How to Encourage Staff Interaction Through Social Media

Enterprise collaboration tools need to be more than document-sharing repositories. These CIOs have found ways to get their people engaged.

Scenario: Getting staff to actively participate

Jean-Claude Blaimont, VP of Information Systems for Europe and Africa, McCain Foods

McCain’s 350 IT staff perform similar or complementary functions on five continents. To take advantage of the experience we have available, we are using Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration solutions for announcements, document sharing, wikis, blogs and discussion forums. Our goal is to get all these people from different cultures and locations working as one team and benefitting from each other’s localized knowledge.

We knew that this would be a change-management challenge, but we didn’t anticipate that, while the staff has embraced the announcements and document-sharing tools, only 10 percent of our people would actively participate in the interactive forms of collaboration. From analysis, we can see that those 35 people are around the world, so buy-in is not confined to one office. It is also clear that the traffic to the blogs and discussion forums is far higher than the activity would indicate. We suspect that the hierarchy inherent in an enterprise is holding some people back from engaging, and we recognize that many people are still unfamiliar and uncomfortable with online interaction. However, we are just beginning to address those challenges and any others in play.

Advice: Provide constant encouragement

Daniel Gasparro, Executive Director and CIO, Howrey

Encouraging collaboration, especially through social media, should be viewed as a change-management effort focused on the culture of your organization. Once you’ve determined the business goal, the most basic action you can take is to lead by example and ensure that your leadership team is getting personally involved in all the avenues for interaction that you offer. Staff aren’t going to engage with even the next level up if the top leadership hasn’t shown that there are truly no penalties. And work with your HR department to build expectations for collaboration into each job description from the moment people are hired. For example, include invitations to relevant discussion communities as part of onboarding.

On the other side of the equation, you’ll also see great benefits from offering participation rewards. For the younger generations, we’ve found that rewards such as a day off for having the most widely read blog are more valuable than a gift. For longtime employees who respond better to formal recognition, I’ve had success with including goals for participation that builds institutional value in their annual reviews.

Of course, you should celebrate the 10 percent who are actively participating. Share their stories and demonstrate the value they have created, but also set up recognition for everyone who gets involved. At my last firm, we had a monthly award based on rankings by other staff, and winners were then put in line for an annual reward.

Advice: Promote Success and Personal Touches

Veresh Sita, CIO, Colliers International

When Colliers set out to create a collaborative platform, we wanted nothing short of a game-changer. We wanted this platform to become part of the lifeblood of our organization, so we couldn’t simply create and install a program and hope it got traction.

Our goal was to create a space of open collaboration, the results of which would help the company succeed. Instead of trying to push technology on everyone, we brought the pilot tools to just the teams that were already working collaboratively. When the tool amplified their productivity, we heavily promoted their accomplishments internally. Others took notice. This completely altered the dynamic—instead of a tool pushed out from corporate, we had professionals in the field asking for access, which made the process of installation, training and engagement run more smoothly.

We also recognized that so-called corporate tools can feel impersonal in a world where our Facebook and Google homepages can be easily customized, and our iPhones display only our favorite apps. So when we built the Our People tool, we also gave people a space where colleagues could ask each other about anything, from how to give an effective presentation to how to make the best pie crust. Our professionals are demonstrating what’s already in our DNA—the willingness to offer their expertise and help others solve problems.

Blaimont, Gasparro and Sita are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO's publisher. To learn more, visit


This story, "How to Encourage Staff Interaction Through Social Media" was originally published by CIO Executive Council.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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