By Lom Seunbane, Chief Strategy Officer
Guest Contributors: Paranee Chaipunya and Phithiwat Leewiboonsin
ENTERPRISE SOCIAL NETWORKS ARE INCREASINGLY BECOMING A NECESSITY FOR BUSINESSES
Even before social media became an integral part of our lives, businesses have been looking for better ways to connect people and keep channels of collaboration opened. With the advent of platforms such as Facebook, companies saw that powerful tools could be created to connect employees and increase efficiency. However, businesses needed something that offered the connectivity and engagement of regular social media but with better security and privacy controls necessary for companies to operate. Thus entered Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs).
An enterprise social network is an internal social networking platform that employees use to connect and collaborate across an organization. It takes the functionality and ease of regular social networks and adds a layer of security and privacy to handle business collaboration. Nowadays, there are numerous, powerful ESNs of different types for companies to use. Furthermore, a look at European countries shows a rapid adoption of ESNs, and even Microsoft has made the claim that 85% of Fortune 500 companies collaborate with Yammer, a popular ESN. With ESN adoption approaching 100% among companies, it’s a good time to look at what makes ESNs so popular.
6 BENEFITS OF ENTERPRISE SOCIAL NETWORKS
While it is easy to just list out the general good qualities of ESNs, a more methodical approach is important when deciding on a correct model for your company. To that end, researchers at the University of Regensburg in Germany have broken down beneficial aspects of ESNs into six broad categories.
ESNs facilitate both the documentation and formalization of unstructured or semi-structured processes as they occurred. This allows for a “culture” to establish at the company due to employees sharing information across teams. Processes can be recorded as they occur and even if an employee leaves, replacements will have less problems jumping in.
One of the most obvious benefits of ESNs is that they help companies break through geographical boundaries. ESNs support communication and professional networking independent of the physical location of the parties involved. Additionally, there are further benefits even within local distances due to the current pandemic forcing many to work from home. This allows people to stay integrated within the company despite not being in one place.
Building upon the benefit of geographical freedom, ESNs are wonderful at helping exchange information and promoting creativity. One crucial aspect of ESN is that it allows for information to exchange quickly, providing almost real-time access to needed information in an easy way. Employees no longer need to wait for a colleague to respond to emails or for their bosses to provide the next step. Hence, information asymmetry among employees is lessen, leading to improved efficiency.
4) Knowledge Management
While similar to informational, knowledge management is slightly different in that it is not about the exchange of information. Rather, it is about having a central repository of knowledge. This benefit comprises 4 categories: knowledge sharing, access to expertise, reduction of redundancy, and training and learning.
● Knowledge Sharing: ESNs can provide easy access to blogs or wikis, along with reward incentives, in order to encourage employees to participate and publish their knowledge. The factor of convenience combined with low administrative barriers constitute the main advantage of ESNs compared to traditional knowledge management systems.
● Access to Expertise: By enabling individual employees to share their personal and tacit knowledge, this knowledge is then converted into organizational and explicit knowledge that is kept available for other colleagues. Essentially, ESNs allow employees (including bosses) to become expertise sources for one another and provide a direct and efficient way to access existing knowledge.
● Reduction of Redundancy. One of the hallmarks of an inefficient company is unnecessary hoop-jumping in order to access information. ESNs take care of this by making the information readily available. Furthermore, authors posting experiences valuable to other employees can be directly contacted as they are likely to provide assistance in case of similar tasks.
● Training and Learning. Finally, having all this knowledge in an easy-to-access location allows for formal and informal training. Bosses can provide guidance while organizational learning is also promoted as mutual training among employees is supported and employees better understand their job and role expectations.
With ESNs, companies can provide transparency of responsibilities, clearer task assignments, and improved traceability. ESNs can reveal what employees are currently working on to both their bosses and colleagues. This will also help identify them as qualified contact persons to others who are working on similar topics. Moreover, traceability is improved as changes made by employee actions can be logged.
The last important benefit to ESNs is that point-to-point communication is improved and there is an elimination of intermediaries. In the first category, ESNs streamline communication by supporting and increasing direct interaction among employees and by providing a convenient way to receive instant feedback. In the second category, ESNs foster direct communication among users without depending on intermediators. On an organizational level, a reduction of both hierarchical and organizational boundaries can be brought about through the use of ESNs, thus decreasing bottlenecks and improving speed.
It is easy to see why ESNs usage is rising among companies around the world. Their benefits are numerous as stated above. However, there are many cases where employees do not use the ESN once it is implemented. To make sure the investment is not wasted, a company should make the following considerations.
1) No matter how good the ESN is, it will not be useful if your employees do not use it. There are many companies that go with popular ESNs, such as Yammer, and believe it will lead to automatic success. Through our research, we have seen that this is not true. Employees might use the ESN in the beginning, but usage rate could go down rapidly after the initial launch. This problem arises when companies implement an ESN without consideration for WHY an employee will not use it. It is not as simple as telling your employee to switch to a new program. If people do not like it and are not engaged, enthusiasm will eventually disappear. It is important to understand the factors of why employees will not use an ESN.
2) There are 6 main reasons why an employee might not like the new ESN or even try to actively sabotage it.
Researchers have identified 6 main technostressors that can affect how well an ESN will be received. By identifying these concerns among your employees, you can set up systems to mitigate these worries so that your ESN implementation will have the highest level of success. They are summarized below:
1. Work and information overload
Situations where constant connectivity force users to work faster and longer.
Contexts where continuous changes and upgrades causes employees to feel like they have to constantly learn and educate themselves about new features of ESNs.
Situations where complexity of ESNs make employees feel inadequate as far as their skills are concerned and forces them to spend time and effort in learning and understanding various aspects of the company ESN.
4. Job Insecurity
Situations where employees feel threatened about losing their jobs as the result of ESNs replacing them or losing their jobs to people who have a better understanding of the ESN.
5. Invasion of Privacy
The invasive effect of ESNs in terms of creating situations where users can potentially be reached anytime, and employees feel the need to be constantly connected, and there is a blurring between work-related and personal contexts.
6. Role Ambiguity
Perceived lack of clarity about whether one has to deal with technology-related problems or work activities.
3) Not all ESNs are the same.
There is not a one-size-fits-all ESN that would work. Companies will have to examine their size, needs, and culture to find the best ESN for themselves. ESNs range from standalones, which is not as integrated within the company, to embedded ones that are built into the company IT infrastructure. Then there is the choice of whether to use a third-party ESN or have one built specially for your company. When selecting an ESN, a third-party platform can allow for more reliable updates while a specially-built ESN can allow more control.
We here at Magic Box Solutions specializes in examining worker sentiments to pinpoint factors that will make your ESN launch successful. It is important to understand employee needs, fears, and concerns before implementing an ESN. It is always “better to measure twice and cut once” so as to not waste money on an ESN that no one will use.
In implementing any ESN, the main question is usually “is it worth the cost?” After all, no one wants to be the executive who implements such a system just to see it not work. The benefits of ESNs are clear, but there are also cases where a large investment is made but employees refuse to use the ESN or use it incorrectly or inefficiently. Thus, there is a huge risk in terms of time and money.
However, in the majority of cases, ESNs have been a boon to companies. They represent the next stage in enterprise evolution and for most businesses to remain competitive, ESNs must be implemented. This is where we come in. MBS has been at the forefront of digital technology. We understand what is needed for an ESN to succeed. Furthermore, our team of researchers are good at pinpointing the heart of an issue and devising the best solutions. ESNs are the future. Let us help you get the best start.