Social media for communication inside the enterprise

Companies have long used social media technology such as Facebook and Twitter to reach more customers – but how are businesses using it internally?

Companies have long used social media technology such as Facebook and Twitter in trying to reach more customers – but how are businesses using it internally?

While business-to-consumer (B2C) companies are using social media to communicate with customers, less is said of the trend in businesses to use social media platforms to improve internal collaboration.

At a recent Computer Weekly CW500 Club event, three businesses outlined how they are using social media to improve operations.

Senior IT managers from accountancy firm Grant Thornton, consumables supplier Bunzl and the Nationwide Building Society told delegates at the event how their organisations use social networking tools in their businesses, and how they overcame the challenges of taking social media technology into the corporate environment.

Nationwide moves external success indoors

Businesses in many sectors already harness social media in their customer-facing operations. Customers use social media and many want the companies they buy from to communicate with them through the channel. But it is not a straightforward switch to transfer customer social media strategies to internal operations.

Many companies have cracked the customer service function, but most are just beginning to adopt social media internally.

Nationwide Building Society is the largest mutual society in the UK, with 15 million members and customers and 17,000 employees. It has been adopting digital technologies to support its customers for some time and is digitally mature. It was the first company to launch a retail internet banking service, in 1997.

“We are cool with digital,” says Ewan MacLeod, head of group digital capability at Nationwide. The building society has 2.6 million active internet banking users with 620,000 daily users, as well as a mobile banking service. It has improved customer services using video conferencing for mortgage advisory meetings and a 24-hour Twitter customer service.

The building society is 168 years old this year. MacLeod says it is engaging with customers using social media, but only just beginning to adopt the technology to communicate internally. “We grasped social media externally but, to lay the foundations to become a social business, we had to make sure we have the right infrastructure.” For example, he says the company needed connectivity, the right devices and an enterprise app store.

MacLeod says the first step to get internal teams collaborating was to install wireless across the organisation. “We need blanket superfast wireless before we think about social collaboration.” The company is now rolling out iPhones across the company and setting up an enterprise app store.

The company has a target of becoming “a digital society” by 2019, he says.

What Grant Thornton staff think of of the firm's social network

  • 59% agree Jam helps them feel better connected to their wider team – 15% disagree;
  • 67% feel better connected to the business – 10% disagree;
  • 51% feel Jam has helped them to grow their personal network – 20% disagree;
  • 58% agree Jam has helped generate a better sense of one-firm community – 10% disagree;
  • 70% agree Jam allows them to express their opinions and ideas – 10% disagree;
  • 48% feel better informed about what the business is doing thanks to Jam – 16% disagree;
  • 80% feel Jam provides a social way of communicating about their work – 7% disagree;
  • 25% agree Jam makes it easier to find the information and expertise they need – 28% disagree;
  • 33% can work more effectively thanks to information and sharing on Jam – 28% disagree;
  • 54% feel they have benefitted from asking questions or sharing answers on Jam – 15% disagree;
  • 76% would recommend that their colleagues join up.

Source: Grant Thornton

Grant Thornton staff collaboration

Financial and business services and accounting firm Grant Thornton has gone much further in introducing social collaboration internally. The company has 4,800 staff and decided in 2012 to transform how it works internally, using social media.

“We wanted to change our brand – not just our logo, but the way our people interacted internally and with clients,” says Greg Swift, CIO at Grant Thornton.

The company's corporate culture changed from one of risk-aversion, to expecting to use social media. “This is a huge shift that came from the top, our CEO,” says Swift.

Swift had the support of the board of directors and all service lines for his plans, which removed possible roadblocks: “We had vertical and horizontal support for this,” he says.

Grant Thornton started by developing practical rules, simple guidelines and establishing what Swift calls "an enabling culture". He says the company had to learn when to move on, if something wasn’t working.

The company did not want to put people off getting involved – because cross-company participation was essential for success – but it did want to provide some guidance. "We did not want this to sound heavy, because that is the first thing to turn people off,” says Swift, adding that the company wanted staff to learn through participation. He says it was important project leaders understood social collaboration is not for everyone, and it didn’t “ram it down people’s throats”.

Avoiding the pitfalls of internal social media

The company came up with ten rules for using social media internally, which Swift describes as “really just common sense”. It also created a centre of excellence to support users and provide training.

He says the biggest worries about people misusing social media, which can be both embarrassing and legally risky, are largely overcome by staff behaving themselves on social media because they know people such as the CEO are also participating. “Knowing that members of the board are following you on Twitter is the best social media contraceptive. It is not going to stop me doing it, but I am going to do it safely.”

So Grant Thornton’s company-wide Social Business Programme was born.

It was already using social media but not internally, across the whole company. “We were already doing social with things like LinkedIn and Twitter, but did not get too involved as a company, because we thought people should have their own accounts that aren’t linked to the company, so when they leave it is no longer associated with us.”

