The Power and the Promise: Enterprise Social Media

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Enterprise Social Media [hereafter shortened to ESM] has begun to gather more and more space in business media of late, though it is no new phenomenon. The need for organizations of any size to communicate effectively and quickly cannot be understated, and this need, along with the onset of the age of the internet, has ushered in a range of unique ways for companies to organize their productive spaces.

With traditional emails and intranet systems still forming the backbone of most companies, ESM is in some regards, a natural successor. While similar in form and function to personal social media tools, ESM has been slowly emerging over the last 10-15 years as an important part of how organizations communicate and operate. While not without some flaws (which we’ll get to), there’s huge potential in the power of social media to assist the transformation goals of the organization.

What is Enterprise Social Media?

ESM is a media tool that uses a social network of employees within an organization to create a platform for communication, collaboration, and relationships. It usually takes the form of a software application or program that is used internally by employees of the given enterprise.

There are now quite a few examples of ESM software, some of the most notable include; Workplace by Facebook, Clarizen, Slack, Yammer and many more. It is worth noting though, that many platforms have a clear project management functionality alongside more social elements. In addition to stand-alone software, many organizations – and larger companies in particular – have created their own intranet social system that is specifically designed and maintained for their needs and functions in the same manner as other third party platforms.

As a tool, ESM can be used for far more than simply easier communication, with most platforms allowing for some manner of project management, team workload distribution, material storage, centralization of tasks, social interfaces, and potentially much more. Crucially, it also enables a greater ease of access for team members in remote locations, from home, or on mobile platforms, as workflows and updates are all found in a self-contained space.

How can Enterprise Social Media help an organization’s digital transformation?

I think it is important to first of all comment that no social media technologies will improve the core fundamentals of a digital transformation on their own. ESM is no replacement for the right culture, the right strategies, the right leadership, and the right people. Having said this, it can have a positive impact on all of these areas if implemented thoughtfully and with a clear purpose in mind.

In a recent podcast with Mohamed-Hédi Charki, Professor of Information Systems at EDHEC Business School, we discussed some of the ways in which ESM can have a positive impact on a digital transformation. One of the main reasons why it can be beneficial, is that it can form the new backbone of a company’s digital communication model – especially if they wish to transition to a distributed, flattened, more democratic, and open system.

ESM has the potential to energize the creation of new ideas within an organization that is changing and which requires fresh input from all employees. In essence, ESM enables people from all parts of the organization to present, share, and develop any ideas (big or small) to a larger audience, quickly, and easily. This has the added bonus of potentially flattening the distance between ideas and action.

There are also a number of potential social benefits to be found within a good ESM system. It becomes easier and more simplified to micro-blog, create collaborative workflows, to message between departments, and to navigate the interfaces between social dashboards and the personal profiles of employees. While this is great space to make connections, it is not and should never be a full replacement for actually getting to know people in person.

ESM can also be a valuable feedback tool for HR – as commentary is instantaneous and there are innumerable means of measuring engagement and mood in the workforce. This, along with the social and communication aspects of the platforms, can greatly contribute to the success of a digital transformation, when implemented with a clear organizational strategy and desired environment in mind.

What potential issues are there to know about Enterprise Social Media?

Despite the obvious promise that ESM has, there are of course, a number of potential issues that need to be taken into consideration. Some of the main concerns occur on the most practical level, and that has to do with the lack of adoption and internal company perception. This usually stems from the perception of social media being a waste of time, or somehow not serious enough to be considered useful. Of course, if social media is used for purposes that do not contribute to the success of the organization, it could be detrimental, but this is not really a fault of the tool – rather the people using it.

Many individuals have also exhibited some worries about privacy and transparency, especially in the context of organizations with extensive digital platforms. These concerns are of course serious, and must be addressed within each organization. The openness of information sharing and potential ‘back-door’ data privacy concerns may simply not be welcomed by many in the organization. It will be very important for each organization to weigh up privacy concerns before adopting any such technologies. Conversations about these issues need to happen so that an awareness of what is shared, known, and available privately, within the company, and publicly, is clear and understood.

There is also a growing concern that ESM can have a pronounced and undesired impact on social behaviours, as the network platform can appear to amplify some behaviours and social tendencies, such as trivia overloads, social coercion etc. Again, ESM is not necessarily the root of these issues, but could potentially amplify them by removing a layer of intimacy between people and their interactions. If you’ve experienced the comment section of public social media and YouTube, you’ll know what I mean.

Enterprise Social Media – what’s the bottom line?

As it has become obvious to most of us over the last fifteen years or so, social media is a bit of double edged sword. On one face, it is an invaluable tool for connecting people, linking networks, fostering ideas, collaborating, and reducing all manner of barriers to communication. On the other, if used incorrectly and without due consideration to its flaws, a dehumanizing space where a mash of ideas, truths, fallacies, and biases ferment.

ESM is fundamentally no different. To use it for the best, organizations need to adopt and customize it with a balanced and thorough strategy. It will not streamline tasks or create inspiration on its own. It is not a substitute for a rational, well-considered, and human-centric culture. It is not simply a soapbox to hurl ideas around at will. And it certainly won’t cure a company’s communication issues by itself.

Enterprise Social Media is however a tool that if implemented and used appropriately, can render a lot of the traditional communication and project bulk pointless. It can be a great meeting ground for ideas, and it can lend itself to organizations who require a means of dispersing ideas, content, and communications quickly in a time when business adaptation and agility is of utmost importance.

The 2nd Digital HR Summit Amsterdam, April 2-3 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore the implications of Digital technologies on HR and the business in general. Make sure you follow The HR Congress Blog to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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