How do most business people view Enterprise Social Networks?
(Circle as appropriate)
- An additional tool deployed by IT
- A “not so evil” way to manage the changing needs of employees
- A modern and innovative tool
- A substitute for the email conversation
- A lever for cultural change
Certainly all of these are true, but the big question is: who is most impacted by an enterprise social network? The employees? No, in reality, it’s the local and mid-level management—those in immediate command (and consequently higher)—since they are the ones who must manage and deal with the changes the enterprise social network brings. And change can be difficult.
These are also the conclusions of Anne-Sophie Novel and Stéphane Riot, co-authors of “Vive la Corévolution! Pour une Société Collaborative” by Editions Alternatives. What follows is a summary of their article, mixed with my personal thoughts.
A Dismembered Flow of Information
A company must listen to both to its employees and its customers. Everyone claims free speech (where business speech is more codified or self-controlled), with a participatory democratic base.
For companies to do this well, they must listen to and participate in external conversations through public social networks like Facebook and Twitter. These conversations are different from internal ones, because conversations among company management and employees are more controlled. However, in both cases, it’s often necessary to have a third party act as a community manager.
What About Management?
For management, the changes engendered by the use of public social networks like Twitter and Facebook and private enterprise social networks can result in an unstable hierarchical relationship because traditional paths of communication are often circumvented.
For these new social networks to succeed, managers have to understand that this communication evolution is a natural part of the functioning of these communities, and to accept it! They must loosen their grip. And for many, this is not an easy task because they are accountable to their own hierarchy. The heart of the management challenge is to effectively coordinate, chat, co-construct, recognize, and decentralize conversations. To benefit from social networks, the manager must now rely on the social network’s function as a facilitator.
The difficulty for many businesses integrating new social conversations arises from overlapping responsibilities: is the whole company ready for this “facilitation”? Management’s fear of loss of control is a topic that comes immediately comes to mind, a reaction often linked to a lack of knowledge of how these tools work, which is something most managers don’t want to disclose.
However, fear should not take precedence over how well a social network can positively impact the transformation and reconfiguration of the hierarchical relationship. For the company that agreed to change and improve its internal relationship with employees, an enterprise social network can be a catalyst or a lever for change.
How Do “Official” Representatives Fit in the Picture?
This can be a point of contention. Internal social communities, as well as external ones, open up new sources of information to employees. Unions and leaders are no longer the sole source. Again, the “hierarchy” is diluted, and enterprise social networks become an opportunity once again to circumvent the way people are used to communicating. This must be reconciled with the benefits it produces—as a venue that quickly and effectively distributes important information to all of the players—and gives them a voice as well.
Finally, enterprise social networks are a tool for questioning relationships in companies, forcing them to consider a more open and collaborative way of working. And this can be a very good thing.