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Building a business case for enterprise social collaboration

As with any technology deployment, enterprise social collaboration initiatives are likely to fall flat if they're not tied to a critical business problem.

Social media has forever altered the way we share information in our personal lives, creating global communities...

of knowledge, allowing for real-time communication with people we've never met and giving cats around the world their 15 minutes of fame.

And now, social media communication has permeated business, with enterprise social collaboration technology -- but how can companies make smart investments in social that boost productivity or yield ROI?

According to Susan Hanley, enterprise collaboration expert and president of Susan Hanley LLC, organizations should approach social like any other technology deployment -- despite the hype around tools such as Microsoft's Yammer.

Hanley spoke at SPTechCon 2014 in Boston, where she sat down with SearchContentManagement to discuss her strategies for solving business problems with social.

How have social networking tools presented new challenges for organizations?

Susan Hanley: It seems like all you hear about in all the buzz is social. Organizations often say, 'We're not doing that -- there must be something wrong with us.'

Not every organization is ready to immediately embrace new technologies. You might have dinosaurs that work in your company who are resistant. And 'dinosaur' [doesn't denote] an age; it's a state of mind. Just because you don't have a bunch of millennials working for your company does not mean that social is going to fail.

Susan HanleySusan Hanley

So how can companies get social to work?

Hanley: The important thing is to approach social like you approach any technology deployment. You need to have a business problem to solve.

The introduction of email created a new way of connecting. Initially, a lot of people weren't engaged in it, but when the business use cases became obvious, all of a sudden email exploded. It was tied to a business problem: How do you connect quickly with someone when you can't have a real-time conversation?

We need to take that same approach [to social], especially [with] traditional organizations. Find the business use cases where social can have an impact and work backward.

Look at the key strategic initiatives that your organization is already working on this year. Focus on tying your social use case to something that the organization already cares about.

What are examples of problems that social can be particularly good at solving?

Hanley: One of the things sales managers will complain about is the ramp-up time for new people, the learning curve. Having access to prior conversations is a benefit of the social tool, as opposed to email. With email, if you weren't on the message, you have no clue about the history. In the social community, you can go and look at what questions have been asked and answered.

In the engineering department, people all over the company might be working on similar problems. But when I encounter a problem, perhaps my traditional network can't answer my question. If you post it to a community of people who have already self-identified as interested in that topic, the time to get your answer will be much shorter.

You really want to look for these critical moments of engagement where social can add value.

Once you find those use cases, how do you drive the adoption of social technology?

Hanley: Engaging some 'friends' can help you drive adoption. One important group of friends is your leadership team. You want the leaders to be engaged and to model behavior. It doesn't have to be 100% of them, but a few influential leaders who are impacted by the business problem or use case you are trying to solve.

You also want to look for champions, or evangelists, throughout the business. There will always be people who get it. You want to have a cross-functional group of early adopters so you have people positioned in different parts of the organization who can help engage and coach their colleagues.

How do you keep the momentum going after initial social collaboration successes?

Hanley: One important technique is to celebrate small wins. That's often how we engage the second-wave adopters. We look for successes, they see the successes, and then the light bulb goes off. You can gain a lot of momentum when someone says, 'I want that same success that they're having.'

You need someone keeping track of these stories. That's what your evangelists can do: collect the small wins and success stories and help document what the value was.

Another good approach to keep the momentum going is to welcome and celebrate new participants. When a new person joins a community, it's a good idea to welcome them and maybe give them a link to the hot conversations in the community or like their first post. Evangelists -- or moderators -- can have a critical role here, in generating a sense of community in these social networks.

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