Empowering social interactions in your organization

Social networks are, without a question, one of the greatest technological achievements of the last decade. It's hard to imagine a world without them. Even if you spend no time keeping up with your virtual persona, and you despise the ones that do, you must acknowledge the impact of Social networks in today’s society. It's around us in the real world; just look at all the junk mail from last week and the abundance of "like us on Facebook", or "follow us on Twitter", or "check us out on Google+"… Turn on the TV and check the little hashtag at the corner of the screen. Go to a restaurant and do a FourSquare check-in to get the latest deal. It's literally everywhere.

It's very common to criticize Social networks and I agree with most complaints. It's too invasive, our private data is not respected, some folks are way too dependent of them, creates a false illusion of reality. In fact, social networking can be seen as a constant pissing contest, or a great stalking platform, but on this post I want to focus on the good parts and how it can be a beneficial tool for your company.

Take a moment and check your work email account. If you work for a medium or large corporation, most likely, the vast majority of the emails present in your inbox are either irrelevant to you or not urgent. Perhaps you work for an unrealistically well-organized company, but my personal experience is a little bit different. Using some unprecise statistics to demonstrate my point; 45% of the emails are food related, like "cookie at my desk, get them while they last", "lunch is ready at room xyz", "some leftovers from today's meeting", so on. I'm not complaining about the food, how doesn't love free food, but is that message really that important? Should I stop everything and run straight to the "cookie jar"? Are those communications improving your work productivity? Promoting these interactions could, improve work moral and perhaps allow more personal contact, but it would not be considered high importance from a managerial standpoint. Another 35% of emails can be accounted as "non critical events and announcements"; this included messages from one of the "Chiefs", "Directors ", "Vice Presidents", human resources or IT, that are interesting information, but non urgent communication. Per example, "Welcome Jane Doe to her new position as Director of 'Department'", "Announcing internal changes to 'the Department that you don't have any interaction and that you didn’t even knew it existed'", "Running OS updates on our pre-production environment", "Customer 'x' will be onsite tomorrow, please smile", "We just hired some hot-shot from our competitor, say hi and give him your warm welcome" and so on. Not that these messages are total rubbish, they are definitely more important than food related subjects, however are they critical? The vast majority of people will skim and ignore them. This leaves 20% of your inbox to messages relevant to you and/or your team. This accounts for meetings, documentation, questions, and important notices from your colleagues and blocking issues. Many of us, create a bunch of inbox rules to get rid of the clutter, however the right solution would not require this extra leg work.

What if the organization provided a platform where anybody from the company could dispense all this information? This would avoid the constant disruption from unnecessary email notifications. You guess it right, on a social network. Just like Facebook, each employee manages their level of engagement. Anyone can post whatever they find relevant or interesting, and discuss those topics, in a more casual platform with less impact on each person workflow. However, the most commonly known social networks, like Facebook, were not designed for work interactions. Additionally most of us want to keep our personal lives separate from our work interactions. Totally understandable, after all your boss doesn't need to know how drunk you were last weekend...

Since Facebook isn't the right solution, what is? Personally I had some experience with Yammer and I am really happy with it. It solves the problem mentioned before and I find it particularly useful to share tech articles with my team and to have discussions about it. Let's say somebody found an article about a new version of a software component that our company uses internally, Yammer makes it easy to share and comment on that piece. That component might never be used, but at least we talked about it and we have a log of that discussion. In the future, if the company ever considers using/updating that component, they already have some pre-research data that they can use and some points to consider before working on it. Yammer also has a set of applications that provide real-time notifications, for those who need to get the latest news the quickest way possible. For myself, I just check the web application a couple times a day and on my commute back home I might read that really long article that somebody posted. It's totally up to you to decide when and how you want to be interrupted, with the benefit of less clutter in your inbox.

Another tool worth mentioning is Kudos. It's self-described as an employee recognition program and corporate social network designed to engage your teams with enhanced communication, collaboration, appreciation, recognition, and rewards. Timely recognition and meaningful feedback is absolutely crucial for cultivating and maintaining an engaged team. Using an interface similar to popular social networks, Kudos enhances communication in your organization. Build and promote organizational culture by facilitating communication with every member of your organization. Team recognition is a powerful tool that most companies are not using well to create engagement at work. Sadly, most organizations do not have a well-thought-out strategy to engage their teams, or if they do, they are not satisfied with the outcome.
To conclude, I do not have any affiliation with the vendors of the tools mentioned before. This article mainly reflects my experience with them. Do you know any alternatives that might be worth sharing? Feel free to leave your comment below.

social networking for business