Social's Enterprise Value: Lessons From Random House

In an essay from newly published <em>The Collaborative Organization</em>, Chris Hart of Random House talks about how companies can translate social technologies into value for their organizations.

Jacob Morgan, Contributor

July 6, 2012

7 Min Read

But a problem is that people don't work in the same way they socialize. Having the same consumer social tools with the same content doesn't work. The workplace is not open and free. Work has elements of individual and team competition, security, stealth projects, and poor managers, all of which should be avoided. Offering another Facebook at work doesn't sound like a value proposition, especially if you just add that and keep doing all your other work; it's just more to do. If email doesn't change, no meetings get canceled, and no one gets back more value than they put in, it will fail. Generally, people use a tool only when they get more out of it than they put in. And that requires a sense of trust that others will participate. So getting started is hard. The first posts look lonely, but once the network effect kicks in and people see other people they know using the tool, it moves quickly. Activity has gravity and energy, and it pulls people in. You can add to that energy with smart system automation and targeted participation choices.

How do we go from a reluctant internal Facebook to a rich and open knowledge management system? The move to a corporate accelerator requires thinking of your E2.0 solution as part of your systems architecture. E2.0 can be the glue between systems and people. In the corporate framework, you want people reacting to real-time data and you want them to share and learn from their reactions. A data-driven company needs to move beyond reports and dashboards and into actionable granular system alerts that do not require interpretation and are small enough in scope to complete today.

Think of your applications and systems as really smart people to follow, people who can post/tweet conditions that are based on real-time analytics, complex and deep dives into data that require multiple reports and complex interpretation. The simple statement, "At the current rate of movement, three stores are out of stock of XYZ in one week, and the distribution center has no stock," can be posted and followed by any number of people: sales, manufacturing, management, warehousing, etc. That is actionable data that can be discussed, commented on, liked, shared, forwarded, and resolved within that E2.0 tool. The resolution is there for future people to review. And the resolution can be understood and coded so that next time the systems can resolve the issue further, and soon the systems post can state: "More XYZ stock has been ordered from manufacturing to a low stock/inventory position." Automating parts of the business that are repetitive and focusing on analytical exceptions can be the goal of the E2.0 system. All of that system messaging and social messaging can happen within the structure of an enterprise collaboration tool.

The real push to change team behaviors needs to come from multiple areas at once: the project managers, HR, IT, sales, and business leaders in general. If project communications are done in a collaboration tool, status and milestones are shared. Projects don't disappear into spreadsheets on shared drives, timelines aren't frozen into Gantt chart wallpaper, and redundant efforts are quickly highlighted. Getting project managers into Enterprise 2.0 tools opens projects to review and scrutiny. Projects should be seen and heard by everyone interested at all times.

If business leaders participate, especially senior management, the conversation suddenly becomes electric. If people worry about social media in the enterprise going off the corporate rails, nothing keeps it on track like management participation. Knowing that threads and conversations are being viewed by different levels of management creates a new way for staff to be noticed. Reputation management is built into most packages, so the people who have gravity, who have the most "liked" comments, become pundits for their departments. The inherent meritocracy of social networking makes people who post and participate in a meaningful fashion get noticed in the workplace or the world.

Why not use email? As Bill French said, "Email is where knowledge goes to die." Email can't offer be as flexible and open for obvious reasons. You can't search and retrieve from someone else's email, you don't want to administer hundreds of mailing lists for every business issue, and you don't want interested people not to find something because it is trapped in email. Forget sending more reports, because most reports require interpretation and five other reports to be meaningful. And computers are better at bumping data, defining conditions, and controlling standards than is an overworked staff. Just look at how many reports your company has. How many reports does it take to make a decision? How many people know all those interactions? What if everyone who could get value from an event, know about it, and react to it, and it could all be captured and tracked and searched?

Search becomes a huge benefit for a social network internally. If you can include your document repositories, enterprise software systems, intranets, and social network in a search engine, you've just created knowledge management lite. You will be able to move quickly and find what you need in people, documents, or databases. What could be better?

Remember to keep the basic 1/10/100 rule in mind for your enterprise social networking project. It is easy to be frustrated that there are hundreds of users logging in, but few posts. In general, one person posts, 10 people like or comment, and 100 read the post. If you keep in mind that formula, the value of the network you're creating is easier to judge. Many site managers see comments and likes as being as important as the initial posts because that shows the engagement, which is crucial to success.

As your enterprise social environment grows, dedicated staff might be needed--the same type of staff that handles intranet communications and corporate bulletin boards. The difference is that the ease of use of these Facebook-style interfaces requires no training, and most of your younger users will easily slip into posting work status. Imagine being out of the office for a day but being able to catch up on business status, projects, problems, and the like, with the same tools you use to catch up with friends. It's the same basic stuff, just for work, not family or friends, and it can be as effective.

E2.0 gives you project status from people (which is another challenge), corporate announcements (can't live without those), exceptions management alerts (system opportunities/threats), and an index of your day's events. It's also really interesting to see all the groups your staff will create, all the closed and open team areas. It's meaningful for structure to see the real work areas emerge. Sometimes the informal groups can hint at a better logical organization of staff than the current org chart. If your groups break down the organizations silos, then maybe it's time to rethink the company structure.

So introduce your systems to E2.0 tools. Create automated alerts with standard interpretations of events/data and let staff follow them as you would people. Enable search across systems so it's easy to find people and ideas. No department or team can own all the conversations in a company or control all the groupings. If you give everyone an account and add some clear benefits to show the way forward, such as HR and exceptions management alerts, people will converge and begin to share business information in new and exciting ways. We can't participate in the new 2.0 economy by using business 1.0 methods.

Adapted from Chapter 5 of The Collaborative Organization by Jacob Morgan, Copyright 2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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About the Author(s)

Jacob Morgan


Jacob Morgan is the author of the newly released book, The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization. He is also the principal and co-founder of the consulting firm Chess Media Group and the FOW Community, an invitation-only membership community dedicated to the future of work and collaboration.

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