5 Rules for Selecting the Right Enterprise Social Network Technology

If you’re leading your company’s efforts to select the right enterprise social network (ESN) technology for your company, you may have taken note that the market for enterprise collaboration by 2023 will be a hefty $59b. A growing number of companies are updating their enterprise social networks to streamline costs, use platforms that incorporate in instant messaging and that integrate well with existing document collaboration investments. Your search should not just be for the best technology, but also one that fits your company culture. Enterprise social network vendors are amping up the pace of innovation to meet this growing portfolio of need.  

  • There is deep competition to see which tool most effectively bridges the gap between employee communication and actionable work.
  • How to you separate signal from the noise when evaluating each?
  • The potential for distraction is very high.

So how do you as an IT leader or business partner to Human Resources or other parts of the business navigate concerns such as conflicting internal priorities, shadow IT and more? It’s not easy but…resist temptations for the newest, flashiest features (aka artificial intelligence)—unless they make absolute sense for your business needs. Put your business use cases front and center to direct your tool of choice—the bots and Artificial intelligence can come later. Be real: it’s unlikely that any one tool will solve every use case at your company. Design an ecosystem of tools that support your people, your processes and company culture. Use these ideas to guide your company’s search for the right enterprise social networking mix and keep business-value and employee experience at the heart of what you do.

Tip 1:  Bring partners to the enterprise social network selection process

Finding the right technology is a team effort. HR and/or Internal Communications can lead the selection initiative, but IT should also be an active partner with every step to make sure each option complies with business-relevant technical and security standards.

It’s also very common to see these projects happening without user input. Your employees are not just your internal customers, they are your best advisors. A Softchoice study found that among 1,000 IT Managers and line-of-business employees, 77% say their organizations do not consult them in the process of choosing an office communications tool. Recruit a team of employee advisors to work with you! They are in the best position to help reconcile specific business objectives and day-to-day workflows with what the tools can do. Successful Talk Social to Me customers engage their employees in gathering candid feedback on what’s working and what’s not with existing solutions. Employees you involve in the process will also be natural champions and spokespeople when it is time to introduce the new tool to the rest of your company.

Tip 2:  Match the enterprise social network technology to your people and needs

Alcatel-Lucent’s head of digital marketing stresses that modern day companies are not homogeneous entities. How people work and their personal preferences (thanks to our app and technology-obsessed consumer lives) vary. Find common themes among your users to guide the selection process. A streamlined tools ecosystem that exists under the purview of IT offers one, or at most two, tool(s) to address similar use cases. Plan on outliers and unique situations (legal or financial areas are common) in certain parts of the company and incorporate those into your ecosystem.  Most businesses have functionally mandated or industry specific processes.

When you define your enterprise social network needs, identify where the intended impacts of collaboration will be felt and who they will impact.

  • How do the tools’ capabilities create efficiency gains that are perceivable to your customers—outside the business (for example, as better customer experience)?
  • Create specific goals with a longer tail of impact. In a study by Stanford companies were questioned why they were investing in collaboration technology. Cited reasons included rationales like: ‘Other companies are, so we should too,’ and ‘That’s what you have to do if you want to attract young talent.’
  • Many companies define their goal as: “to increase employee engagement.” Have a vision for what you want because of that engagement, it’s essential to winning employee “buy-in.
  • Without a solid “why” and a “what’s in it” for employees, you’ll lose the battle for mindshare and behavior change.
  • Clear, business-aligned goals will make your new enterprise social network tool an essential component of the “how” to reach your goals.

Tip 3:  Take stock of existing relationships

Look at your company’s existing IT investments. What vendor relationships have been successful? Which tools are already widely used? Vendor relationships and trust take time to develop—so look where the company has already invested. There are many exciting enterprise social network offerings coming from companies such as AtlassianMicrosoft and Facebook. When you compare the tools, you’ll find much of the functionality offered across vendors is almost identical.  Look at which tools are already in use.

We’ve also observed a dark side of relationships that sometimes affect enterprise social network vendor choices:  personal relationships. Sometimes personal relationships and favors are used to skirt formal and thorough vendor vetting efforts. Having worked with colleagues in other companies is good, but personal relationships should not be driving or forcing (especially if relationships exist at the executive leader level) a vendor selection. When this happens, it adds to the natural disconnect that executives face every day as leaders of big and/or growing companies. Enterprise social networks are in and of themselves tools to support employee-led ideas and innovation. Top-down executive mandates belong in the realm of cost management, not in tool selection.

Tip 4:  Employees will be the heart of your enterprise social network:  create an employee advisory committee

When you recruit your enterprise social network employee advisors, reach out and invite people from across the business. This diversity of users will represent a broader sampling of the company. In recruiting advisors, consider tenure. Workers hired in the past 6 months will draw from both their early experiences at your company and their more recent experiences at other companies. Employees who’ve been with your company 2+ years will have a more historical perspective on what’s best for your company. Employees who are given a voice in the decision will feel valued and recognized when invited to contribute. Target your advisors wisely. Anyone vocal about existing tools or the problems can be worthy candidates. Someone who has a lot of feedback (be it positive or negative) clearly cares enough to express it vs. apathy or worse.  

Tip 5:  Embrace Mobile

It’s hard these days to choose an enterprise social network technology without planning for heavy mobile use. The quest for efficiency and productivity is indeed king and so…we are on our phones—even right in front of our computers. Learn what apps employees use and how they may have taken matters into their own hands when adopting social technology to speed communications or skirt processes. In the end, we’re most often trying to eliminate friction and tool switching can be an onerous source in and average workday. Were your users solving for the needs of a unique workflow circumstances? Were they fed up with the long RFP process IT imposed on them? Understand what motivated the actions and take steps toward improvement, depending on what you find.

It really is about understanding & navigating people. Really.

The software makers and experts would have you believe tools and features can solve for everything, but the stark reality is that the failure rate for enterprise social networks is high. Businesses often don’t make the program investments needed to mitigate the real adoption wildcard:  people. Involve employees in different levels of the tool selection and rollout process. Plan on investing in strategic programming for the long term. Employees that participate in any of the above ways (being in the advisory group, being invited to share feedback and/or why they use outside services) will be natural ambassadors post-launch. With creative programming and team support, employees will have had a hand in creating a thriving enterprise social network that’s good for the business and its people.