Many companies that are interested in making use of social software often run into problems. The reason: They understand social collaboration as an IT project, pure and simple. But it's more than that, and only makes sense if the majority of employees actually end up using it.
Social collaboration is revolutionizing communication within enterprises. An increasing number of firms are eager to establish themselves as "Enterprise 2.0" companies and are encouraging information sharing among their employees in wikis, blogs and internal social networks. Many of them however are tapping only a fraction of the advantages: "While 72 percent of companies use social media technology, only a few of them are actually fully exploiting the available potential," maintains a research report by consulting giant McKinsey. The market researchers at Gartner Inc. even predict that 80 percent of companies will fail to achieve their goals with respect to social collaboration in 2015. That is because these companies are placing too much emphasis on technology and not enough on internal marketing. Digital technology needs to be seen as less a tool and more a mindset – representing a growing challenge to management to grasp the strategic importance of digitalization to its business.
Anyone who wants to jump onto the social collaboration train should have more than just the ultimate destination in mind. It’s also important to know how the locomotive works. In short: You need to know not only where you want to go, but also how to get there. Many companies want to force the social turn using means that are actually counterproductive. That is because social collaboration represents a decentralized form of knowledge organization and exchange which helps dismantle hierarchies, which means that its use cannot be ordered from the top down. Anyone who wants to go "Enterprise 2.0" has to use the right tools. And be able to let go. This means not simply announcing innovation and change, but actively living it as well – and serving as a role model for others, which all too often is a major problem for company management, in particular.
A popular way of introducing improvements and innovations in companies is to simply implement technical tools: A new ERP system is introduced and the employees have to start working with it immediately. As far as social collaboration is concerned, methods like this do not deliver the desired results. Building up a social network like Yammer is simply not enough. Although the stadium has been built, there are not yet any players on the field. That’s a job for internal marketing.
All social media, from Facebook to Twitter, operate on the same principle: Whoever can win over the most people, sets the tone. Whoever has the most followers sets the trends. These people are called multipliers. Klout, an American company, measures the social media influence of a person in public networks in the Klout-Score from 0 to 100. U.S. President Obama, for example, has a Klout score of 99, singer Justin Bieber of 92. The information that is disseminated about these multipliers increases their reach. Instead of reaching just one, you reach all of the people who get their information via the multipliers.
To implement social collaboration in companies, this means: You first have to get the Barack Obamas and Justin Biebers in the company to use the new platforms. Then the other employees, who look up to these trendsetters, will follow. Consequently, it's advisable to have a test group consisting of employees with a lot of reach. Ricoh, a technology company, first began with a test group of 400 people. Eight months later, one third of the 25,000 employees worldwide had already adapted to the new channels of communication.
Even if the technical implementation of social collaboration cannot guarantee its success, it is a basic prerequisite. After all, the younger generation of employees in particular has grown up with sophisticated social-media platforms. The demands made on technology are high. Anything that doesn’t work or is too complicated won't be used – and that can lead to a bad investment that costs a lot. "Ask yourself what will help your employees the most – and choose your platform with care. A mistake can mean a major financial loss, which is why the selection phase should never be too hasty or simply based on 'tips from a friend'," advises IT consultant Christoph Bauer.
With respect to the functions, IT is dependent on Marketing and the HR department. They have to define which application options are important for the employees and find the multipliers. They also have to be able to provide conclusive arguments to prove the advantages of social collaboration for the individual user – and make sure that the technology is also adapted to user needs, as necessary.
Successful social collaboration will not be possible unless these three parties work together closely from the very beginning. In addition, companies should be sure to get the union or Works Council (i.e. labor representatives) involved at an early point in time. According to Germany's Works Constitution Act, for example, the Works Council also has the right of co-determination – and can, in the best-case scenario, also serve as a key multiplier.