Enterprise social networking is here to stay, are you connected yet?

Light blubWhile lots of businesses are now recognising that ‘social’ is something that needs to happen, usually the focus is very much on the external, the ‘what are we doing about (insert the social network of your choice here)?’ type of concern. Very few are looking internally and recognising the power of connecting the efforts of employees through social and collaborative digital tools to drive business success.

Back in late 2010, McKinsey published some research about the rise of the networked enterprise, finding that companies using the Web intensively gain greater market share and higher margins. It also specifically referenced the internal benefits of using Web 2.0 to become an internally networked organisation, the perks including ‘more flexible processes…information is shared more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organizational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion’. And who doesn’t want that?

At UBM we have our own internal network called The Hub which sits on the social business collaboration platform from Jive Software. While the platform currently has its limitations, the concept is sound and I quite simply couldn’t do my job to the best of my abilities without it. It’s now so integral to what I do that I’d have serious reservations about working for an employer who wasn’t using an enterprise solution.

If you don’t yet have a similar collaboration platform, here are my top 10 reasons why your business needs more social in its corporate life:

1 – You can harness the power of many

The greatest innovators of our time didn’t create in a vacuum, they surrounded themselves with the best people to help them get their vision accomplished. By using a enterprise social platform you can connect the minds of many and turn this to your competitive advantage by generating collective intelligence.

2 – You don’t need to continually reinvent the wheel

Ask Mark Twain said, ‘there is no such things as a new idea…we simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope’. Your enterprise platform is your business’ mental kaleidoscope. Chances are, someone, somewhere in your organisation has done something similar to the project you’re about to start work on, and wouldn’t it be great to tap into that knowledge and find out what worked – and perhaps more interestingly – find out what didn’t?

3 – It can support a global culture

At UBM the Hub is the only system which connects everyone around the world and this makes it pivotal to the development of a company-wide culture by enabling the free flowing of ideas, information and values. Many large companies, especially those built on acquisition and partnerships like us, can really struggle to foster an internal global culture, so by connecting employee behaviour and encouraging collaboration using these tools you can really support cultural connection and future proof your organisation.

4 – You can reduce your reliance on email as your number one internal communication tool

Email is a very poor communication tool, it’s not collaborative nor conversational. It makes working on projects tricky, it creates misunderstandings, trails of information get lost, attachments get misplaced. It makes people lazy –  opting to send an email rather than have a conversation. People hide behind it and use it to shield themselves from blame (“It’s not my fault it didn’t get done, I put it in an email”) rather than communicating properly in the first place. Internal social tools help reduce an organisations’ reliance on email by moving the communication and collaboration employees are trying to do over email into a platform specifically designed to support them. Take a look at this article on Social Media Today for more on what makes email so inefficient.

5 – You can find the people you need

In larger organisations it can be difficult to find the right people, whether that’s the right people to join your next project or simply to ask a question of. The big advantage of having an internal social tool is that not only does everyone have their own profile which cover their skills and experience, but you can read the content they’ve posted about the projects they’ve worked on. This can give you a real insight into the person before you’ve even picked up the phone. The flip side of this is that interested people can find the projects you’re working on and can proactively offer their skills and advice before you’ve had a chance to track them down. And don’t underestimate the power of a system which stores everyone’s photo – it’s invaluable if you’re meeting in busy place for the first time or just trying to find them on the floor of an open plan office.

6 – It’s a great career development opportunity

Everyone’s individual profile acts as an internal CV. If the content you’re producing and sharing attracts attention, you attract attention. As a result people can quickly start to build their reputation and increase their visibility at a speed unheard of without an enterprise solution. For hiring managers and those involved in talent management this is an absolute godsend as it enables you to identify and fast track your leaders of the future and make stronger internal moves and hires.

7 – You can foster ideas and innovation through democracy

Social tools offer a level playing field to everyone within the business – everyone’s voice and content carries the same weight. For organisations who are looking to harness the power of collective intelligence to drive the development of ideas and innovation it is essential for everyone to be able to contribute and to feel comfortable in doing so. By democratising the idea development process rather than having it assigned to a certain department or job title, you’re able to foster a feeling of equality, which in turn creates the collaborative culture needed for collective intelligence.

8 – You can track trends and changes in your global marketplace

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see into the future? Well an enterprise platform is the modern day crystal ball for business as it enables you to see global shifts occurring and respond to them before you’ve felt the effect across the entire company. So if your Asia office reports a developing trend, your US office can be much more proactive in responding and adapting to this shift by having both the internal knowledge available to make informed decisions, and the time to put these plans into place to either capitalise on an opportunity or reduce a potential threat.

9 – Manage internal and external projects on a single platform

The great thing about enterprise social tools is not only can you use them to harness your internal collective intelligence and run more efficient projects, but that you can open them up to your wider community too. By opening up projects on your platform to your clients, customers and partners you can improve information flows, communication, idea generation and manage expectations in ways that you would never be able to via the phone, meetings and email alone. Why develop in isolation from your clients when running a more open project reduces the risk of miscommunication and poor quality outcomes?

