Social Software: Will Leaders Decide To Adapt?

The key to collaboration is communication: we need to be able to talk to each other to get stuff done. And it’s a compelling facet of the global, hyper-networked, social and mobile new world of work that we are nevertheless in dire need of better ways of communicating with each other.

That’s what makes the emergence of social software such a remarkable and powerful gift — with profound implications for fostering innovation, driving collaboration and deepening engagement. It’s fast and scopey, enabling everything from messaging to team-mailing to live chats to file sharing to all of the usual. Yet as far as user adoption does, the workplace is proving slow on the draw. That’s particularly apparent in HR.

We are not so much at a crossroads as we are at crossed wires. A range of vendors are launching new, powerful products, and the market is growing. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, productivity improves by an estimated 20-25% in organizations that have connected employees. So how do we overcome the “you can lead a horse to water” challenge facing social software?

To facilitate user adoption, social software has to truly enhance and deepen collaboration and engagement. It has to look, feel, and act useful: 


Social software has to be more than an addition. It has to be a total solution. It’s an understandable workforce complaint that shiny new platforms may just decentralize communication, requiring the management of increasing layers of inter-office email / outside email, internet / company server, and so on. We want to get things done, not stymied by choices or fractured functionality. To be an asset, social software needs to truly integrate (and not complete) with all of the above.

Really Social

Social software needs to be better: quicker, faster, smarter, more usable than the existing norms. Your social network should have lots of tools for engagement and collaboration, including social profiles, individual and group and community chat and focum capabilities, blogs, wikis, and all the bells and whistles of a bona fide social network. Otherwise, it will be eschewed for those social networks that are already well established (such as the one that has nearly 1.4 billion active users and counting).

One common obstacle to user adoption is feeling like the tech is unable to accomplish any more of the heavy lifting than what we already have. But if social software is not only truly integrated but can also leverage its unique position to generate meaningful intelligence, there’s the added value. That additional layer of perceptive analytics makes adoption a no-brainer, and offers a competitive advantage as well.

Embraced By Leadership

What will enable social software to make the smoothest entry into the atmosphere is its source. This shift must be initiated and mandated by leadership: it should be presented as a clear driver of organizational change, not a byproduct of it. Communication is part and parcel of workplace culture: social software should feel like anything but a trial run. Given the option, we all revert to the norm when we’re under pressure. If leadership makes social software the new normal, the workplace will follow.

The sweet spot lies in not doing away with what we’re used to, just improving upon it. In this age of relentless innovation, the status quo lasts about a minute, and depending on the demographics, that can be trigger a certain level of discomfort. Yet one thing that truly drives employee engagement is a shared sense of discovery — and growth. Given that, social software may truly be our game changer.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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How To Make Social Software The Lifeblood Of Employee Engagement

At a company where I was involved in an internal communications audit, some internal social media (ISM) features had been bolted onto existing communication channels. Employees didn’t exactly flock to these bolt-ons, which let them rate and leave comments on articles published to the intranet. Most articles attracted little if any engagement. Those that did tended to be about seemingly unimportant topics, like parking or the cafeteria.

The company leadership took the lack of comments to substantive articles about big issues as a sign that employees didn’t care. Employees told a different story. It wasn’t that they didn’t care; it was they they didn’t see a connection between this big issues and their work. Without understanding that connection, they didn’t knwow what they could contribute to an article. They found these articles interesting. In most cases, though, they didn’t see a connection between themselves and the subject.

To expect a typical article to be anything other than one-size-fits all in its approach is unrealistic. That’s the whole premise of mass media, which has driven employee communications since its earliest days. Imagine the length of an article that explained what a big issue means to a process engineer, a human resources representative, a procurement officer, an accounts payable team member, a supply chain staffer, a lathe operator, and every other job in the company. Such an article would make be ridiculously long (and impossible to write). Crafting separate articles for each class of jobs in a company also would be a hopeless undertaking.

At the same time the company’s leaders lamented the lack of employee engagement around these high-level issues, employees told us they felt disconnected from the organization.

For employees to get engaged with a topic, it has to be relevant to the groups where they identify their membership in the organization. For front-line employees in particular, there are only three: their daily work teams, the project teams to which they belong, and the supervisor-employee relationship. That’s where social software can make a difference. It can’t be bolted on, however. It needs to become systemic. Sadly, most organizations exert most of their efforts deploying software and precious little supporting its adoption. As a result, according to multiple studies, only a handful of employees use their companies’ social tools even just once a month.

