Successful social collaboration efforts have common key facets

Three examples of companies that have taken different routes to implementing enterprise social collaboration demonstrate that they share similarities that might explain their success.

It's not enough to encourage employees to use enterprise social networking tools. Making it an integral part of your company's everyday culture requires planning, commitment and reinforcement. But as any organization that has found success as a result of enhanced social collaboration can attest, the benefits are worth the effort.

Increased collaboration makes good business sense, said Jacob Morgan, principal and founder of San Francisco-based Chess Media Group, a management consulting firm that advises organizations on how to use social media technology. Done effectively, enabling employees to better connect and engage with one another improves innovation and productivity while decreasing both the cost and time spent traveling, Morgan said. It also helps open up siloed business structures.

And yet, analysts say, many companies still struggle to implement social collaboration tools throughout the enterprise, while others have succeeded at embedding enterprise social networking in the corporate culture to the point where it has become an intrinsic part of regular work activities for business users.

To understand why that is, it is instructive to look at three examples of companies that have taken very different approaches to implementing an effective enterprise social media strategy. Despite that, and that they operate in diverse industries, they share several similarities that might explain why each approach resulted in collaborative success.

Unisys goes for speed of communication

Two years ago, Unisys, a worldwide provider of IT services, software and technology based in Blue Bell, Pa., realized it needed to speed communication among its nearly 23,000 employees.

"We wanted to enable employees to more quickly identify and connect with subject matter experts so they could get real-time answers at the time of need," said Gloria Burke, the company's director of collaboration strategy and governance.

As a technology service provider, Burke added, it was important that Unisys be an early adopter of an enterprise social media strategy. By being an early adopter itself, Unisys would then be able to help its clients leapfrog the learning curve when they went through the same process, she said.

With a three-year rollout plan, Unisys started an enterprise social networking implementation using Microsoft SharePoint. Once deployed, managers and rank-and-file employees began using the social collaboration platform as part of their daily activities. To date, more than 78% of the company's global workforce and 100% of its executive leadership team are active users, Burke said.

It helped that the company's new CEO was supportive of an internal collaboration program and encouraged senior managers to use it. He would tell users he had read their blogs, and that message found its way throughout the organization. Additionally, Burke said, the company built in a little friendly competition by posting metrics by business unit, organization and region for platform use, and the human resources department developed a set of knowledge and collaboration objectives and goals that could be used in performance planning.  

Telus turns outward focus inward

At Telus, a telecommunications company in Vancouver, British Columbia, the culture of interacting with customers already provided a competitive advantage, said Dan Pontefract, its senior director of learning and collaboration. The company provides its customers with multiple access points for customer-to-customer and customer-to-employee contact, including a portal so customers can follow up on unresolved service issues. "Why wouldn't we be pioneering the use of social collaboration inside the organization to connect people to people and people to content?" he said.

Though Telus wanted to connect its employees to each other, the company didn't want to be limited to using just one vendor's product.

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"We deploy technology as we see fit," Pontefract said. As a result, Telus uses a variety of tools from different vendors for activities such as microblogging, creating and sharing documents and other information on its intranet, holding virtual meetings and seminars and encouraging employees to network with one another. It added each piece to address a specific need and embedded the technologies directly into business processes, he said.

"It's not shiny-object syndrome," Pontefract said. "It's not for the vanity of having social tools. It's for real-time improvement of people's performance."

Zappos mixes work with play

Unlike Unisys and Telus, Zappos Inc., a popular online shoe and clothing retailer in Henderson, Nev., uses the same tools it employs to reach out to customers to connect its nearly 2,000 employees.

"In the Zappos culture, there's no line between work and personal life," said Graham Kahr, Zappos' social commerce manager. Employees use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to communicate inside and outside the organization. Email, Cisco's Jabber—which integrates instant messaging with other applications—and wikis enhance internal communication.

"We have a culture of service—people naturally help each other," Kahr said. "There are so many inroads for people to communicate at Zappos, it's easy for us to talk to each other."

Different routes, similar essentials

Unisys, Telus and Zappos use different methods to enable employees to communicate and work together more efficiently, yet the three companies have important similarities that Morgan indicated are essential to successful internal social networking.

  • All three already had a culture that firmly embraced sharing information and working together before any social collaboration tools were deployed.
  • They are all open, even eager, to embrace changes to their processes and work habits, and this flexibility is reflected throughout their organizations.
  • Each company identified which areas could benefit from increased collaboration and then picked software that met its specific needs.
  • They ensure that collaboration is used to enhance their work processes in demonstrable ways.
  • The companies understand that enterprise social collaboration requires a long-term commitment and a dedication to continually seek employee feedback and to monitor and measure the process and make adjustments to improve it as needed.

Taken together, the social collaboration initiatives at Unisys, Telus and Zappos offer insight into how other organizations can plan for their own forays into enterprise social networking. The fundamental similarities between the three efforts provide a blueprint, Morgan said, for the beginning stages of an enterprise social media strategy.

Pamela DeLoatch is a freelance writer who covers B2B and technology issues. She has written articles, profiles and case studies for numerous organizations.

This was first published in November 2012
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