Fear And Enterprise Social Networks

“The only thing to fear is fear itself” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Enterprise social networks are gaining mainstream acceptance, but to some companies they still remain shrouded in mystery with “What If”s popping up like mushrooms after rain. If you are launching an enterprise social initiative, a big part of your job is going to be answering these questions and helping manage these fears. As you do so, please realize that the folks who are giving you resistance can become allies instead of impediments, and it’s up to you to turn the conversation around. It’s also important to realize that the most significant sources of fear are: loss of control and lack of understanding. You can minimize the former by underscoring that bringing things out into the open helps guide the conversation and fix the underlying problem. You can change the latter with proper education. Let’s take a closer look at how to navigate these myths, so that you can disspel them:

Myth 1: Enterprise social networks are timewasters

One of the most frequently voiced social network fears is that everyone will socialize all day and not work. One key point that I think is relevant for all social media – internal or external – is that social is a manifestation of who you already are. If you are an unproductive member of your team, at some point people will realize it, with or without a social network. If anything, social networks put you on your best behavior because… well… anything you say is preserved in writing. If you are indeed a timewaster, everyone will know it – including your boss. This is an interesting implication for employees as well as managers; employees can use this as an opportunity to showcase their expertise, while managers can find expertise.

Myth 2: People will post inappropriate content

Let’s face it – if you don’t know what’s appropriate and what isn’t, you are probably going to have a tough time in any professional situation. If you are a walking HR time bomb waiting to explode, this explosion can happen anywhere, whether or not you are on Yammer. Although social media can accelerate your public faux pas, it’s never going to be responsible for it. As the network community manager, make sure you know the difference between slightly cringe-worthy and wildly inappropriate. There’s no use overreacting and alerting everyone for a slightly off-color joke – have a private conversation with the offender, and reserve serious punishment for an appropriately sized crime.

Myth 3: People will post confidential information

Your legal and IT teams will want to review your social network for security and compliance if you plan to discuss sensitive information on it. It’s important to realize, though, that any secure software is only as secure as the human factor. A disgruntled or uneducated user can potentially grab a screenshot of your internal communication – whether it’s cloud, on-premise or even an e-mail. Your best strategy to prevent these situations from happening is through education and creating and enforcing policy. Additionally, you should take a look at any cultural shortcomings that may be ailing your organization (see below) and proactively eliminate any impetus for disgruntled employees to go rogue.

Myth 4: It will become a negative environment

Negativity will happen; humans never feel happy 100% of the time. When it happens, just be prepared to deal with it, but the real goal is to nip it in the bud. The mood in your network will reflect the mood in your organization, and if things get overly negative, you have problems that are far, far greater. You may be suffering from a debilitating deficit of trust, employee buy-in, passion, “brain drain,” innovation stagnation, among other unpleasant characteristics. If your employees aren’t engaged, they will not see much value in contributing to a shared creation space. If they feel like their ideas get shot down and mocked, they will look for an organization that appreciates them. If they feel like management isn’t honest, they will disengage and eventually defect.

But don’t take my word for it! Check out this recording of the Yammer webinar, in which Forrester’s Rob Koplowitz and Tieto’s Juha Krapinoja discuss these fears that fail to materialize (this specific discussion starts at around 41:00, but the entire webinar is worth a listen). In his Yammer network, part of Juha’s mandate is to ensure that no confidential information is shared and “no unpleasant tone happens.” Here’s a remarkable nugget of insight from Juha: your early users are going to establish community norms for the future, so make sure you are inviting the right people.

Net-net: what you fear will probably not happen, and if it does, you will be able to respond because you planned ahead (you really should!)

To ease your organization’s fears of things that may go wrong, make sure to follow these steps to success:

  • Accountability – A network like Yammer is open, transparent, and links to employees’ real profiles. Transparency increases accountability. People want to do their best because everyone is watching, including the CEO, their boss, their teammates and direct reports. The physical equivalent of digital embarrassment is being “that guy” at the holiday party; however, while the egg-nog induced haze fades, your digital identity is forever (or until your company keeps it).
  • Your culture: Your internal community simply reflects your culture, while also helps build it. If you have a high-producing, highly curious culture, which inspires constructive dissent, discussion and creation, you will get the most out of a platform like Yammer. If you have a customer-centric culture, your employees won’t put customer and partner relationships on the line by disclosing private information for personal gain.
  • You have a goal: If you are clear about your goals, the vast majority of your employees is going to support the objectives you outlined. It pays to have a solid vision for your network and education that helps people understand their roles and direct benefit to them.
  • Create policy and educate: When you create your policy, give HR, IT and legal a seat at the table, but avoid “voting by committee”. A good social media policy is going to extend your existing electronic policy that already covers email, while taking into consideration intricacies of human networks and how content spreads. Educate your users on how-to’s, best practices of engagement, as well as do’s and don’ts of your policy. Make sure to differentiate between major and minor infractions.
  • Activate the community to take action: Properly educating employees not only ensures that individual contributors have a chance to shine, but also allows the entire community to regulate itself. To echo Juha’s point, your early members can serve as models for the rest of the users. Make sure you have share the same vision and give them the tools to be successful.
  • You have a response plan: In the unlikely event that your worst fears are realized, do not panic! Your ability to handle any crisis situation is going to hinge on the work you already did. Have an escalation process in place and define roles and workflows.

Back to you, reader! What are some of the fears you faced / are facing? How did you deal with them?

Photo source: Sara Fasullo