When adoption is a priority, employees don’t see social software as an extracurricular activity. Instead, it becomes the primary channel for communication. By way of example, let’s revisit the organization where leaders assumed the lack of conversation about issues important to them was a sign of employee disinterest. In focus group after focus group, employees pointed to one particular piece of research they sorely needed on a regular basis but could never get. During the final session, one of the participants said, “That information is distributed every week in a mailing list.” Three others sat upright and said, in perfect unison, “Mailing list? What mailing list?”

Imagine, instead, that the department producing that information attached it to an update in the internal social network. Anybody following the department would get a notificiation that the data had been shared. If Joe knows Mary needs that information, he could share it with her. Upon getting it, she could opt to follow the account herself so she would now be notified whenever new information was released.

In several organizations, even those high-level articles are being shared via the writer’s account instead of the magazine-style listing of articles that grace the home pages of so many intranets. You might think the lack of visibility of these articles would lead to fewer employees reading them. In fact, readership has tripled in some of these organizations and quadrupled in others. That’s because employees are inclined to read material shared by people they have followed. They followed that individual in the first place because they knew she’s a source of information that’s relevant and worthwhile.

If team leader Susan reads one of those high-level articles, she might share her thoughts on the impact of the story on her team. Since the members of her team undoubtedly follow her, they get information relevant to them, along with a link to the original story. These employees feel connected.

Some pundits have proclaimed social software a failure, but the real failure is in the adoption phase. When the right tool is introduced so employees understand why they should embrace it — while simultaneously abandoning the old, comfortable way of doing things — magic can happen and employee engagement and satisfaction can soar.

When the Social Collaboration Magic Happens

Mercy me, my MySpace experience is one I’ll never forget. It was my first foray into social media beyond simply blogging, online groups and forums like AOL, and sharing collaboratively via email.

There I was early in 2007, in front of my computer setting up my MySpace profile. I filled it out, not sure of where exactly this online adventure would take me. I hit “publish” and waited.

Ten minutes later I received a connection request. Eagerly I read, in graphic detail, a business proposition of sorts from another woman. Yes, that. A minute later I deleted my profile not sure what the heck I had gotten myself into. So much for the magic at that point. (I’m sure it’s a different experience today.)

Before that email was my social tool of choice. I know, based on what I know and practice now, that’s practically blasphemy. I used it when journaling to family and friends during travel with my wife, collaboratively communicating with colleagues and peers on projects, and communicating real-time with whomever included all of the above.

Many of you may have had similar experiences. If so, you remember that what may have seemed foreign at first – take email for example – a tool I started using way back in the late 1980’s when I attended and worked at San Jose State University. Not only did we have email to communicate with one another campus-wide via email and intranet, we could communicate with any other campus in the state and UC system as well as many other educational institutions.

Of course, email had been used even before my experience at the university. It was also supposed to be the demise of businesses everywhere, public or private, because employees were (are) loose cannons who will share critical business information with complete strangers and competitors alike.

It didn’t thankfully. Now, many of us did (and still do) share too much erroneous and volatile information, inappropriate messages that should’ve been deleted before the send button was ever close to being hit. No, I won’t share a story here, but just know I’ve been one of the many.

What it did do – including the email, the Internet, online forums and more – was increase productivity, innovation and the speed of positive business outcomes. There are smarter academics, entrepreneurs and captains of industry than me who can attest to that. All of these tools and activities had to be adopted and sustained over time in order to bring so much good to fruition, not only by leadership, but also by nearly every single individual contributor inside the organization.

Blogging was my second social activity of choice at the time. I also joined LinkedIn, but after setting up my initial profile and connecting for a handful of others I knew, I didn’t do anything with it (which has changed dramatically for me since). And then I joined Twitter and tweeted out: I’m setting up my Twitter account and have no idea what to do next. After that I joined Facebook where my early social sharing adoption took hold with immediate family and friends.

In 2010 is when Meghan M. Biro and I co-founded the TalentCulture #TChat Show on Twitter (and now have expanded beyond that into multiple online social channels and now includes audio and video), and look where that’s gotten us – a growing highly collaborative community of thousands of HR, recruiting and business professionals who network, learn, share, innovate and engage online with one another every single day around the greater theme of empowering a better workforce and workplace one day at a time.

