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Regifting Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)

Robin O'SullivanRobin O'Sullivan·
David Grossman Survey

Regifting ESNs with a little help from Seinfeld.

Every Christmas my niece and I partake in our annual tradition of buying each other useless, pointless gifts. My particular favorites, that I have received, were the framed picture of the Bebb (he rocks), closely followed by a supply of gerbil feed, which is just what a non gerbil owner would like for Christmas.

I was reminded of this tradition when reading the Gatehouse State of the Sector Survey and its section on ESNs. The numbers from the survey were not a ringing endorsement of ESNs from our IC community. At a broad level, only 43% of respondents who introduced social channels consider their adoption rate at either good or excellent, with 52% responding that they struggle to demonstrate their value to the organization. Not great indicators for ESNs.

Add in a sprinkle of confusion around Microsoft’s Teams Vs Yammer roadmap (serenity now Microsoft, serenity now), a dash of wait and see around Facebook’s Workplace and a pinch of excitement about what Slack might bring to the party (Hello Slack, we’ve been expecting you) and the overall ESN outlook seems to be a bit cloudy, a view supported by the Survey when it reports that the shift toward social channels has been much slower than previously predicted.

But what really struck me was the way the ESNs appear to have been launched in the organizations – poorly. The survey reported that there was a lack of clear purpose for ESNs, and in many organizations the ESN had been launched not by IC but by IT with no clarity of purpose around how they would fit into existing channel strategies, how they should be used, what success looks like etc. So it sounds like a lot of IC functions were not initially masters of this particular domain.

The time has come to regift the ESNs to the organization and its employees. I can hear some groans in the back, but as Thomas Edison said “Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”.

And this is an opportunity, make no mistake about it. Imagine taking an under performing ESN, and transforming it into a critical channel in your IC strategy, a vital cog in the IC support of the organization’s overall strategic goals. This would be a pretty big deal for an IC department in terms of credibility within and impact on the organization.

And it isn’t that much of a creative leap to start using your ESNs in a way that benefits the whole company, increases adoption and sticks to that jerk in IT who botched the initial launch anyway. Thanks for nothing Kevin.

We’ve all heard the myriad approaches and strategies around launching an ESN, so for now enough with the focus groups, the pilot groups, the roll-out plan yada yada yada. Once an ESN is rolled out, where is the light at the end of the tunnel, where is the glass of refreshing water after eating pretzels?

It’s in ESN adoption and engagement among employees. It’s in seeing genuine cross functional communication, it’s in seeing relationships being built, unencumbered by geographical or functional restrictions, it’s in employees discussing work, company and personal issues, it’s in more efficient internal processes, it’s in disseminating information far and wide in the organization, it’s in employees feeling like they have a forum to ask questions that will be answered. And at one level, it’s pretty intangible in a lot of ways, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  At another level, you can point to real business results and benefits accruing for an effective ESN, all of which are real, some of which can be spectacular.

For example, Virgin Trains management wanted more dynamic interaction with their employees, the type of conversational relationship that wasn’t facilitated by their Intranet site. The solution they went with was Yammer, and it ended up being such a success that they took a really radical step binned their Intranet entirely, a significant shrinkage of their overall spend.

AIA insurance use Yammer in a really innovative way,  building a community of experts accessible by everyone. Instead of emailing one question to one employee, the question is posted on Yammer, and a senior resource answers the question. But the beauty here is that this answer is available to everyone. This approach has saved time, facilitated conversation, knowledge sharing and instead of relying on one person in the organization to answer a question, several resources can weigh in on a question, crowdsourcing the answer and fostering collaboration.

Examples abound, a Leadership group Q&A in which senior leaders answer questions directly from employees, a helpdesk system, specific groups from strategic corporate efforts, the list goes on. The organizations that get it right with their ESNs are evangelical about their success because they see the promise of ESN’s realized. And because they are evangelical about it, we can all learn from them and as communicators move from pushing content via email and Intranet to having a two way relationship with employees where communicators and the organization listens to what their employees are saying and the organizational operates in a truly collaborative way.  Click here for a detailed Centrica (whom MS named as having the most engaged Yammer network in the world) case study.

These examples show us that while IC may have received the ESN as an unwanted gift,  instead of airing this as a grievance at Festivus time, the chance is there to take it as an opportunity and regift. Make YOUR unwanted, unloved ESN Spongeworthy.

Now back to shopping for my niece next Christmas.  Currently favorite for the job is the  square boiled egg maker.


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