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But, as with any technology, social business tools can be used effectively, or they can be the productivity sinks IT and business managers feared they would be. Here are some best practices for making your employees more effective and productive on social business tools.
1. Set Clear Goals
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it's not unusual for organizations to throw a social business platform against the wall to see what functions stick, rather than roll it out in a systematic and purposeful way. Yes, there are elements of social networking that can and should be organic, but your organization's reasons for using a social business platform and its plan for implementation and use should not be.
2. Don't Isolate Social Channels
All too often, companies bring in a social business system only to relegate it to some figurative corner of the business. For a social business platform to be effective, it has to be integrated into the business. "Companies see business value from social software when they integrate it directly into their daily flow of work," said Michael Idinopulos, chief customer officer at Socialtext.
[ For related advice, see How To Encourage Off-The-Clock Social Ambassadors. ]
But this is not to say that all business processes are suitable for social. "If you want social enterprise tools to be widely adopted in your organization, move applicable business processes into the systems -- note the word 'applicable," not 'all,'" said Mike Puglia, VP of marketing at TimeTrade Systems. "For example, we've moved our internal customer request process to a Chatter Group with approvals. Everyone follows this group, and requests are now transparent to the organization. People can comment on the wall and approval for requests can be granted, as opposed to filling in and emailing a spreadsheet which had limited visibility and duplicated a majority of work."
3. Extend Social Systems To Mobile
For users to be truly productive on social business systems, they must have access to them anywhere and at any time. "The benefits of collaboration tools are amplified when they can collaborate remotely," said Catherine Brown, VP of marketing for project management software vendor Mavenlink.
4. Don't Treat Internal Social Business Platforms As "Facebook For The Enterprise"
In the early days of social business software, vendors often referred to their wares as some variation of "Facebook for the enterprise." That made sense at the time, as the description helped organizations get their heads around how and why social networking could be used for business purposes. But social business is much more than just Facebook's paradigm plunked down behind the firewall, and users should be discouraged from treating it as such.
5. Develop Guidelines With More Do's Than Don'ts
Companies that are making effective use of social business software have clear guidelines for its use, and those guidelines tell users what they should be doing on social platforms -- both internal and external -- as much as what they shouldn't be doing. In fact, many experts who have spoken with The BrainYard say that social guidelines should err on the side of positivity, encouraging participation and giving users clear direction on what they should be doing on social platforms and why.
6. Get All Hands On Deck
Speaking of participation, one of the great things about social media is that anyone can be a marketer or a salesperson, enabling organizations to multiply and magnify their messaging by tapping into staff members across departments. "Amplify your marketing and messaging," said Michael Freeman, Shoretel's senior manager of search. "Your company may have a lot of followers, but it is probably nowhere close to the size of the extended network of your employees. Having your employees tweet and retweet about important events or articles from your website can have a huge impact on driving new traffic to your website and generating leads."
7. Foster Cross-Departmental Communication
When users in different departments communicate and collaborate with each other on social channels, new opportunities are sure to arise. For example, said John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte's Center for the Edge, "cross-boundary communication and conversation will enable product development, marketing and engineering to reach clarity on product requirements earlier in the process."
8. Model Good Behavior
Company executives should be as active, if not more active, on internal social business platforms as the next guy. It's important for users to see that social is considered a key communications tool by everyone in the organization.
9. Reward Good Behavior
Let's face it: In some way, shape or form, we're all still after the stickers our teachers put on our best work. Many social platforms have reward systems built in, recognizing participation with badges and other virtual perks. How, when, why and with what you reward users will depend on your company culture and the level of people involved, but it's important to identify models and to demonstrate (for all to see) that involvement is valued.
10. Measure And Communicate Success
Along those same lines, it's important to develop and communicate metrics for success. What matters will differ depending on your organization's size, industry, products, current goals for social and so on, but to be truly effective and productive, users need to know what the end goals are.
How are you making users more effective and productive through the use of social business tools? Please let us know in the comments section below.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.
Companies must build more social networking bridges to customers, suppliers and partners -- not just among internal users. Also in the new, all-digital Get (Truly) Social issue of InformationWeek: Instead of worrying about overseas hackers, worry about the sorry state of your information security defenses. (Free with registration.)