by Eric Berridge

Going social: IT’s gauntlet in the global era

Jun 26, 20125 mins
IT Leadership

By now most companies are contemplating some kind of initiative to leverage social media within the enterprise — whether to connect employees to each other, to customers or both. The challenge of rolling out such a program to connect a global company provides plenty to consider. In some ways, it’s like raising teenagers. You know you have to give them more freedom, but how much? How do you guide their actions to a productive, positive conclusion without stifling their initiative?

Technology platforms are readily available — the real trick is getting people engaged and moving in a way that produces desired results. For the global company, often the first and perhaps biggest challenge is simply getting people talking to each other. Remember, people don’t just spontaneously cross departmental, cultural and geographical lines and freely communicate — you’ve got to make it happen. Here are a few tips for designing and implementing a social collaboration program that will move your organization forward.

Tip #1: Know thy team. Shakespeare’s oft-quoted line from Hamlet “…to thine own self be true” implies that one have a thorough self-knowledge before pursuing a course of action. This aphorism holds doubly true in the world of social media, where a platform is likely to become an abandoned amusement park (a la MySpace) if not finely tuned to the preferences of your people. If an enterprise social collaboration program is focused on anything but the people using it, it will flounder.

You’ve most likely got people in your organization and customer base who hail from India to Indiana, and all points in between. To further complicate things, you’ve probably got four generations working for you, ranging from people who learned math on an abacus to those who have “Googled” their entire lives. Factor in the various cultures represented by your workforce, and all these things come into play when it comes to social media engagement. It’s a lot to take in, but you can start by baselining your talent to gauge:

  • How active they are on the major social networks
  • How they feel about building their personal brand via the social web
  • What’s holding them back from being more engaged (or engaged at all) in social media

Once you’ve got a grasp on these fundamentals, you’ll have a solid footing to begin implementing a platform/program that leverages social media to engage your employees with your global customer base, and with each other.

Tip #2:  Use “enlightened self-interest.” Many companies are beginning to understand the payoff of a successful social media program — improved customer care, collaboration, innovation, brand-building, solving business problems faster, etc. The problem is employees don’t necessarily understand what’s in it for them. Even if 100 percent of your workforce is using Facebook and Twitter incessantly, they may not see any benefit in using these tools in the professional realm, especially on behalf of their company.

Motivating people to get socially engaged is different from other types of workplace motivation in that it has to be entirely positive. Management may get away with cajoling employees into certain activities, but you for sure don’t want them amplifying their thoughts via social media with a bad attitude.

Instead, you’ve got to show them what’s in it for them by leveraging the principle of “enlightened self-interest.” This philosophy, popularized by Adam Smith and leveraged during the framing of the U.S. government, holds that individuals seeking to improve their own station in life make better citizens and a better society. In the social media realm, if your top people are establishing themselves as subject experts online, this may equally benefit them as individuals and the company as a whole. With that in mind, be sure to reinforce the personal value of things that also serve the needs the organization, such as:

  • Relationship building
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Visibility within the organization

Note: some naysayers will say that all this increased visibility just makes them prey for headhunters. Nonsense — they’re all on LinkedIn anyway, in full view of headhunters. Your only bet is to make sure they don’t want to leave. To revisit the teenager analogy, it’s kind of like telling your kids they can’t listen to any popular music — they’ll do it anyway.

Tip #3: Leverage plain old self-interest. If you were reading Tip #2 and thinking that it just won’t work for many of your people, you’re probably right. Like teenagers, not everyone is motivated by long-term payoffs, much less the greater good. If being hailed as an industry expert holds no allure you may have to resort to instant gratification — and what could be more instantly gratifying than scoring points in a game? For many organizations, gamifying social media engagement may prove a very effective tactic as it can inspire to action even those who otherwise might have zero interest in participating.  

Companies are using game mechanics to boost performance in all kinds of functions, particularly sales, and the same principles can be applied to social media participation. For example, you can offer incentives for reposting your company’s content, and even greater incentives if that content sparks a lively online discussion.

Stay tuned, as we’ll shortly be discussing how to build an engaging, gamified user experience around a social enterprise rollout. More importantly, we’ll see what our friend Tron — a program of action and few words — has to say about driving adoption in such an initiative.