A cure for “Social Media” allergy.

It still happens…managers who do not want “Social Media” in their organization, since they think this means “wasting valuable working time”.  Sometimes it is Communications who resist, because they think Social Media will remove the focus from their Corporate News items. Or it could be HR or Legal, because they are afraid that people will say inappropriate things.

Are you convinced that a social intranet is a good thing for your organization, but you feel that senior management blocks it because they do not like the word and therefore refuse to understand the concept and the benefits?  Why not use a better word for it? Here are some examples.

1. Give your complete Social Media suite a fancy name.

You could call it “The Hub” or “the Water Cooler”. Or as Philips does, “Connect Us“.
The good news is that it is a nice way to refer to it, and it does not sound as competition for your other initiatives.
The bad news is that it sounds like something separate from your other tools, while you may be looking for integration.

Barb Sawyers gives some more suggestions here.

2. Focus on the aspect that is most relevant for your organization.

Another option is to zoom in on the actual way this will help you in your organization. Social tools are pretty versatile and can be used for a variety of business purposes. The best name is depending on your specific purpose and your specific organization, but what about these:

  • Networking or Knowledge Sharing. In modern Knowledge Management circles, the people in the network are now considered to be more important than the actual knowledge of the network itself. And indeed, I have been able to find colleagues to connect with when I started a project. I searched for skills and experience in the company’s employee profiles.
  • Company Address/Phone Book. If this is created from your employee’s profiles, why not call it that? Nobody will object to the necessity of having that!
  • Two-way Communication or Open Communication. If you currently have formal, top-down communication on your intranet only, “two-way” or “open” communication could be the next logical step. It may come from comments to news articles, but also from microblogging and status updates.
  • Dialogue. Once again, this sounds like the next logical step for your internal communication.
  • Discussion Board/Forum. If you are used to discussing topics and opinions throughout your organization, why not keep the name when you change the tool from the traditional Discussion Board functionality into something more contemporary such as microblogging?
  • Democratic communication. I personally do not like this word too much, but it may be useful in some instances where you want to stress that all employees can have their say.
  • Crowdsourcing. You can use this if collecting ideas, getting feedback and opinions is the most important reason to introduce social media. My own experiences are very good – I have already received lots of good feedback to my questions through Yammer. I have also crowdsourced a “general terms of usage” for the Dutch Government intranet platform Pleio with help from the Pleio tools and Twitter.

3. Do not talk about it.

“We do not give it a special name, it is just part of our set of Collaboration tools”, an intranet manager told me once.  I really like this approach. If this does not sound like “work” then I do not know what does! What I like most about it is the natural and seamless assimilation of this new work tool into your existing established tool set. With all the hype around social media, giving it no emphasis is a refreshing idea.

What is the name that you use to describe your organization’s social tools?


How NOT to implement a Discussion Forum

ForumHonestly, I hope this post is way out of date, in the sense that everyone knows how to start and manage a Discussion Board or Forum. But just in case, let me share my experiences as a warning!

Several years ago we implemented Blog/Forum functionality on the intranet. This was the first set of “democratic tools” available, long even before the terms “user-generated content” and “social media”  were glitters in a marketeer’s or communicator’s eye. From the start we had a few successful examples: there was a place where sales people could discuss competitor’s activities at their customers, we had one for questions and suggestions about the intranet, and we successfully “crowdsourced” our Mission Statement and Company Values.

You can imagine we were very thrilled to receive another request from the CEO’s desk, this time to help with collecting tips for cost reductions (and revenue increases) throughout the company. A global topic, of high relevance, and endorsed by the CEO; of course this was a wonderful opportunity to promote our functionality again. We worked with Communications to set it up in the desired form, trained them in managing and moderating, and created a nice place on the homepage to feature it.

The first few weeks saw lots of activities. People liked the topic and had many interesting ways to save money or to increase sales, whether it was by selecting cheaper flight routes when travelling, installing motion-activated office lighting to reduce energy costs, or preferring our customers’ restaurants for business and private dinners. There were also good discussions about other topics, like pros and cons of open source software. All in all, this forum was a great success!

But then…
First of all, there was no reaction from the CEO or anyone from Communications to the suggestions. Nobody was expecting exorbitant praise or prizes, but we had expected that some suggestions would be featured in news stories, promoted to the entire company as a good practice, or even made into new internal procedures. When we asked Communications if they needed a PMO Team Site for follow-up of the most promising suggestions, it turned out that any evaluation or follow-up of the suggestions was not part of the plan. When, after a few weeks, people started realizing nobody did anything with their suggestions, the enthusiasm appeared to decrease.

But the real Forum Killer was a remark from an employee in Europe who was losing his job as part of an outsourcing project. He questioned the motivation and cost effectiveness of outsourcing his role, and made a few vicious, but funny, remarks about the CEO. What no policy or corporate news item has ever achieved, happened now: the remark spread like wildfire and by the time our American colleagues came into the office, everyone in Europe had read it.
You would think this would be a good opportunity for the CEO to show compassion with the employee, and to explain the company strategy once more.
Even no reaction would have been understandable, since everyone understood that this employee wanted to vent his frustration at being made redundant, and that he overstepped the boundaries of responsible behaviour.
But nobody understood why the vicious remarks were removed from the comment (leaving some asterisks instead) without any further comments.

From that day, the Forum fell silent. Even a new discussion started by the CEO generated no more comments.

Are you in charge of, or advising someone with a Forum? Then these may be some suggestions:

  • Communicate a clear and transparent process about the Forum. What is the purpose of the Forum? What are you going to do with the generated content? How is the content being moderated? How fast can people expect a reaction (if relevant)?
    If you are not going to take action, or want to leave any actions to individuals, make it clear as well!
  • If you want to use the discussion as input for a programme, make sure you publish about it regularly. Keep the ideas coming by showing that they can make a difference.
  • See all remarks as opportunities for dialogue. I have seen Forums at other companies where people expressed their concerns for their jobs, and where management reacted promptly with a compassionate message showing they fully understood the problems of job insecurity.
  • Inform people about any appropriate behavioural guidelines, e.g. your Employee Guidelines, Business Practices or Internal Social Media Policy. Also, make it known how you will treat inappropriate comments. (Please note that most in-company Forums, which are generally not anonymous, rarely have inappropriate remarks)
  • Read more about moderating forums and other online media by Alex Manchester of StepTwoDesigns.
Recreation of the Forum, with the censored remarks.