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Social Media for Internal Communications

February 3, 2009

I attended a conference titled Social Media for Internal Communications in San Francisco and was joined by about 50 other communications professionals who wanted to hear about best practices and challenges in the field. Presenters at the two-day conference included Abbott, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, EMC, IBM, JetBlue, ROI Communications, Wachovia and Watson 
Wyatt. SV-IABC was one of the event sponsors and I was received a pass through a membership drawing.

Based on the presentations given, even conservative companies are taking a pragmatic approach to social media. They know their employees use already in their personal life, so why not take advantage of it to connect them at work? Some companies have even dropped the word “media” altogether, simply calling it “social” as in “social interaction” or “social behavior.” I was impressed by the courage of the presenters who shared their stories. Many of them have faced considerable obstacles convincing management to allow them to introduce social media.

The implementations presented varied widely and reflected the different company cultures. For example, EMC added a system in Jive Clearspace that allows any employee to participate via blogs and Wikis. Employees are free to create any forum they wish and the system is largely self-policed. On the other hand, the more conservative Abbott included blogs and VoDs on their intranet, but carefully screens everything before posting.

Flip cameras played a big role in three of the case studies. JetBlue gave them to 125 flight crew leaders. Videos poured in from all over with crew and passengers singing, dancing and generally filling in time during long flights. The PR lead felt this was a valuable bonding tool that promotes their culture. However, I question the value of these silly watch-me videos. Abbott also gave Flip cameras to communications leads in every country and has received a steady stream of valuable videos since. One non-profit showed how they use videos to promote and document events, which seemed to be professionally done and effective.

Watson Wyatt gave a somewhat technical presentation on Microsoft SharePoint, which has become the dominant tool for social media implementations. Evidently Microsoft has done a good job giving parts of the platform away, getting customers hooked, and then charging $90 per seat to bring it to all employees. Gartner also favors SharePoint, putting it in the upper right quadrant in their 2008 study along with IBM Websphere. Consolidation seems to rule here.

In true social media style, the conference organizers promised to set up a Wiki for all attendees. I look forward to continuing the dialog with my fellow communicators.

Below are tips from one of the presenters with their advice for organizations implementing social media tools that does a good job capturing some of the themes of the conference:

  • Enable your employees and be patient – create an environment that allows users to better collaborate via multiple modalities, across time zones, organizational barriers, skillsets, know each other professionally and socially, know each other’s skills and expertise.
  • Integrate your tools – look for integrated toolsets; must be open
  • Be sensitive to culture change – be sensitive to generational acceptance and norms, country cultures; incorporate storytelling and cultural sharing; allow for human interest and encourage employee participation and generation of content
  • Constant communication –campaigns to help with adoption; show leadership modeling and permission; define usage policies; provide education.
  • Know when you are risking too much – connect employees without creating chaos; define free-form sandboxes and focused work projects.
  • Ensure privacy – define the line between work and play; socializing and work
  • Protect and secure your assets – ensure internal data is safe; use tools that are well-tested from credible vendors
  • Develop fair policies, not fluffy ones – govern use without boxing in innovation; allow for play but maintain values of company along the way
  • Implement with a credible vendor – work with a credible vendor to select and implement for your specific organization. Don’t try it on your own or start with something safe.
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