Q: How do I get employees to communicate on our internal social network?
A: Good for you for adopting one of the more productive trends in intra-office collaboration, the internal social network. Closed networks, provided by Yammer, Jive, Moxie, Podio and others, offer access exclusively to a company's workers and invited outside contractors. The goal is to make it easier to search for task-related information and to make contact with colleagues who can help.
However, surveys from Forrester Research indicate that internal networks are vastly underutilized. So if there's a silver lining to your question, it's that you're not alone. To understand why and what to do about it, we sat down with Rachel Happe, co-founder of The Community Roundtable, a Boston-based organization geared toward helping business leaders manage effectively in online networked environments.
Why are employees resistant to using internal networks?
Most people already feel overwhelmed with e-mails, reports and meetings, so asking them to use yet another method of communicating feels like you are piling on. But, more important, many employees simply don't know how to use an internal network.
Instead of one-to-one (phone and e-mail) or one-to-many (e-mail) tools, social networks allow for a many-to-many conversation that, except in small groups, was previously impossible. This gives employees pause, because an environment where everyone can "hear" them is not appropriate for all types of communications. So they wait and watch to see how the network is used before diving in. This is why it's critical to immediately get a small number of people to actively use the system and set the boundaries of what can and can't be discussed on the network.
How do I get them to buy in?
Show employees how social networks will make everyone more efficient with information requests, collaborative analysis and decision-making, co-creation of content, work synchronization and companywide communications. Above all, explain how this network will save their time. For example, moving group, department or companywide e-mails to the network removes a fair amount of e-mail from employees' inboxes--as well as the need to review, manage and delete it--and centralizes responses. Using the tool to update everyone slashes the need for time-sucking staff meetings or companywide get-togethers. Plus, the internal network can house a knowledge base of company information accessible by anyone, so questions can be answered once.
Finally, set the example. If your employees know that the internal network is the best way to reach you, and they learn that you're using it to reach them, they'll quickly make it the new norm of office communication.