One of the biggest challenges that faces all internal social networking initiatives is momentum. Or rather, how to maintain it

Social media, social business, enterprise 2.0… call it what you want. We’re talking about social networking tools within organisations. Providing the means for digital conversations that can both speed up and improve decisions and actions. What’s not to like? Well… some people can come up with plenty of reasons but that’s a post for another day.

One of the biggest challenges that faces all internal social networking initiatives is momentum. Or rather, how to maintain it. There’s no secret sauce or technology you can buy for this. Time again, the old fashioned methods work best – regular communications from somebody who is passionate about using the system to do good things.

A recent article on CITE World provides a great and pragmatic example of how to do it well – How Humana got 26,000 employees to use an internal social network

Worth reading the article in full, including the approach they took in choosing the technology. But here are some titbits about how adoption grew, managed by one individual:

  • Dropped information on the desks of associates
  • Sends out weekly highlights and discussion points as a newsletter
  • Everyone who joins the network gets a welcome pack including usage guidelines
  • The community monitors the forums but he will step in and moderate if asked

The question Humana needs to ask is what happens if/when that individual leaves. Will somebody else take over and remain as focused and diligent. This sort of activity takes effort and often with little direct reward. Whilst technology can provide the capabilities for building a digital social network, it only becomes useful when people are actively engaged.

There are some great lessons mentioned in the article, such as:

…if he had one thing he could go back and do differently, it would be getting mid-level managers involved earlier… there was an early misperception that the system would be used for chit-chat and not be used for more serious business matters.

The driver behind the initiative – Jeff Ross – used evidence to help engage management, showing the percentage of conversations that were work-related versus social and number of people voluntarily participating. The closing comment clarifies the value:

People are able to have conversations across roles in a way that would never have happened before… questions are answered and problems solved more quickly than previously.

The biggest challenge that always faces internal social networks is how to maintain momentum once the initial novelty wears off. Internal networks do not exhibit all of the same behaviours of a global online social network. Peoples’ reasons and desires for participating are different, as is the amount of time and effort they are likely to be able (or want) to expend on it. Having a personality like Jeff Ross can will make all the difference.


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