However, all this adoption has been primarily on external social networks. Plus, the way in which people access the Internet has been transformed in recent years as more people use mobile devices to go online practically anywhere today. There are now 5.2 billion mobile devices in use across the world, compared to only 789 million laptops and 743 million desktop PCs. And according to Aragon Research, by the end of 2015, 85% of businesses will have defined some form of bring your own technology to work.

What about social media and networking inside organizations? With rare exception, it’s been tough enough to get traction with any new social network today, but it’s been even harder to get it internally. Or at least, what’s been difficult has started to finally be embraced with limited open arms.

Many HR technology software providers have embedded the power of social collaboration into their talent acquisition and talent management software (including my own PeopleFluent), so that from the point of being courted by a company, to then being hired, onboarded and beyond, companies can better enable workforce collaboration and communication and amplify their people and the value each brings.

The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated productivity improves by 20-25% in organizations with connected employees, and the potential for revenue amounts to $1.3 trillion per year. Also according to McKinsey, a remarkable 83 percent of respondents say their companies are using at least one social technology, and 65 percent say employees at their companies access at least one tool on a mobile device.

Given the focus on engagement and some other key internal communications trends, communicators will take a more active role in promoting the adoption of internal social media, which will require a strategic change management initiative to move away from email that still dominates the enterprise today (thank goodness). It must be a cultural adoption throughout an organization, practiced by business leadership but fully embraced by everyone else.

According to Social Media Sites within the Workplace by Prof. Hope Koch, PhD of Baylor University, employees had a greater sense of well-being and organizational commitment and better employee engagement when participating on internal social sites.

But this kind of organizational change means understanding how your current level of employee engagement impacts the ultimate adoption and continued usage of any social software, something that the principal of Holtz Communication + Technology Shel Holtz emphasized on the TalentCulture #TChat Show.

Ultimately what business leaders should invest in is social collaboration software. Besides the improvements and possible return outlined above, it might also be used as an “early warning” system to improve overall risk management. Remember, social networks can be a giant public sieve for inadvertently sharing proprietary corporate secrets and inappropriate employee behavior. Most of us do a pretty good job of not sharing that much, but when emotions flare for whatever reason, transparency isn’t usually one for restraint.

Lastly, according to The Social Workplace Trust Study, when employees are empowered to communication openly internally as well as externally with others, and to engage regularly across social networks, employees evidence greater loyalty to and trust of their employers, have more pride in their work, and feel that they can make a difference at work.

Here’s my proposition (and I promise it won’t make you squirm): when we can network, learn, share, innovate, engage, even play with one another every single day, both inside and out of our “motherships,” that’s when the social collaboration magic happens and we can all empower a better workforce and workplace one day at a time.

About the Author: Kevin W. Grossman co-founded and co-hosts the highly popular weekly TalentCulture #TChat Show with Meghan M. Biro. He’s also currently the Product Marketing Director for Total Talent Acquisition products at PeopleFluent.

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#TChat Recap: Adopting Social Software For Workforce Collaboration

There is no question about it – social software enables workforce collaboration and communication. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates productivity improves by 20-25% in organizations with connected employees, and the potential for revenue amounts to $1.3 trillion per year.

So why is it so hard to get adoption traction for internal social media and internal communication? How can enterprises today resume responsibility for communication happening among employees and even encourage it?

This week’s #TChat guests: Shel Holtz, Principal of Holtz Communication + Technology and a prolific blogger and co-host of the first and longest-running communications podcast shared his insight on the adoption of social software for workforce collaboration and communication

Email has proven to be very hard to move away from as an internal communication method, and is often the only communication tool that organizations use. So what happens when employees are not given tools that provide value and can work alongside with email? They find external collaboration tools on their own.

With a lack of better options, email do provide stability in a fast-paced world where tech is constantly changing.

Organizations will need someone to be in charge of the message mission control. It is vital to be looking at the company culture and then initiate leadership mandate to initiate change. When leaders empower their employees to use social software and inform them about benefits such as an increase in efficiency, collaboration, and productivity, only then will we see the true benefits of social software.

Some enterprises are concerned with controlling the message, especially in highly regulated industries.

What would happen if instead of fearing the message, leaders would rethink the communication in their organizations based on mobility? It could encourage brand ambassadors to emerge, working collaboratively towards a common goal and strengthening the Oh-So-Important company culture.

See What The #TChat Community Said About Social Software For Workforce Collaboration:

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