Social Exchange

To stay competitive, businesses should explore and utilize enterprise social tools.

Over the last several years, social media has become a part of our daily life. It’s on our phones, the TVs in our family rooms, the dashboard in our cars, and nearly everywhere in between. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 73 percent of adults who are online use social networking sites.

With the growing prevalence of social media and the dissolving line between home and work, it should come as no surprise that more and more businesses are looking for new ways to integrate the benefits of social media into the workplace. This growing trend is often referred to as “enterprise social.”

In fact, Microsoft recently conducted its own study on enterprise social and found that many employees at all levels already know what some employers don’t: Enterprise social has the power to transform the way they work.

In today’s competitive market, businesses must appreciate the lifestyle of workers. Employees are connected to social media in their personal lives, and expect the same from their workplace. Not only do employees want enterprise social tools; they want the ability to connect to them from multiple mobile devices using a company’s Intranet offering.

More than 1.3 billion people worldwide will be working remotely by 2015, according to International Data Corp., a market research, analysis, and advisory firm. As a result, more workers will rely on social tools to stay connected with their customers, colleagues, and constituents.

One leading provider of enterprise social tools is Yammer (which Microsoft acquired in 2012). Yammer, with more than 8 million registered users, helps employees connect across departments, locations, and business apps via a private social network. It also offers an additional layer of communication and transparency in the work environment — unlike email, shared files, or attachments (including those over a certain megabit). The result is that data is more easily accessible to multiple users simultaneously.

Companies that adopt social enterprise tools will have a definite advantage over those that do not. Handled correctly, enterprise social can drive significant business value by improving how employees connect, share information, and work across teams. Companies can also utilize the tools for attracting and identifying top talent.

Here are five tips for implementing successful enterprise social tools in the workplace:

1. Assess the current situation and define a vision. Businesses must have a firm grip on where they’re starting before initiating enterprise social within their company culture. Before jumping in, leaders need to define what they hope to achieve, set realistic timelines, and identify possible pain points that could slow adoption and engagement of the plan.

2. Garner executive support. Leadership buy-in is critical to weaving social networks into the fabric of a company. Involving leaders from the outset builds credibility and sends a clear signal to other managers to follow their examples. This behavior ripples out to the edges of the organization. IT leaders should also be involved in making decisions about enterprise social because they can deploy social tools throughout the organization and ensure that the necessary privacy, security, and identity requirements are in place.

3. Start with specific teams, map to value, and build off the success. Once business leaders have a sense of what’s possible with enterprise social, they can map how their vision translates to tangible business results. Projects must align with strategic value, so leaders can evaluate the benefits and differences of using various social tools. To get started, launch a pilot project to determine if enterprise social can drive immediate value.

4. Determine how to measure success. To ensure the long-term benefits of adding an enterprise social endeavor, businesses must first establish metrics for success. Adoption and engagement are the two most common ways to measure the value of a social network, but as the network evolves, more value and new-use cases will emerge.

5. View enterprise social as a journey. There is no perfect way to bring social media into an organization, but these tips should serve as a guide to overcoming many of the common hurdles. The key is to make adjustments along the way and be open to unexpected value. Once they’ve been deployed internally, enterprise social tools and technologies can be extended beyond the walls of the organization to customers, partners, and vendors.

As we look ahead at how collaboration and communication continue to evolve, we know the tools being used today — email, IM, voicemail, video conferencing, social — will come together and be deeply integrated into business apps in ways that will speed collaboration and transform the way people work. Just as email accelerated the pace of business in the 1990s, enterprise social will be the new cornerstone of communication and collaboration that will drive greater speed and competitive advantages for businesses. db

Drew Costakis is the director of the Microsoft Technology Center in Southfield, which provides businesses with access to innovative technologies and expertise.