2013 maybe an unlucky year for those with a superstitious nature. But for anyone planning an enterprise social network (ESN) project to get their employees working together more effectively, there’s no reason to leave your chances of success to luck. Follow these 13 tips to ensure social business success in 2013.

  1. Design your ESN as a place for real work to get done, not a place for office chit-chat and trivialities. Getting employees communicating better is important, but it is a means to an end. That end is “real work”.
  2. Don’t think of your ESN as “Facebook for business” or “Twitter for business” and let everyone apply their consumer social media usage patterns at work. A good ESN will offer a range of different social content types – blogs, wikis, forums, status updates, file sharing, etc. Pick the best one for the task at hand. And if your ESN software doesn’t provide this rich mix of content types, you should probably look for an alternative that does.
  3. Get a mandate for the project from senior management, confirming that they are behind this change to the way work is done. Without this, your chances of success are much reduced. ESN projects are far more about cultural changes in working practices than about technology implementation; management needs to buy into the vision of working more socially.
  4. Make sure departmental managers lead by example. As well as getting a mandate from senior management, it is essential that managers of all levels actively engage in the social network. Otherwise it looks like they don’t really believe in it, and this provides a ready-made excuse for social refuseniks to stay away.
  5. Identify community champions to help lead the way. These may not be part of the management or project implementation team, but they fundamentally understand what you’re trying to achieve through enterprise social networking and can set an example to the rest of the members.
  6. Engage, don’t broadcast. Remember, a social network is about connecting with other members to discuss work. Creating large volumes of content that no one uses isn’t engaging, that’s broadcasting, and harks back to the bad old days of stale, static intranets.
  7. Measure your success, don’t guess. Social networks generate a huge amount of invaluable usage data, but people are still far too quick to trust their gut instinct as to whether they are being successful. Identify the metrics which are most closely tied to your business objectives, track these, and take remedial action if you are not succeeding.
  8. Can we cancel this meeting? Most workers complain about the time they consider wasted by going to meetings. A great way of identifying potential uses of ESNs is to consider which regular face-to-face meetings can be replaced with asynchronous communication through a community or discussion forum.
  9. Could this email discussion be moved to a social network? Similarly, many people consider email to be the bane of their working lives, especially long group discussions with endless cc lists. Look at these types of discussions and consider which would be better as forums on a social network.
  10. Share everything. This is a deliberate exaggeration I frequently use to encourage people to change their mindset about sharing information. Most people still work with a “knowledge is power” mentality, only sharing information on a need-to-know basis. In some cases, this is entirely necessary, e.g. in finance and HR departments. But in many others, it is simply an outdated working habit and there is no reason not to share information more widely with co-workers. So of course I don’t really mean share everything – but change your instinctive reaction from “is there any reason to share this?” to “is there any reason not to share it?”
  11. Rate everything. Even if you don’t share all the content you create, you should make an effort to provide feedback on all the content you consume on the social network. If someone has taken the time to upload a file, and you’ve taken the time to read it, then take just an extra few seconds to provide feedback, even if it’s just through content rating buttons. It helps the author understand how useful their content is considered, and it helps target relevant content to other network members.
  12. Think bigger. Most companies have some form of customer-facing social media strategy, and an increasing number are exploring internal social networking for employees. But don’t stop there – we have still only just scratched the surface of how social networking can improve the way we work. Consider how you could use ESNs to work with people outside your organisation, such as partners, suppliers, consumer customers and large business-to-business customers.
  13. Above all, before you start, plan your strategy. Giving a group of eager young twenty-somethings a new tool to play with sometimes leads to successful ESN implementation, but far more often it leads to failure. You might get lucky, but you probably won’t. Don’t leave your social business success to chance.