At the height of the recession when companies were forced to do even more with less, use of social business software (SBS) started to gain momentum. The economy brought about a swell of early adopters using SBS to build internal communities and solve traditional business problems in a more contemporary way, leveraging social media metaphors developed by companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Many employees preferred to work within these dynamic community environments rather than traditional, archaic enterprise software packages; and with employee engagement and a return on investment, an internal community made business sense.
Several changes in the business landscape are converging to drive the shift toward the use of internal communities. First, the workforce shift from boomers to millennials is changing the way employees expect to communicate professionally. Their comfort with social networks personally has shifted their expectations of professional communication to social.
A distributed, mobile workforce is also driving the shift to social. It allows employees to find information—people, content or expertise—to get the job done while in the field and traveling. Along the same lines, new technology in social is allowing global companies to connect and collaborate in new ways. SBS provides an enterprise-caliber solution to harness that engagement for tangible business benefits.
A more general acceptance of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud hosting solutions is making it possible for organizations to work around traditional IT barriers with their SBS implementations.
Realizing these trends, companies are taking the time to organize internal communications strategies and develop plans that address:
- Internal communications. Companies are streamlining internal communication by creating rich, profile-driven corporate directories that enable communication across business boundaries. This includes executives to employees (top down), employees to executives (bottom up), across business units and lines of business (laterally) and across geographies. All this is improving employee engagement and productivity.
- Employee collaboration. Employees can find the resources they need by obtaining relevant context to content and experts while creating virtual spaces where they can collaborate anywhere with anyone at any time, increasing innovation and productivity.
- Institutional knowledge. Internal communities provide an easy way to capture and distribute employee knowledge by funneling it into a centralized location. The intellectual property of an organization is one of its strongest assets, and unfortunately many times that property leaves with the employee and moves on to the next organization.
- Talent and experts. Social business software helps create a more relevant employee directory that is less about name, rank and serial number, and more about sharing a professional profile. The ease of expert identification increases employee productivity.
- Disparate systems and data. SBS amplifies the investment in other systems by integrating them. Internal communities can often become a common platform-of-use that unifies multiple, disparate systems of record. Utilizing those systems more effectively means a larger return on investment.
- Digitization of processes. Organizations and their employees realize the benefit of taking a traditional process and moving it to a more virtual, socially enabled, self-service model—whether that means employee onboarding, training, competitive analysis, ideation/innovation, new-product development, sales enablement or customer communications.
ROI can't be measured if the plan is not tied to business goals. By showing that an internal community aligns with business objectives, it is easier to gain executive buy-in and sponsor support.
From there, clearly define what community members need and develop a roadmap that prioritizes SBS features and functionality based on those needs. Throughout the process, consider operational implications: Who will own and care for the community, and what are any technology implications?
Finally, aggregate key information in a single place. Select an appropriate SBS platform according to your strategy and roadmap; determine your measurement for success; and deploy an activation plan that focuses on continued engagement.
James Davidson is VP-digital and community strategy at marketing and brand management company 7Summits (www.7summitsagency.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.