As more and more organizations shift resources toward launching external social media initiatives, it might also be time to look inward—establishing an internal social media system that will serve as not only a real-time tool for critical communications, but as a living, breathing history of an organization.
According to Amber Naslund, VP of social strategy at Radian6, some companies are realizing that internal social platforms are equally—or nearly—as important as the outward-facing brand presence. “Companies like IBM and Deloitte are finding internal communities very useful for chronicling interesting and important happenings on a global scale,” says Naslund. Some systems, she adds, are human resources and/or training related, while others span divisions and continents.
Of course, companies like those behemoths can afford to develop their platforms in-house. But there are, says Naslund, plenty of options for smaller organizations. Some companies simply set up a private group on Facebook, while others opt for platforms like Yammer (free for the basic features) or Socialtext.
Naslund and Jay Baer, social media strategist and president of social media consultancy Convince and Convert, have authored a book The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More Social (Wiley 2011). In it they broach the subject of internal social media. They cite a Canadian furniture company, Urban Barn, as an example of one organization that has successfully integrated social media into its internal communications, using a blog. “Employees are able to share stories among their retail locations,” says Naslund, which in turn improves customer data and customer service.
Other organizations have started internal social media platforms as a prelude to launching external ones. “Some companies do this to kick the tires, look at potential risks and find if their employees are ‘getting’ social media before they go external,” says Naslund. “It’s like working out the kinks.”
HUB IN MOTION
For Becky Graebe, internal communications manager at software company SAS, working out the kinks were just part of the process of setting up an internal social media platform called The Hub.
The moniker is rather self-explanatory: SAS had social networking tools—blogs, wikis and SharePoint and the like—operating in several different silos within the company. “The Hub is a place for discussions and getting questions answered via a company-wide channel,” says Graebe.
There were challenges in setting up such a system. Discussions with all SAS divisions led to about 150 requests regarding Hub tools and functionality, says Graebe. Those requests then had to be prioritized according to importance.
Then there was the question of employee guidelines for using The Hub. That answer was simple—SAS used its external social media guidelines. That’s a good place to start, says Naslund, because external guidelines will be more restrictive than internal ones. “They can then be adjusted as you go,” she says.
Guidelines do bring up an important point about organizational hierarchy and the dissemination of information. Despite the goal of openness, “there might be discussions at the executive level that shouldn’t be accessed by lower levels,” says Naslund. And, employees can still make the mistake of putting a proprietary report out externally.
But with the correct controls in place, accidents will be few and far between. At SAS, The Hub’s functions are very similar to Facebook’s. Employees can enter status updates, upload pictures and link videos, says Graebe.
Since its launch on Valentine’s Day 2011, Hub members have grown to more than 5,052 (use of the platform is optional) out of an employee base of about 11,000, says Graebe. It’s safe to say employees are lovin’ it. The Hub’ most useful attribute? “It gives us the ability to find answers quickly within a crowd of experts,” says Graebe.
With the platform’s launch fresh in her mind, here is some advice from Graebe on undertaking such a project:
• Start with knowing your audience. “Ours is a tech savvy,” says Graebe. “The majority of employees work at a computer, and have access to a mobile device—that may not be true for other organizations.”
• Talk with every department. Learn what each person will be using the platform for, and ask about the tools they’ll need.
• Get executive leadership on board. Do the homework and show how the platform will impact productivity and save time, equating it to dollars. “Otherwise it becomes just the next neat thing,” says Graebe.
• Test the system early to a wide group. SAS was able to make key changes and fix bugs in the system before the launch.
Graebe has worked closely with platform provider Socialcast to make tweaks along the way. On tap is improving functionality for mobile devices.
And having the platform available on mobile devices reinforces the idea of making content available everywhere, and from every department.
Updates, says Baer, can and should be created from all corners of the organization: minutes from social media team meetings; new account wins (and losses) from the sales team; new initiatives from marketing; new hires, promotions, and departures from HR; competitor updates; finance and legal updates; new product or service offerings; and, especially, customer stories and questions (from the customer service department). “You’ll be amazed at the great information that is sitting untapped in people’s heads,” says Baer.
And one more advantage to starting such a platform: It’s a great way to identify the real social media enthusiasts, says Naslund. “They may not be part of the marketing team, but they will be just as valuable to your company,” she says.
For organizations large and small, and with minimal guidelines, adding a central communications hub could make internal communications on par socially with your external efforts. PRN