It’s exciting to introduce an enterprise social network (ESN)! It’s also very common to start by planning a giant, one-time event. But enterprise social networks, while often guided by the same people leading other company-wide initiatives, are inherently different and there are many reasons why the correct sequence of events and use of language is critical. ESNs are relationship tools for your employees. Like those work relationships, employee networks can go on forever and they are central your company’s strategy with regard to its top asset: its people.
To prove value back to the business and to the employees who use it, an ESN requires the gradual steps of a crawl-stand-walk-run methodology. How else would you approach the Yellow Brick Road? The most compelling thing about any ESN is a sense of shared purpose derived from the people who are participating. People and human nature require time to build trust and create motivation. This is done by making the network an important tool that grows in value as it reaches the hands of more and more of its intended users. Gradual introductions, steps on a journey to the Emerald City are a better approach.
A Brick by Brick Approach
We’re not advocating spending years rolling out your community and collaboration program. We are, however, recommending that you take a set of measured steps that build on each other in a sequence that makes sense. Here’s an example introduction plan for a 10,000-person network:
- SAS, a business analytics software company, deployed Socialcast for their ESN to over 70% of the company in just a few months. SAS employees experienced faster access to information and better ways to be connected to key information because the ESN connected people across the globe to each other. Employees were happier to be able to help customers more quickly (and this increased customer satisfaction).
- In a second example, a Fortune 100 health and wellness company migrated their ESN platform from SharePoint to Jive over a 12-week period. Talk Social to Me helped the company to segment and prioritize its rollout. Programs were launched to teach high-touch users to migrate their own content and an embedded community manager trained, onboarded and facilitated users and ambassadors resulting in a network of 16,000 users and 375 groups.
Introducing an ESN in Waves is a Surer Road to Travel
SWOOP Analytics, a behavioral analytics company, has been mapping organizational networks for over 10 years. They caution companies against using only growth and engagement metrics in their enterprise social networks. These measures work in the early phases but do not actually quantify the value being created. In employee networks, value creation comes through collaboration, empowerment and relationships.
In a 2016 SWOOP report analyzing data from 16 Yammer communities, they compared gradual vs. all-at-once community introductions.
3 key patterns were found:
In the Classic Yammer introduction pattern above, the shift from free to paid use of Yammer was accompanied by an influx of more resources to drive engagement. After a certain point, new adoption flatlined.
- Due to recent changes at Microsoft made since the SWOOP research was published, Yammer is now bundled into other enterprise software options. However, getting users to adopt it still requires investments in community management and strategy.
In a second Yammer Hype Curve pattern (named by Gartner Group), engagement decline followed a big all-at-once introduction. Gartner calls this big decline the “Trough of Disillusionment.” SWOOP also noticed that with this method, companies had inflated expectations of growth because of the deep investment by leaders in this “big introduction.” Disillusion is a good name for what Dorothy went through each time as she and her traveling companions asked the Wizard of Oz for his help.
In the third Yammer Launch Pad pattern, the Trough continued to be present, but recovery from it was aided by new energy infused from the successive groups coming into the network. Gradual introduction brings the crests and troughs of engagement together in one place where you can create a sea of change as groups are cresting and falling all in one place. With this third pattern, Yammer awareness was stronger for a longer period in the minds of company leaders. Keep knocking on the doors to Oz.
Position Community in Perpetuity, Believe in Oz Like Dorothy
The language of how a social network is introduced needs to be nuanced. Unless you have generous, creative people who don’t mind investing time and energy into something that’s labelled an experiment, don’t call your community introduction (to just that early first group of users, right? Right.) a “pilot” or a “trial.”
Find other terms (and plan a gradual rollout to accompany these) that position your network to those first invited as an exclusive experience. Couple a community’s introduction with a very specific purpose (like shifting the work on special initiative being worked on by two teams) to infuse a sense of necessity and usefulness. Combining these elements will create positive first impressions, including a sense of good planning rather than engagement for engagement’s sake. As groups are invited in waves, observe patterns of uptake. How do groups in one part of the business respond as opposed to others? With each new group, you can iterate and better align to company culture.
- As Phillips prepared to launch their Socialcast ESN, they discovered a pre-existing ESN with more than 1,000 users. These enthusiastic early users were moved to the new solution and their direct engagement and experience, having already having used a similar solution, helped shape and nuance the rest of the company being brought into the new Socialcast site.
There’s No Place Like a Valued Enterprise Social Network
Dorothy was wearing the Ruby Slippers even as she sought help from the Wizard of Oz. She had the capability to go home at any time, but she didn’t know how to tap that power until she made the effort to see and give the Wizard what he wanted. Your social network is also a learning journey. Target the most pertinent use cases and don’t be afraid to start small. Initial wins are your tools to support the long game as your forge your path toward measuring value instead of engagement.
Rachel Medanic, a community manager for Talk Social To Me, is an online community, content and social enthusiast. She's worked with Cisco, Intuit and startup companies on their community and audience relationships. As a child, Rachel did not own any Ruby Slippers, but she does remember being fond of a pair of red Garanimals.