Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

I suspect most will receive the AlertBox update anyway (Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).  But i just thought i would support the findings highlighted by their study based on the experience we have had here with our pilot.

Findings

Perhaps more than any other corporate intranet innovation, social software technologies are exposing the holes in corporate communication and collaboration — and at times filling them before the (usually slow-moving) enterprise can fully grasp (and control) the flow.

Here are some things that might surprise you about the social media initiatives we studied:

  • Underground efforts yield big results. Companies are turning a blind eye to underground social software efforts until they prove their worth, and then sanctioning them within the enterprise.
  • Frontline workers are driving the vision. Often, senior managers aren’t open to the possibilities for enterprise 2.0 innovation because they’re not actively using these tools outside of work. Indeed, many senior managers still consider such tools as something their kids do. One of the dirty secrets of enterprise 2.0 is that you don’t have to teach or convince younger workers to use these tools; they expect them and integrate them as easily into their work lives as they do in their personal lives.
  • Communities are self-policing. When left to their own devices, communities police themselves, leaving very little need for tight organizational control. And such peer-to-peer policing is often more effective than a big brother approach. Companies that we studied said abuse was rare in their communities.
  • Business need is the big driver. Although our report discusses specific tools (blogs, wikis, and such), enterprise 2.0’s power is not about tools, it’s about the communication shift that those tools enable.
  • Organizations must cede power. Using Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with customers has taught many companies that they can no longer control the message. This also rings true when using Web 2.0 tools for internal communication. Companies that once held to a command-and-control paradigm for corporate messaging are finding it hard to maintain that stance.

I think one of the biggest lesson we ahve learned so far in what is essentially a 6 month pilot is things take time to build and grow across a large organisation.

… particularly on an enterprise level. Most of the people we interviewed during our initial research said, “come back next year” if we wanted a case study of their company’s use of social features. It’s easier on the Web where the proverbial two guys in a garage can seemingly create and launch a hugely successful site in an instant. Of course, we never hear about all the people who try this and fail to get any traction. In the enterprise, it’s a bad idea to throw features at the wall “to see what sticks” because the spaghetti that fails and falls disrupts employee productivity.When you consider that successful adaptation of Enterprise 2.0 tools requires the organization to change its ways, it becomes clear why these projects don’t happen overnight. Yes, pilot implementations can go live in a matter of days, but the political and cultural changes needed for useful and widespread use take longer.

Although there’s no single answer, across our case studies, 3–5 years seems to be a common timeline for social intranet projects. This is a good time to remind you of the French general: when told that it would take a hundred years for newly planted trees to grow big, he said, “better get started now.”

BAN Internal Email

Like most people i receive hundreds of emails and most (if i’m honest) are not really for me, but i get copied in because others think i am interested.

Well i believe the answer is quite simple but radical in local government terms.

BAN INTERNAL EMAIL

Yes, ban internal email altogether for staff. Why do we do it and what purpose does it actually serve. Who really understand when to CC, or even BCC someone in and why would you actually Blind copy someone in (i admit i have done this before but wondered why i actually did it afterwards).

I would prefer to receive email only from customers or external organisations, that way i would know for sure that it was going to be at least business related (spam aside for a minute). I’d stop getting emails about lunch and copied into email conversations half way through and be expected to read the rest which scrolls for hours on end.

Well i’d like to propose that we seek to explore replacing internal email with more modern tool, which reflect the way we interact with each other and the increasing demands on knowing things “now” instead of when someone reads their email and decides to reply.

The answer (or suggestion anyway):

Internal Social Network – This would capture the conversations (formal and informal) which occur, but would be tagged by users and commented on by others who also add tags. It puts the individual in control of what content and conversations they participate in. Much more effective then the classic old school “CC”.

Instant Messenger – This would compliment the social network (depending on platform of course) with instant communication potential and presence awareness. That way i would know whether someone i need to speak to was actually available at that moment in time. This would make decisions and networking more productive coupled with a social network. I’d also use this tool to find out whether a colleague wanted to get a coffee or lunch. Much, much better than email.

Now you might ask, what am i actually doing about this. Well we are piloting an internal social networking platform, which is great and provides increased opportunity to engage wider people because i no longer have to think about “who might be interested”. The system and others users enable that to happen. The system flags to me stuff i have stated i want to be kept informed about (alerts etc) and i can see all “public” conversations and am able to contribute or comment on all of them.

I’d be very interested if anyone has actually made this move and i’d be keen to know how the staff perceived the change and more so, how internal communications has improved.

Anyway, i’ll keep on pressing and moving forward.

Enterprise Social Networks….does “social” put people off

Yesterday i attended a very interesting demo of some enterprise social networking software, the company who provided the demo is called blue kiwi. It was very slick, offered some very simple but effective functionality and works well with Sharepoint which is useful as we are going to be moving in that direction in the very near future.  BUT and i don’t like “buts”, it does create a problem for itself, by using the word “social”. I believe that there is a huge task ahead in terms of culture change to get the view that social networking is not something that was invented, it has been around since man/woman first grouped together, we are simply making it easier with technology.

(disclaimer – There are other companies who also provide these functions, if interested you could try google or wikipedia.)

I came to a conclusion that fundamentally corporate intranets should be exactly that – corporate social networks.   After all how much work gets done through social interaction, if you can provide a better, simpler and clearer mechanism to enable this to happen across a whole organisation then you (i believe) can increase productivity.

A few years ago my council created a programme document for the development of our corporate intranet, which was only taken to the first implementation phase (move into a Content Management System). It also contained some great context information about the non cash-able savings around reducing time staff spend searching for and asking questions which are common or repeat questions.

There are tools which do support this kind of function, knowledge bases, FAQ’s etc, but none of them offer or provide the social conversations that support them.  BUT this document was created only a little while after social networks were created on the wider Internet so no real attention was paid to them as offering business benefits or business functionality. There is still some debate about how social networking sites can really support business and in particular local government but for me the web has changed so much and so quickly that the wealth of information itself makes people want to share, create more and engage in conversations with people they were never able to speak to before the social web existed.

It does seem to me that social networking in a corporate environment makes so much sense that it in fact scares poeple to accept that it is a critical business tool.

I believe would could learn so much, just by dipping our toes in and piloting some tools. I believe that by connecting people in this kind of way, innovation, ideas and progress happens faster and more fluid.

I shall continue to raise awareness in this area within my council and will support any moves to pilot such approaches.  I can try and influence further by including this explicit functionality as part of a intranet strategy as well as linking to the devon online concept which enables us to start conversations with the public. That i believe will truely spark real business transformation.