Yes, I use an internal social network. But why?

How can enterprise social networks be used and what ist the added value of such networks for enterprises?

The “Future of Work” theme week at the ARD (German TV channel) has just drawn to a close. A good moment to reflect on how my own work has changed or become “digitalized.”

I have been working with our internal social network (based on Yammer) for quite some time. Much is expected of these enterprise social networks (ESN). They are expected to make an important contribution toward lean yet intensified communication and promote networked exchanges for staff. As a result, the corporate culture will be changed, and a network-like organization will increasingly develop from a hierarchical structure.

To begin with: when do I actually work with Yammer, our ESN? For one thing, it’s like a type of internal Spiegel Online for me. I go through my news feed, which includes the topics and company groups I have subscribed to, two to three times a day – preferably when I’m in between two meetings or having a coffee. It actually works very well – my personal food for thought from time to time while I’m on my break.

Besides this, I work specifically with the ESN. This can be reactive if someone asks me a question or approaches me looking for information. In cases like this, I am addressed explicitly in a message, or “post.” Since a corresponding notification also appears immediately in my normal email inbox, I can generally react quickly. Conversely, I also ask in groups myself, or ask for appraisals or material, for example, if I am looking for a suitable presentation or background information. This can be about a topic (“Digital Transformation” – which is by the way our most active group) or a company. Since our culture is very much based on a “help and get helped” strategy, I usually receive a rapid reply or suggestions. Thirty minutes are more the rule than the exception. And that’s without me referring to or asking someone specific. This applies to all employees, not just the boss.

How do I myself work in our enterprise social network?

But now to the exciting question: how do I work with our social network? After some thought, I have prepared 8 typical situations:

1. Following customers and projects

For customers I am particularly busy with or whom I will shortly be visiting, I subscribe to the corresponding customer group. I can quickly prepare for customer meetings without creating separate effort for others. I also see what has happened since my last on-site visit and can understand which topics are currently up to date using the active discussion. Here, important customer projects are also often introduced, or suggestions from earlier meetings are further developed. It is an important source of inspiration for me.

2. Following teams

All of our consulting teams are technically oriented and have a “home group.” In these groups, I can see which current content (technologies, methods, and also key topics like digital transformation) is being discussed. The discussion type often reveals the mood within the team. I am especially fascinated by the creativity in the team groups. They come up with original display formats and fine-tune drawings, collages, short films, or staged interviews.

3. My information finds its way

In the past, if I wanted to communicate impressions or suggestions from conferences or particular developments and trends from customer meetings, the main task was choosing the right people for the mailing list: who would be interested, who must be informed, who it would distract, and who else should be informed. The new staff certainly didn’t get the chance to see past emails. Our ESN solves this problem for me. I adjust information or appraisals and only briefly have to think about choosing the correct group. If necessary, I link a technical post written by me (in a thematic group) with a specific customer group as well. After three years, I can rest assured that the information finds its way...

4. Faster communication

This approach makes us faster overall. The ESN doesn’t require long and detailed notices or announcements. Set introductory and concluding phrases are dispensed with, and giving meaning to hierarchical states is not the plan. I personally aim for short, precise, yet overall informal phrasing. And if I upload a groundbreaking idea and don’t get a reply or a “like” within two days, then I know that my idea wasn’t so groundbreaking after all ;-)

5. Knowledge management just for the sake of it

We have a few top-down attempts at internal knowledge management behind us. With Yammer, knowledge management now has a solid base. Without central guidelines, yet still governed by our desire to contribute and discuss, knowledge management is straightforward. Which customer presentations have proved their worth? What new solutions are there and how practical are they when appraised by our experts? Before a customer workshop, a consultant can inform themselves of the latest technological developments without having to submit a separate request. In other words: knowledge management with a small cost and a large return.

6. Exchange with partners

Even if our social network is primarily used for internal communication, I will also use it to exchange with partners in some areas. In the familiar surroundings, I for example swap ideas on new product features with our strategic partners in closed groups (Microsoft). Alternatively, I develop ideas for new releases with partners and the media. I find project-based groups exciting – we have very recently opened these up to selected customer employees.

7. Make use of networks

How do I find unexpected suggestions from other teams and how can I discuss a solution concept with totally different or even unknown colleagues? With an enterprise social network like Yammer, networking happens on its own in my experience. Coupled with a certain amount of openness and curiosity, the personal interests, key topics, and work objectives of employees establish their own path. In terms of digital transformation, the company’s most important internal concern is collaboration that spans topics, teams, and departments. Social networks allow the organization of tomorrow to prosper. This is also noticeable within our own company.

8. More innovation

In my opinion, one of the most important effects of our social network lies in developing and assessing new ideas more rapidly. An exchange of new solutions that spans both teams and hierarchies will bring about innovation. The feed – composed of the many contributions from our social network – regularly provides me with suggestions for business development, and I react to them in turn with my own suggestions. This also includes the fact that many good ideas and projects are not pursued after being discussed, so that we can concentrate on only the very best proposals.
Also important is that each individual must find a fitting way of dealing with the information. I, for example, have erred on the side of activating lots of groups and topics and following the broad stream of posts. But I just quickly skim over most content. And in the meantime, I can rest assured that interesting topics in this stream will attract my attention or stick with me.