Groundswell: Internal Enterprise Social Media

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Hit my review copy of Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff‘s Groundswell today and went straight to (Chapter) 11: The Groundswell Inside Your Company.

Through nice storytelling, Li and Bernoff trace three case studies of internal social media rollouts: Best Buy’s Drupal-based Blue Shirt Nation, wikis at Avenue A/Razorfish, Organic and Intel and Bell Canada’s ID-ah idea exchange and voting marketplace. The value of such deployments is that:

they tap the power of the groundswell of ideas among the people who best how your business runs, your employees

Blue Shirt Nation surprised Best Buy in the degree to which it enabled “employees to help each other,” they write “they power and speed of the groundswell within companies (is) the ability for people to find what they need from each other.” Most of the value comes because it fosters management’s relationships with employees and employees relationships with each other.

Key objectives Blue Shirt Nation accomplishes:

  • listening: “with employees, listening can turn rapidly into problem solving.”
  • talking: “post policy changes where everyone can read them and see how they’re playing in Peoria”
  • energizing: “amplifies (an enthusiastic employee’s) voice across the entire Best Buy employee bases. She spreads her positive thinking and advice, which has an impact on stores everywhere.”
  • supporting: “employees can find the support they need from around the company”
  • embracing: “community turned out to be a way to surface both ideas and great talent”

An anecdote in the wiki case study quotes Clark Kokich on a post about his favorite guitar solo, “this post didn’t serve any specific business purpose, but it was an opportunity [for our employees] to be connected to the leadership. You can do this with a few people over a beer, but how do you accomplish that with a whole company?” Wikis as collaboration tools have also become communications channels, allowing a “virtual equivalent to management by walking around.” At Organic they learned that “people’s business process revolved around knowing each other and, more important, around the work that each person did.”

For Rex Lee, director of collaboration services at Bell Canada, a votable internal “ideas exchange” helped him prioritize and determine which ideas from his 40,000-strong employee base to act upon. Forrester’s workplace collaboration analyst Rob Koplowitz makes the point “don’t bring collaboration tools inside if your company’s not ready for it,” because management objectives were an important part of ID-ah’s success.

Bernoff and Li round out the chapter with some strategies for nurturing the internal groundswell. Archetypal roles like evangelists, Inactives and rebels play their parts, and it’s important that participation be made easy and desirable, not strong-armed. They point out that “companies need to be ready to fail often, fail early and most important, fail cheaply.” Culture, relationships and simple ground rules set the stage for the success or failure of internal initiatives, but also, “it sure helps if the social technologies have an executive or two behind them.”

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