TOOL Six Tips for Establishing Successful Corporate Social Networks

Corporate social networks may be the biggest communication tool since e-mail, but research suggests that the networks need human resources professionals’ involvement to flourish. Gartner Inc., a research and advisory firm, warns that more than 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail by 2012. Below, social media veterans provide tips for launching effective social networks.

Identify what you hope to accomplish: “If you just put it out there and say, ‘Hey, everybody, go socialize,’ it’s not going to be focused and tailored to your needs,” says David Eisert , associate director of emerging technologies at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “When you establish what you want this to do, you can measure it: ‘We want people talking about these things; we can measure the outcomes based on the information shared inside of that space and see how that’s impacting our day-to-day operations.’ ”

Understand where people already get information: Before you build a network, says Allan Schweyer, principal at the Center for Human Capital Innovation and author of Talent Management Systems, understand which people are your organization’s “hubs and connectors.” Figure out who people go to for information. Identify the people who are “energizing the organization because so many people rely on them for information and walk away from the conversations with them engaged and interested—versus dispirited and discouraged,” Schweyer says. “A social network analysis will give you great insight into a complex organization—the real transfer of knowledge—rather than the organizational chart of how information should flow. Get those key people to be the first heavy users of it. Because they’re such influencers, they’ll bring other people into the system.”

Foster trust and communicate social networking policies: Gartner suggests that establishing ground rules upfront will encourage more open and honest participation. “You can’t have a vibrant social network where you’re trying to get informal conversations going, knowledge transferred and connections made and police the thing to death,” Schweyer cautions. “That just doesn’t work.”

Incorporate social networking tools into the workflow: “What’s in a workflow is what gets used,” says Michael Chui, a senior fellow of the McKinsey Global Institute, where he leads research on the impact of information technologies on business. “Unless you make it part of their day-to-day way of operating to have them post something in a social network or in a wiki or something that’s actually public, it’s not likely to happen. It’s one more to-do on their list.”

Consider whether features draw users into the network: Here’s what happens when a question is posted on SabreTown, a social network established by Sabre Holdings Corp., whose technology underpins travel reservations worldwide: Its “relevance engine” analyzes all information—profiles, blog posts, comments—by each user and then e-mails the question to the 20 users deemed most likely to be able to answer it. “In multiple ways the system itself helps engaged users and helps bring users back into the system,” says Erik Johnson, general manager of Sabre Holdings’ Cubeless, the software platform behind SabreTown.

Record success stories to demonstrate the corporate social network’s value: Patricia Romeo, leader of D Street, Deloitte’s internal networking tool, says she doesn’t compute its value from a “specific-number perspective.” “You’re not going to be able to measure it in actual dollars,” says Romeo, who is also a member of Deloitte’s talent innovation group. “What you’re going to be able to do is look at and realize the change in the organization. The way we are working is going to change so drastically.”

Workforce Management Online, March 2010Register Now!