Tips For Successful Business Social Networks

You can do a lot to make social network usage more secure, but businesses often still prefer to collaborate using an in-house social network that isn't widely accessible. How can you make such a project succeed?

Yammer has done fairly well in the enterprise social networking space, with 250,000 users in Australia spread across 15,000 different companies. The company is staging road shows in Sydney and Melbourne this week, and I caught up with chief customer officer David Obrand and local CSM manager Ross Hill earlier this week to get their thoughts on how businesses can successfully implement Yammer and get employees to actually use it. (That said, many of these strategies will work with other social networking systems.)

Keep IT informed of plans. Like other web-based software-as-a-service offerings, Yammer networks often spring up in companies outside the normal remit of central IT departments. You don't necessarily need to make IT responsible for the project, but you do need to make them aware of it. "It depends when you notify them," said Obrand. "IT's not very happy when they find a 10,000 user network they never knew about." That's especially the case with freemium software; if it proves useful, IT will need to agree to pay for the enhanced features.

Take a measured approach to adoption. "We want customers converting at their own time and pace," said Obrand. That doesn't mean, however, that people keen to adopt the technology should be blocked. "If you get reticent executives, they'll say 'It's just for you 20 and nobody else,' but you 20 probably already know each other. You won't get the value that way."

Create interest groups to stimulate usage. Emphasising the "social" in social networking is a good way to ensure users engage with the platform. Creating interest groups -- such as cyclists, working mothers or coffee enthusiasts -- will encourage people to make more use of systems.

Align social networking to business processes. Once that has happened, you can align social networking groups to business processes. Human resources is a particularly fruitful area for this: processes such as induction and retention can be enhanced by a medium where people can chat informally about issues.

Measure impact, but don't think short term While social networks are often seen as having "soft", immeasurable impacts, Obrand argues that they can also deliver actual measurable business value. For instance, Deloitte calculated that the attrition rate for employees who regularly used its Yammer network was 2 per cent, compared to a typical level between 15 and 20 per cent.

The key is that you can't measure those trends short term. A report based on 30 days usage may not be helpful, but data over a longer period may glean insights.


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