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Social Intranets: Hype or Next Big Thing?

A growing number of companies are using social media internally. Find out if it's hype--or a tool for change.
COLLABORATORS Pamela Kruger, Scott Travasos
Social intranets

Much has been written about how companies and professionals use social media to improve their brand. But many social media experts believe that social intranets may be an even more useful tool for businesses. And a growing number of C-suite execs seem to agree.

A 2011 survey of 1,401 companies by Prescient Digital Media and International Association of Business Communicators finds:

61% of businesses have adopted at least one social media tool internally.
And, of those companies, 43% are investing in intranet social networking.

Are social intranets really just a bit of hype–or tool for change?

Some c-suite execs who have adopted social media internally says they’re enormously beneficial tools, speeding up collaboration. Scott Travasos, CFO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, told CFO.com: “We’ve seen the biggest transformation by using social media internally.

Travasos uses Chatter, a relatively new private, social platform, to communicate internally with employees. Chatter works similarly to Facebook or Twitter in that users can make recommendations, post updates about clients or projects and share files.

Travasos told CFO.com that he posts three to five messages a day in Chatter, instantaneously updating his staff on various matters and finds it an invaluable collaboration tool.  “It’s hard to put a dollar figure on the collaboration advantage we get from Chatter,” Travasos says. “It’s about efficiency. We spend less time on transactions and more time on strategic analysis.”

Eliminates the email clutter

Meredith Corporation’s marketing division were overwhelmed by email and needed another tool that would enable them to share and act quickly on information. So they  adopted SocialText Signals, an internal social software/network. The tool allows staff to share short updates, links and project actions they’ve taken throughout the day, according to Dave Ball, Meredith’s vice president of consumer marketing.

Socialtext Signals gives us a fast and easy way to share this type of information, and the entire team is more informed,” Ball says. “At the same time, having an effective outlet for this type of broad sharing has transformed our workflow. The e-mail we do get is more relevant, and the information we engage with openly via Signals often benefits all of us.”

But is there a business case?

Even the Business2Community blog notes that the business case for making the investment in social intranets is vague–though consultants are working hard at proving the link. B2C blog notes , for instance, a white paper from ThoughtFarmer (an application development company, it should be noted). That paper argues that intranets serve an HR purpose, improving morale and employee engagement by giving “every employee a face and voice.”

An ongoing McKinsey study of networked enterprises, however, is beginning to document that there are payoffs, including increased market share.

But in a fascinating post at Ragan.com, Shel Holtz cites ample data to support his view that most social intranets go unused by most employees, and he blames it on a “failure” of leadership.  His argument: Leaders at the top need to embrace internal social media as a key business tool in order for it to yield dividends. “In organizations where executives fund [internal social media] but don’t actively use it in pursuit of business goals,” he writes, “you can expect the kind of bland results so many companies are experiencing, with few employees using it regularly, minimizing the kinds of results these tools could deliver.”

THE PLUS

For more insights into setting up social intranets, check out a blog by Toby Ward, CEO of Prescient Digital Media. The blog is filled with case studies.

How is the Fortune 500 investing in social media? Check out this study, which finds social media usage in some areas is plateauing. Every year since 2008, the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has studied Fortune 500 social media usage. The latest results show that the Inc. 500 is moving ahead. To see how others are doing Enterprise 2.0, check out the blog post by Chess Media Group that links to more than 50 social software implementations.

Once you decide to take the plunge, you’ll want know the best vendors to use. Gartner does an annual market assessment hat breaks down all of the players. Measuring the ROI of your rollout is essential. Socialcast, a technology company in the space, provides a helpful infographic on how to track performance in the areas of employee engagement, turnover rate, and sales.

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