If Microsoft is going to tell large global enterprises how to roll out a social networking platform, the folks in Redmond sure as heck better do it themselves.
So in the company's tradition of "eating your own dog food" (using your own products in-house), Microsoft has been using SharePoint 2010: MySites for individual profile pages and teamsites for product groups spread out around the world to share documents and collaborate.
Microsoft has also built various internal Web sites on SharePoint, such as a You Tube-like site for posting podcasts and videos (called "Academy Mobile" inside the company).
CEO Steve Ballmer has been known to shoot a video segment from his desk about how the company is doing and post it to Academy Mobile. The same goes for CIO Tony Scott's "fireside chat" videos enlightening salespeople on the needs of today's CIOs.
During the past two years, the number of Microsoft employees uploading content to the Academy Mobile site has more than quadrupled and the percentage of employees viewing podcasts on the site has gone from 10 percent to 50 percent.
Microsoft's experience building a social networking critical mass within the company has put it in a sharing mood. And at the Enterprise 2.0 conference this week in Boston, Christian Finn, Microsoft's Director for Collaboration and Enterprise Social Computing, shared advice for IT managers on how to roll out SharePoint sites make employees more productive, how to prove cost-savings to executives and how to get execs blogging (and maybe even podcasting like Steve B.).
Here are Finn's seven truths Microsoft has discovered about becoming a socially connected enterprise:
It's the User's Solution, Not Yours
Social networking is a democratic process, and you need to get feedback from users before deploying. Within Microsoft, the first feedback from employees was that they did not want the social networking platform to be VPN-based. They needed to have access to it without having to go through the corporate network. So Microsoft IT integrated its SharePoint sites with Windows Directory Services and placed some of them outside the firewall.
Employees also wanted to be able to flag for inappropriate content, so that feature was added.
Any social network should be rolled out in steps, says Finn, and companies should frequently get user feedback and adjust accordingly. Do not implement a whole platform upfront before you know what users want and need.
Solve a Problem, Don't Deploy a Technology
Instead of implementing a YouTube-like site for your company just because everyone else is doing it, pinpoint what business problem these tools could solve, such as helping a global workforce share more information faster through podcasting.
"Then the users themselves start to see the value of connecting with employees easier and having an immersive experience," says Finn. "You get the users' attention, and it builds."
Tackle Distributed Knowledge Problems First
Social networking can help in places where knowledge is unevenly distributed within your company. This is likely a geography problem, says Finn, where people in corporate headquarters have information, but the employees who need it are distributed around the world and don't know who to contact.
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and previews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]
A social networking platform can also help people in the field who come up with a great idea and need a way to broadcast it to others.
Market the Need, Not the Consumer Phenomenon
Be careful how you pitch a social networking platform to the higher-ups. Calling something "A Facebook or YouTube for the Enterprise" can have a negative connotation, because of privacy issues or the reputation those sites have as time wasters.
You want to use the consumer technologies of Facebook or YouTube, says Finn, but avoid advertising it that way if you have an older, skeptical executives.
Create a Distinct Identity
Give your social site its own name and design, so it looks different from the rest of your intranet. The aim: get users excited about something that's unique and not just another SharePoint site.
Some examples: Microsoft's Academy Mobile podcasting site and (Microsoft customer) British TeleCom's social networking site called "Dare to Share." Both have catchy names and distinctive designs, which Finn says can "create positive word-of-mouth buzz."
Another advantage of creating a distinct identity, he adds, is that it "doesn't appear as if 'The Man' is mandating all the content."
Start Small, Grow Quickly
Do not base a social networking roll-out on the notion of "Build it and they will come," says Finn. Even the most amazing social sites will fall on deaf ears if they don't solve business problems, he says.
Instead, find groups of people — be it developers, designers or salespeople — and start small by creating online communities for them based on common interests and goals.
"If you create all these new communities and too many people aren't part of those communities, they will ask: 'Why do i need this'?" says Finn.
Cultivate Participation of All Kinds
Allowing users to blog and podcast is no good unless other users can rate, tag and comment on the content, Finn says.
"A video site without comments and ratings is like a ghost town," says Finn. "You want a site to feel like a living place with lots of people present."
Also, you want to get C-level executives participating in social media to build trust and integrity.
"You might not start with the execs," says Finn. "Within Microsoft, social networking had value because it benefited one user peer-to-peer to another user, but once our podcasting network got larger, people like Ballmer and [CIO] Tony Scott realized that's a good way to reach people."