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Insider Tips to Successfully Launch an Enterprise Social Network

by Guy Alvarez • April 24th, 2013 • Enterprise Social Network | Blog
Tips to launch and enterprise social network
danny.hammontree / / CC BY-NC-ND

Launching a successful Enterprise Social Network (“ESN”) is not about technology. It’s about people

Let me repeat that. Launching a successful Enterprise Social Network is not about technology. It’s about people.

As a social business consultant, I have been a part of ESN deployments at three different companies. The first one did not go great. The last two have been very successful. The biggest difference between the first and the other two is: focus. Instead of focusing on finding the best technology with the most complete feature set, the focus was on people. The way people work. What their work processes are. The culture inside the company.

In order for an ESN to be successfully adopted by employees they have to be willing to change the way they work. They have to be willing to “work out loud”. They have to be willing to share their knowledge, become transparent and adopt an attitude of collaboration and teamwork.

This is nothing new. It has been said and written before. Numerous authors, bloggers and software vendors have spoken and written about the importance of culture in order to gain adoption of enterprise software.

So what is different about this blog post? Why should you continue to read on?

You should read on because I am about to reveal seven insider tips that will help you and your company succeed in your ESN efforts. As I wrote earlier, I have done it before. Not just written about it. Not just interviewed people on what worked and what didn’t. I have actually done it. Rolled up my sleeves and spent the time and effort to do is successfully. These are not theories. These are actual tips to launch nd enterprise social network that you can take today.

