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2/6/2012
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Socialcast Brings Fast Answers To Far-Flung Nonprofit Workers

Enterprise social network enables international health agency workers to get immediate answers from peers, rather than waiting for the home office in D.C. to respond.

Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
For enterprise social networking to take hold at PSI, a world health non-profit, really says something about its power to improve working conditions.

New technology adoption is not always so easy at PSI, according to Marie-Laure Curie, deputy director of learning and performance. "Our people are so overwhelmed with email and so overworked that if something does not help do their work better or faster, they will ignore it," she said in an interview. But they didn't ignore Socialcast when PSI adopted it as a way to help far-flung field workers feel more connected to the organization, she said.

PSI's social initiative started with a 50-person pilot "and within a week we had 280 accounts created and it was snowballing, which is great," she said. "People are adopting it, and it's working. Over a year and a half, we've picked up 2,000 users, active users." The organization has about 8,000 employees, most of them native to the countries where they operate, so 2,000 "for us is a lot, considering that many of our staff may not have Internet access."

"The adoption rate went really crazy, very fast--much faster than the wiki or other online tools," Curie said.

[ Need to know the pitfalls? See 10 Enterprise Social Networking Obstacles. ]

Originally known as Population Services International, PSI started as a non-profit focused on family planning and has expanded its mission into preventing the spread of HIV as well as other global health issues, such as combating malaria. The enterprise social networking initiative is meant less for the employees at headquarters in Washington, D.C., than for all the people out in the field, Curie said. In a 2009 survey, those were the people who said they often felt disconnected from the organization.

"It's those people in Laos or the Ivory Coast that may not feel as connected, and when they have problems in the organization they have to rely on their backstoppers in D.C.," she said, but "in a time [when] things go fast, they can't always rely on email."

Although Internet access is an obstacle, enough people in enough locations can access the application that the Socialcast deployment is making a difference, Curie said. "The goal is for us to get as many people on Socialcast as possible within the organization," she said.

Just recently, she heard about a case where a staff member in Vietnam sent out an appeal for help after being pressured by a donor seeking reports she didn't know how to produce. Because of the time difference, "she was a little upset because she wants to do a good job and knows D.C. is asleep. But she posted a message and within 18 minutes she had four different answers from four different countries," Curie said.

"Someone else was asking for examples of a campaign implemented in a country and issues on procurement. Because of the time difference, having this means the person gets the response, and maybe documents he needs, much faster, which is very important for us. It also means not having to reinvent the wheel, not redoing work that has been done by others," Curie said.

This is one of the common themes in enterprise social networking success stories: Global organizations find social communications particularly useful as a way of connecting people and coordinating activities around the world.

While other prominent Socialcast customers such as SAS Institute choose to run Socialcast inside the firewall, Curie said procuring the application as a service hosted by Socialcast made the most sense for her organization. This initiative is run outside the core IT organization, as is the learning management system her organization maintains, and she handles the administration of the Socialcast system on her own.

"It's pretty much something you can learn by yourself," she said. "When we started in the beginning, we decided we would either fail fast or scale up quickly, but people seemed to actually grasp Socialcast pretty easily," Curie said. "Now the goal is for us to get as many people on Socialcast as possible."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

Social media are generating tons of data, but that data only becomes truly valuable when examined in context. Attend the virtual Enterprise 2.0 event Social Analytics: The Bridge To Business Value, and learn how social analytics will provide the bridge to unlocking business value. It happens Feb. 16.

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