Users' comments about Jam at Grant Thornton reveal success:

  • "A healthy balance between work related and informal chat."
  • "Jam has been excellent at raising awareness of the people behind the different parts of the business. Developing stickiness will be the next challenge.”
  • "Jam is a good idea – it might just take a little time getting used to."
  • "People seldom tell me anything, so I have to go and snoop on Jam to find info and intel. In that respect it's been a godsend!"
  • "I like being kept informed of the stats from other teams and seeing all the stories of the positive effect our work has had on clients."

But there remains work to do. Other comments included:

  • "Too much information on Jam and hard to navigate."
  • "I'm still trying to understand and find where it can help me day to day. At the moment I can see this being in staying connected to the wider business."
  • “We haven't reached the tipping point of acceptance of using Jam in our office yet, there are still too many conversations about this being yet another change that people haven't got time to look at."

Swift says the company wanted to go to the next level and went to market to look for an internal platform: “We looked at the market and decided Jive met our needs.

“This was because of the use cases. There were over thirty case studies with real testimonials we could dive into. That is what swung it for us.”

He says sound project management principles and governance were important.

The company started at the top. The first thing to go on the new platform – rebranded "Jam" – was the CEO’s weekly blog. “Interestingly, his hit rate trebled,” says Swift.

“All the senior leadership are now using it.”

The company now has about 3,500 people self-enrolled on the platform. On an average day 2,009 people visit the site. On average, 80 new pieces of content are created on the platform each day. Jive helps the workforce understand what their colleagues do, says Swift.

Jive takes Bunzl beyond the noticeboard 

Bunzl is a FTSE 100 company which supplies consumables to UK enterprises. For example, it can supply everything in a retail store that is not for sale.

The company has 90 businesses globally which draw revenues of £6bn a year. In the UK and Ireland it has 18 businesses with a turnover of £1bn a year.

James Cam, UK and Ireland IT director at Bunzl, says the company wanted a new intranet to replace a .Net-based noticeboard. By chance he came across a tool that fitted what the company needed.

He says the company was in a meeting with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) one day, and PwC's consultants repeatedly referred to a communications tool they were using. Cam says this turned out to be Jive's collaboration tool – which appeared to offer benefits for Bunzl: “We suddenly became very interested in this because of the challenges associated with our business – we are very decentralised.”

The disparate nature of the firm – which collects, stores and delivers consumerables across the world – makes it difficult to embed a single corporate culture and way of operating across the business. Cam says it is a real challenge to say what Bunzl is, because it doesn’t have a culture. Rather, the separate businesses across the world are all run differently.

“Each business has a very distinct personality, which tends to be based around the managing director,” he says.

He says that, although different regional organisations at Bunzl do pretty much the same thing, they all do it differently – with different levels of success. “There is very little knowledge-sharing going on, so when we saw the tool we thought: ‘This is going to work – this is going to revolutionise Bunzl,'” he says.

And Cam says senior management got it too: “The great thing is, the board bought into it straight away.”

Some of the managing directors were scared of using Jive – so we did some reverse mentoring, with youngsters teaching older members of staff to do things like blogging

James Cam, Bunzl

Social media from trial and training to roll-out

Bunzl got a free copy of Yammer and invited staff to use it. After a successful trial the company then looked to the market and decided Jive was the most business-focused

The company started using it in November 2012 and, in an intense period of adoption, rolled it out to employees in the UK and Ireland.

Senior management buy-in is absolutely vital and they need to be seen to be using the tool, says Cam.

“The real challenge I had was that some of the managing directors were scared of using Jive. We did some reverse mentoring, with youngsters teaching older members of staff to do things like blogging, as well as setting up sandboxed environments for people to try out the platform.”

He says this didn’t work with everyone – there are always those that would never use a social tool – but, with the support of senior management, found it broadly worked nevertheless.

The company set up a social media policy and gave advice: "To save users from themselves and not create problems in the social environment,” says Cam.

How to make social media work for your internal communications

He says the key to adopting social media, and making it work as a business tool, is to look at your business processes and work out how you can support them with social media. “If you don’t do that, all you have is Facebook and that will die in no time at all.”

Cam says different parts of the business set up their own groups on Jive, which proved one way of getting good business process value. Because groups can be set up in the cloud, departments such as the acquisition team can use it to streamline what they do, by improving collaboration in a secure environment.

Cam’s advice to businesses thinking about taking up social media internally is to balance work and fun, and make it easy for users to log in and navigate it: “If you don’t make it easy, they won’t use it."

This was last published in October 2014

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Companies that can successfully integrate social media into their internal workings will have a much better chance at being successful than those that don’t get the integration right. It’s not because of the so-called millennials that want to use technology to work how they want to work, or the fact that social media has become so ubiquitous in our lives. Instead, as Margaret Heffernan discusses in her excellent TED talk, Why it's time to forget the pecking order at work, it’s because teams that produce outstanding results are driven by social interaction and cohesion and, if your organization can leverage that, your organization is going to be more successful.
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