Employee Social Networks

8 Questions to Ask Before Your Enterprise Social Network Launch

You’ve heard enterprise social networks are a great way to increase employee engagement at your company. The idea of interacting with employees socially sounds exciting. But you’re not sure where to start, or how much commitment is needed. Launching an employee community can’t be that hard, right?

Think of launching an enterprise social network as adding a new family member. It’s permanent and requires an investment of time and energy that doesn’t ever stop. This time and energy may change, but the investments needed are permanent. Everyone needs to contribute to make it successful — even your C-level leaders.

Enterprise social networks create great results when employees are given adequate time to grow into new ways of communicating and working. Great results also come from leaders who engage and inspire others to shift their work toward the community. Employee communities aren’t a campaign, they don’t have an end date, and they don’t stop when one business goal is achieved. They are a channel to any company’s most critical asset: its people. These questions will help you evaluate whether you have the right level of commitment in place to realize success — for the long term.

“Employee communities aren’t a campaign, they don’t have an end date, and they don’t stop when one business goal is achieved.”

#1 Why should your employees use and then continue using the community?

Value and purpose have to be quickly evident for your community to earn its way into the fabric of employees’ working lives. If your answer is something like “to increase our employees’ engagement,” you may have more work to do. Engagement about what? To what end? People are another great reason employees will come back to the community — make sure your company’s leaders are present and participating. This is how you “reach critical mass” and activate interest so employees don’t feel like they have missed something. People go where they see others and they’ll copy what they see others doing. We help all our customers train, orient and empower their “example setters” — we call them Champions and recommend 4 steps you can take to empower them.

#2 Have you asked the intended users how they’d use an enterprise social network?

Has your community team invited feedback and guidance from your workforce? Is your community introduction plan aligned with your highest priority use cases and actual problems that your workers are facing? Does your choice of community platform resonate with the cultural reality of how your company operates? We’ve done a great deal of work with companies dealing with mixed workforces. Workforce mix is only going to get more complex as the power of mobile grows more prevalent than the world of desktop workers.

#3 Do you plan to listen by commenting, replying and reacting?

Interactive communication is not a new concept, but many companies are still dominated by broadly addressed emails to the entire company or a division. Rarely is it kosher to reply. Enterprise social networks can be very different, depending on the technology chosen. Teams are often under-prepared to handle just how much social interaction there is. How will your team listen and learn? Employee communities are a listening tool, after all. How and who on your team will be accountable when suddenly employees leave replies or comments on executive communication? A community manager to monitor, resolve issues, reinforce community mission and help coach your Champions is good to have, but it is not productive to expect that person to work alone. They need the support of Champions throughout the business and among managerial ranks.

#4 Are you sure you aren’t duplicating your organizational silos in your social network?

How will you know if your community is simply a digital recreation of all your organizational silos- now available online? This is a big deal. We see and coach all extremes, all philosophies put into action. Some companies want over-architected spaces and too much control over the places people can interact. Others want too little structure (they are embracing the spirit of social after all), but don’t know how to prepare for and prevent overload. The key is deeply knowing how your community technology will impact users. Smart architecture, a flexible mindset, and technology that can help you adapt the environment to what suits your workers best is critical. Your community structure is something employee interactions will flow through, but the reality is sometimes you can’t anticipate all the ways employees will embrace social.

#5 How much time will you spend each week in the enterprise social network?

This one’s for you, Director-level and above sponsors, out there! If you approved the community budget, this is a question you should answer for your team: How much time will you spend in the new community? Remember your position of power can help ideas come to life…fast. Use that power! An employee community needs both critical mass (a significant portion of your workforce participating) but also influential mass — that means you. You can’t “fund it and go.” You have to be there too. According to our launch partner SWOOP Analytics, your participation can make all the difference — like it did for Syngenta in this case study.

#6 When and how will you offer training?

Many tools out there these days are easy to engage and use. Companies think they can skip the training investment. You cannot. In fact, 70% of employees believe training could help them become more focused on the job and better at managing their time, but 66% have never asked their managers for such training. Your workers are most likely coming to the new network with different backgrounds, levels of experience and maybe some preconceived notions. Offer training that helps them use the enterprise social network relative to their job responsibilities. For frontline workers, offer training during pre-shift huddles. Based on the technology and architecture you choose, teach them how their actions contribute to positive community health and consistent architecture. Actions like using hashtags, posting and participating in the right social spaces, and understanding what audiences they are and aren’t reaching are critical.

#7 How will you make your content compelling enough to draw in users voluntarily?

Many of our clients don’t want to pressure workers to be part of the community. (Or they can’t – because in some cases it can’t be mandatory.) But in order to make the effort successful, you also have to reach critical mass. Even though it is an employee community, it’s still better to give your workers the experience of choosing to join the enterprise social network rather than requiring them to join. Offering compelling content that draws users in voluntarily is a hard thing to do. Put something in your community that they can’t live without and make the community the only place they can get that information. You will have to do this gradually. Find ways to give those who are hesitating the experience of helping make the community valuable to others.

#8 What process or communication (or both) will your enterprise social network shift…and gradually, replace?

When was the last time your company introduced something new that was permanent? How did it go? What systems or tools did you actually retire to make sure using the old way was truly over? Have you applied the lessons from those experiences to your launch plans? Here’s a big hint: Champions. All companies and organizations need advocates to verbally and behaviorally remind and tell stories of success — they need to embody the “why make this change” story. Participating managers and leaders also help to cement the change to get everyone investing time and energy — permanently.

As the person responsible for caring for new family members in your community, we hope these questions will get you thinking, planning and re-jiggering before you get too far down the launch path. Yes, it’s exciting, but the investment of work pays off gradually. Change takes time. Plan on it, and measure its benefits for the long term.

MORE: Why Language is Critical in Your Enterprise Social Network Rollout

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