How an internal social network can drive 'digital first'
Revolution doesn't start at the top; it's a grass-roots movement that becomes contagious and spreads throughout a population. If social media can help spur on the Arab Spring, couldn't it also help media companies revolutionize their business? After seeing almost 300 employees join a corporate social network in six weeks, one former media journalist thinks so.
Naomi Shibles (disclosure: she's my wife) left journalism for a digital content and social media position at Montefiore Medical Center last September, realizing that the skills she acquired in the media business were a great match to the hospital's marketing, communication and social media needs. One of her first initiatives was to pilot an internal social media effort, using Yammer. Her experiences were so interesting that I asked her if I could interview her. (We conducted an on-the-record interview separate from any personal conversations.)
Why use an internal social network?
Montefiore has three hospital campuses, four hospitals and more than 20 primary care and ambulatory care locations. Shibles felt an internal social network could "breach the geographical challenges that having such a vast array of locations poses. Meetings are challenging."
The dispersed workforce at Montefiore is similar to the distributed workforces within many media companies that Shibles covered during her time as an editor for min's B2B. With over 18,000 associates (employees), Montefiore saw many use cases and benefits to using an internal social network - benefits that also apply to a media company. Here are four:
Security: "Yammer is the opposite of Facebook. Where privacy is scary on Facebook, security is a priority for Yammer," Shibles said.
Accessibility: "Because of the many security and privacy regulations in the healthcare industry, Montefiore's Intranet is only available on campus," she said. "That creates challenges for ongoing corporate communications as well as emergency communications." For instance, if corporate offices are closed due to snow, there's no way to check the Intranet to find out.
Yammer's robust security features enable the hospital to maintain its security while providing associates with access to the social network from remote computers or mobile devices (via a smartphone app). Shibles noted the need to support the increased usage of mobile platforms in the enterprise.
"Doctors and nurses aren't in front of computers all day," she said. "They are walking around meeting and taking care of patients. Yammer allows them to access corporate information throughout the day via the mobile app."
One could easily imagine the impact on a media company:
- reporters uploading images, story notes or video remotely
- salespeople collaborating on account strategies while in the field
- executives sharing pictures and thoughts from a visit to a satellite office
Human resources: Because the service acts as an internal water cooler, HR personnel can stay abreast of associate concerns and needs before they become issues.
Professional education: "Montefiore's main hospital has only one auditorium, and it is often used by residents," Shibles shared. Yammer's ability to create virtual classrooms can cut down training costs and help with geographical challenges.
Trial goes viral
Montefiore's legal and IT teams had to conduct a thorough review of the platform before it could be rolled out. They also wanted to conduct a trial to see how the service worked. By the time the contract was signed, there were nearly 300 people already using Monteifiore's internal social network - most of whom joined organically rather than by a formal invitation.
"People discovered it on their own," Shibles said. "I sent it to a marketing team to evaluate as a project management tool, and it just grew from there. When you log in, if you mouse over your network's name, it shows your company's active users and groups. It started increasing daily, and it became evident within six weeks that associates liked using the tool."
This increased usage helped make the ROI case the company was seeking. In fact, the high levels of engagement also are helping the organization to get more value our of other investments as well. Shibles joked, "It wraps your corporate activities in a snugly comforter of usability and fun."
That comment should be a light bulb moment for media companies. Usually, when we cover the gamification of media, we're talking about getting readers to find our products fun. Imagine if you could apply that same strategy to your employees, customers and vendors. You generally don't hear the words "snugly," "warm" or "fun" when talking about culture change.
Another key advantage to an internal social network is the ability to bring your vendors and your customers closer to your organization. You can create external areas of your network that your customers or vendors can access while maintaining the integrity of your employee-only area. All of these areas are kept private from the web at large. For media companies, this has implications for marketing services, CRM and even audience development.
While researching this piece, I found case studies from just about every industry except magazine and newspaper media. How can this industry adapt to social media without integrating it?
The pace of change is increasing, and tools such as Yammer provide companies with a means of becoming more agile - even if that means giving up old ways of doing things.
"My hope is that this phases out email," said Shibles. "There's a private messaging component to Yammer that's easier to follow than email exchanges. If everyone adopts it, what's the point of using email?"
Providers of corporate social networks for employees
Here are a few vendors that offer internal social networking platforms:
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