
In a workplace that is becoming faster, busier, and more globalized, ESNs are an inevitable development in a workplace that demands connection, communication, and collaboration.