  1. Executive Adoption – It all starts at the top. The single most important thing you can do to ensure success is to make sure that you have executive adoption. Notice I didn’t write executive sponsorship. Sponsorship is NOT ENOUGH. In order to be successful, your company executives must lead by example. They must drink the proverbial “kool aid” and actually use the ESN. They must be willing to change their business processes to take advantage of these new social technologies. They must “force” their direct reports to communicate and work through the ESN. Force does not mean, “you use it or you are fired”. It means changing the way they work so that employees have no other choice but to use the ESN. For example, if executives stop communicating via email internally, then employees will have no other choice than to use the ESN to find out what the executive is communicating. Executive adoption is hard. In order to accomplish it, I have spent many hours working with senior executives to try to get them to understand how social technologies can deliver real business value. I reviewed their existing business processes and suggested ways in which they could leverage social technologies to enhance their existing processes or in some instances replace them. This is a slow process and every executive is different. However once you can show them value, you have an opportunity to convert them into advocates of your ESN.
  2. Establish  and Communicate Value – At the outset, it is critical that you establish value propositions for your ESN. I have previously written about seven value propositions that I have found in using an ESN. However, don’t just copy mine. For every company is different and the value of an ESN will be different. Start out by identifying problem areas within your company. What processes are broken? Which processes could be improved? These can be as simple as reducing the amount of internal email that is generated. Or perhaps reducing the number of meetings and making those meetings more efficient. Once you have identified the gaps, then figure out how the ESN can help you solve some of those issues. Whether it’s creating more innovation or having access to internal experts, identify the solutions that the ESN is going to help you achieve. Once you do that then make sure you include your value propositions in all of your communications. Lead with value, not with functionality. Let people know how these new tools are going to make their jobs more efficient and perhaps even a little more fun.
  3. Assemble a Cross-Functional Project Team – An enterprise social network effects every single function of a company. Sales, Marketing, HR, Corporate Communications, Legal, IT, Customer Service and Operations. It is critical to assemble a project team that includes at least one individual from each function. Having representation from across your company will help you insure that every one has a voice and that each departments needs or concerns are being addressed. You will need everyone’s “buy in” and participation if you are going to ensure company wide adoption. HR and Legal are critical components in helping you craft an ESN usage policy and ensuring that everyone is properly trained. Corporate Communications and IT will play critical roles in communicating the value of the ESN and insuring that it is properly integrated into legacy systems. Wendy Arnott,  VP of Social Media and Digital Communication at TD Bank recently said at a social media conference, “every social team must embrace a move from ownership to enablement.” This means that your ESN team should lead the process but at some point their role shifts from an ownership role to an enablement role.
  4. Develop Meaningful Business Use Cases – A common mistake amongst companies launching an ESN is launching it without some business use cases in place. You can’t just launch an enterprise platform and then expect people to start using it to do work. If you do that with an ESN the best possible outcome will be that employees will use the ESN merely as a communication platform. However, an ESN is much more than that. In order to truly deliver on its full potential and value, an ESN must be used as a platform to do actual work on. Employees will not be able to say, “I don’t have time to check out the ESN” because in order to do their work, they will need to do it on the ESN. In order to achieve this, it is imperative that before you launch an ESN, you develop five to ten business use cases that can be implemented at launch or ideally prior to launch. Your ESN project team should be able to identify existing projects or new projects that can benefit from the social functionalities of an ESN. Once you have identified those projects, create a use case template to identify how the ESN will be used to enhance or improve the project. In my experience, launching these use cases prior to a company wide launch, is an extremely valuable approach in that you can use the individuals involved in the use cases as ESN champions and you can point to their success stories as best practices.
  5. Identify and Train Champions – Executive adoption is not enough. You need “feet on the streets.” ESN evangelists or champions are critical to the success of an ESN. These are the people who will help their fellow workers understand how to use the ESN and why they should use it. These people are your early adopters and group owners. In order to identify who these people are, look for the influencers in your company. They don’t have to be the most technology savvy or those that are actively engaged in social media. Instead look for the people who other employees go to when they have questions or need direction. They are usually sharers by nature and they take pride in helping people and sharing their knowledge. Once you have identified your champions, take the time to train them properly. Train them on the WHY as much as the HOW. The HOW is usually easy as most ESN platforms are not overly difficult to navigate and use. The WHY however is critical. If you expect to change people’s behavior and culture you need to give them a reason. Each person must be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Every person will have a different answer, but in order to adopt the technology they must be able to find that answer. Training people on the business value of an ESN and why an ESN is a better tool to communicate and collaborate is extremely important because it will enable people to answer that question. Insuring that champions are properly trained will help when you train the rest of your employees because the champions will be there to help and reinforce the values of the ESN.
  6. Internal Marketing Campaign – Treat the launch of your ESN as you would treat the launch of a new product or service. In this instance the customers are your employees. Take the time to come up with creative and fun ways to promote the launch of the ESN. Use video’s and email campaign to get people excited. Launch the ESN at a company meeting or happy hour. Make sure the leader of your company communicates his/her support and adoption of the ESN. Once you launch the ESN continue to market it by sending weekly tips or by sharing success stories and highlighting champions.
  7. Water the Seeds and Pull the Weeds – In the first few weeks after the launch of an ESN, you will have a lot of activity and enthusiasm. Employees will be excited to start using the new system and invariably numerous groups will be created. Then slowly people revert back into their old routines and will lose interest in the ESN. Here is where the real challenge begins. You must keep at it. You must constantly remind people of the value propositions of the ESN and measure reach and engagement to identify what is working and what isn’t. Once you have identified it, then you should highlight all the success stories and individuals who are using the ESN to deliver real business value. At the same time, you need to take time to eliminate groups that are not active or redundant. This is an ongoing process that takes time and dedication. A good community manager is critical to drive conversations and engagement and to make sure the ESN is free and clear of clutter.

The above are some of the tips to launch an enterprise social network successfully that I have used . As I mentioned, an ESN is not about technology, it is about people. Sure, selecting the right technology is important. However, the real challenge lies with changing the way people work. In order to adopt new technologies people need to recognize that these technologies will make their lives better and easier. An ESN can deliver tremendous value to any organization. Taking the time to do it right is critical in order to ensure success and get a return on your investment.

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