10 – Leadership for the digital age

Leaders shouldn’t underestimate the importance adding social media skills to their repertoire. To really see the organisational benefits of social business platforms, senior executives need to be walking the walk as well as talking the talk when it comes to content creation, sharing and engagement. With employees becoming increasingly social savvy there is an expectation to be led by people who know how to really exploit these tools to their full advantage – I can’t stress enough how important the art of blogging is becoming for all business leaders. If you’re in any doubt, have a look at the six social media skills every leader needs from McKinsey and I regularly recommend Euan Semple’s book Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do to our senior execs who are keen to improve their understanding and skills in this area.

Don’t abuse the sacred social authorisation trust

You may have spotted this story back in October about this year’s New York Comic Con posting positive Twitter messages on behalf of people who’d authorised access to their account when activating their RFID-enabled badge.

Looking at the comments underneath you can see that opinion is mixed on whether or not people should be a little miffed that a brand has done this despite them giving the green light to do so. Personally, I am of the opinion that this is never acceptable – regardless of what users have supposedly agreed to.

Firstly, no social user I have ever met would actually expect a brand to post messages into their timeline – or to their Facebook wall, or send messages to their LinkedIn connections – on their behalf. I might expect a brand to use a pop-up to suggest a message I then physically post myself, but never to just automatically do it. Secondly, this type of behaviour spreads more fear and misinformation about social media privacy and control, making new users even more suspicious then they already are. And thirdly it destroys the trust between the brand and their community.

I know that there is huge temptation within companies to take this authorisation and run with it – ‘we want to get our positive messages out there and our community have told us we can use their accounts to do it, result!’, but it is an incredibly invasive practice.  What we as brands have to realise is that we are no longer the only ones who can spread information about ourselves, our communities can too. And we have to earn that positive response, not expect that it’s OK to spread those messages for them despite what their interaction with our social APIs tells us on the surface.


Social media advertising isn’t social media, it’s just ads

Twitter small bizA couple of weeks ago Twitter announced that advertising is now available for small and medium sized business in UK, Ireland and Canada. This move now makes social media advertising affordable for those of us with more modest marketing budgets across the Big Three (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) by using their self-serve ad platforms. Certainly more affordable than the £5k minimum spend per month per @handle which I was recently quoted by their ads team (not a great fit for a large business such as UBM which is made up of lots of individual brands which are independently budgeted for).

That aside, what’s really important to remember when we’re talking about social media advertising is that it isn’t social media, it’s just digital ads. There is no real social aspect to this marketing activity other than the fact it’s taking place on a social network, in short it’s a misnomer.

To get the most from social media you need to be social – and by that I mean that you need to engage and be engaging. It’s about those personal connections, having a conversation and doing something which resonates with your customers and wider community.

Whereas social media advertising is just another push marketing medium, it doesn’t build the relationship between the community and your brand. While it might help to grow your followers or increase your click throughs, it’s only a short term solution to the much bigger challenge of really understanding and getting to the heart of how your business can leverage the power social interactions. And promoting your tweets is not it.

The big business benefits come from social when you earn it. Take a look at this blog from Martin Zwilling in which he discusses Jim Tobin’s new book ‘Earn It. Don’t Buy It’, which really highlights the importance of engagement, engagement, engagement. And also take a look at Sarah Mason’s blog on why follower numbers are not the most important measurement of social success.

So while advertising on a social network might get you lots of lovely digital advertising metrics, which you may or may not actually be able to track back to real business benefit (does getting more followers mean we get more conversions?), just remember not to confuse it with actual social media engagement. Social media advertising is not a social media strategy, the two things are worlds apart.

Becoming a truly social business means dealing with feedback

One of the things which social channels do really well is highlight where your business is failing to provide the experience expected by your customers. And this can get quite expensive, not only because you risk losing your customers, but also because you have to hire extra people to manage and monitor all those pesky digital channels which people can complain by nowadays.  Often referred to as Twitter Tax (see this awesome blog by @jonathansalem) this is the price companies pay because of the ‘chronic mismatch between what consumers expect from brands and what they ultimately get’.

By engaging with communities on social media, you do inevitably open yourself up to all sorts of feedback – some good and some bad. But it’s important to remember that it’s not that your audience weren’t thinking about this before, it’s just you can see it now…as can the rest of your community…rather than a handful of their mates down the pub. And this means that you have to not only be open to feedback, but ready and willing to respond to it too.

None of us want to think of our customer experiences not living up to expectations, but it happens, and people are going to use social media to tell us. At Ecobuild this year respected industry blogger Su Butcher started a #nextyearecobuild hashtag to source thoughts and ideas about how to make the show better for 2014. As you can see from her blog post there were plenty of ideas and suggestions from the community which we might not have been privy to through the traditional post-show survey – Twitter is the live window into people’s thoughts and feelings there and then, rather than an emailed survey link which could get lost in busy inboxes.

In response we created an area on the Ecobuild website to house our community’s ideas for the following year. Using UserVoice as our feedback software we encouraged our social community to tell us more about what they’d like to see on site. What we really liked about the software was that the community could also vote each other’s ideas up and down, giving us an indication about what’s hot and what’s not.

By combining the social feedback with our traditional survey results, we have had a greater insight into the challenges, needs and desires of the community like never before. When we welcome everyone back to ExCeL in March 2014 we’ll not only be closely monitoring what’s being said, but encouraging more live feedback so that we can keep on improving and developing the event for all our stakeholders.