Why Enterprise Social Networks are all too often a channel for the sake of a channel

This week, we’re looking into a report by Simply Communicate on Enterprise Social Networks and what it means for IC professionals.

A few months ago, Simply Communicate published their Social intranet Barometer, a comprehensive piece of research into the use of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), such as Sharepoint, Yammer and Jive, in the workplace. The report utilises data collected over a period of seven months from 72 organisations, and offers some interesting, and sometimes surprising insight into who uses ESNs, which platforms they use, and how and why they use them. It also highlights the difficulties faced by organisations, some of which are presented in this article.

Little preliminary research

One of the more surprising findings of this report is the lack of evaluation work undertaken by organisations before introducing an ESN.

Only a quarter of respondents surveyed staff to find out what they wanted from an ESN prior to the introduction of such a platform. According to this 25%, employees hope primarily for increased opportunities for collaboration and for their day-to-day work to be made easier. The objectives differ from those typically agreed upon by the board of the organisation, who approves the introduction and the maintenance of the ESN. Objectives agreed upon by the board usually revolve around improved knowledge sharing, increased engagement, better communication and shared best practice.

It is disappointing that more companies do not give their employees a voice when it comes to introducing new IC channels. After all, it is employees who are the target audience, and it is they who will make or break an initiative. Even more disappointing is the fact that employees are not often consulted after the ESN has been implemented either. What results is an overall misunderstanding of the platform and its benefits for any party. This is echoed by our own State of the Sector 2016 research report. We surveyed 372 communicators in 300 different organisations about their IC practices and, incredibly, only half of these said the employees in their organisation understood the purpose of their ESN. While this could be down to misleading communications around the platform, two in five admitted that the purpose of their ESN was not actually clear.

Limited employee involvement

Only 10% of enterprises surveyed involve staff in developing policies for platform use, with a further quarter involving staff in “some” policies. This means under half of companies involve staff in developing a framework for the use of ESNs. Yet those organisations that do involve their staff in policy-making report better-than-average adoption rates.

Low adoption rates are a problem that blight many an organisation, and many an IC team as they struggle to justify spending money and time promoting the ESN internally to no or little avail. Our own State of the Sector report showed that just over a quarter of IC professionals consider the ESN in their organisation have high levels of adoption across the organisation – while two in five say their ESN is used well only in “some pockets”. Senior management are understandably sceptical as to the value of investing in these kinds of platforms, given the low adoption rates, but because of this, IC teams often lack the resources they need to manage the platforms properly. Case in point: despite employee engagement being a key objective for many organisations, under half do anything to reward contributors to the ESN. The most popular method to reward active users is competition, but even this is used by only a quarter of respondents.

Overall, this paints a rather poor picture of the involvement of employees in Enterprise Social Networks.

Lack of evaluation

The final surprising finding we will touch upon resides in the fact that only half of those surveyed said they consciously report on the effectiveness of the ESN used in their organisation. A quarter stated they never report on effectiveness, while a further quarter declared they didn’t know if they do or don’t. Using an IC channel in the hope of reaching and engaging with employees without following up on the impact of the channel is akin to throwing someone a ball then turning around before making sure they’ve caught it. From a strategic point of view, it makes no sense. Unfortunately, this does tie in with our State of the Sector report findings: we discovered that although the proportion of internal communicators using ESN metrics has grown since last year, it remains paltry, with just over one in three practitioners using comment and like numbers to evaluate the effectiveness of their social channels.

Of course, the report does highlight some explanations for this lack of evaluation. Analysis techniques are limited, as are opportunities to collect quantitative data. Only one of the respondents said they had access to social network graphing technology, while the other respondents who reported on effectiveness were limited to the number of active users and qualitative research – studying interaction, collaboration and idea generation for instance. It comes as no surprise, given the limited options for evaluation, that almost two thirds of our State of the sector respondents stated that their ESNs were not effective as feedback channels – they can’t garner enough tangible data from them. It remains a shame that so many do not report on the effectiveness of their ESN, however, particularly given the growing scepticism with regards to such platforms.

Overall, we think this was an insightful piece of research, that we would recommend you read. It demonstrated a somewhat half-hearted use of Enterprise Social Networks within organisations, possibly linked to low adoption rates and perceived lack of reach of these platforms. We would argue that this has a lot to do with the fact that organisations’ target audiences – their employees – are not consulted before the introduction of the platform, and thus the fact that the ESNs are not developed with their needs in mind. There is no excuse not to get employee input before developing an ESN. If you’d like to discuss what you could do to give your employees a chance to be heard on the subject of ESNs but also other IC channels, get in touch.

You can download the Social intranet Barometer report for free on Simply Communicate’s website. If you’d like more food for thought, you can download our State of the Sector report for free by signing up for our Knowledge Bank.

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