I’m quoted in this article on AOL Government about using internal social networks. Imagine a company-wide version of Twitter or Facebook and you’ll have a good idea of how an internal social network works. They’re non-hierarchical, open environments where employees can share information.
Perhaps the best known of these systems is Yammer. It’s billed as an “enterprise social networks” but looks and operates so much like Facebook that people can start using it immediately. If you know how to post updates and respond to friends on Facebook, then they you quickly figure out Yammer.
But should you?
Yammer is an amazing tool enabling easy collaboration among employees who could be anywhere. It lets them converse, share files, create wiki pages and organize groups, either from their desktop or mobile phone. It’s a generational improvement over bloated SharePoint.
Yet, it’s very openness makes managers nervous. If you give employees a tool like that, they will inevitably post pictures of their cats and “clutter” the network with notices about carpools and old iPods for sale.
I’ve seen it happen. Way back in the 90s, in the era of AOL bulletin boards, I worked for AARP. We carefully set up boards for AARP members to discuss Medicare, Social Security and other very important issues.
But members gravitated to the AARP Love and Relationships board. Thousands of messages were posted there. People connected. Friendships were made. Marriages occurred.
Nobody talked about Social Security. It was what we thought was important. But not what our users wanted.
If you set up Yammer for your company or organization, this will happen. Employees will come up with new and unexpected uses for this tool, for good or ill. They may collaborate to develop a brilliant new product or a way to save thousands of dollars. But they’ll also probably be spending a lot of time sharing restaurant recommendations and commuting tips.
Or worse. They’ll start bitching about their bosses.
I’ve seen it happen. Yammer was rolled-out casually in an organization I worked for. An all-staff email was sent out, encouraging people to use it. I was intrigued. All the “power users” were on it, the super-connected adopters of new technology. Everyone who was a fan of Twitter or social media signed-up immediately. It was really popular among young employees.
One of these employees was dissatisfied. He made his grievances known on Yammer, for everyone to see. He complained in a very emotional manner about his assignments and the lack of respect that he was shown. It was embarrassing for him and his manager.
What to do?
Yammer wasn’t shut down. Restrictions weren’t put in place on what employees could post. A committee wasn’t formed to come up with guidelines on appropriate uses of this new tool. All of these efforts would’ve killed off participation.
Instead, the manager met privately with the employee. He removed his posts. Everyone moved on.
This is a common-sense solution, one that treats employees as adults. You’re responsible for what you say online. We expect you to be professional. We don’t need to shut down the whole system just because one person makes a mistake.
It’s inevitable that social media is incorporated into the way we work. Doing so will bring enormous changes to relationships between bosses and employees, subverting traditional hierarchies and creating faster, more effective methods of collaboration. Companies shouldn’t look at these changes as threats, but as opportunities to grow their businesses by tapping into the creativity and productivity of their most important resource – their people.