Leaders are responsible for bolstering enterprise social network use

People love social media, so why isn't corporate social networking more popular?

Over the past decade or so, social networking has revolutionized how society communicates. It seems as if almost everyone has a social media presence these days, from friends and family to celebrities and even CEOs of well-known companies.

In an article from May of last year, we took a look at how several CEOs used Twitter.

  • Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett may only have tweeted a few times, but he’s amassed nearly 1 million followers. He might not have much to say via the medium, but one thing is for sure: When he does speak – or rather tweet – people listen.
  • Samir Brikho, CEO of international engineering and project management company AMEC, uses Twitter to establish himself as a thought leader and brand ambassador, according to a PR News article penned by AMEC Manager of Media Relations and Strategic Communications Lauren Gallagher.
  • U.S. Green Building Council President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi interacts with his Twitter followers, holding Q&A sessions via the platform that allow him to directly engage with customers and other stakeholders.
Social networking platforms like Twitter connect celebrities and their fans, companies and their customers, and friends and family with each other.
Social networking platforms like Twitter connect celebrities and their fans, companies and their customers, and friends and family with each other.

According to the latest figures from Twitter, the social network has 288 million monthly active users, while 500 million tweets are sent per day. In December 2014, the last month for which statistics were available, Facebook – the world’s most popular social network – averaged 890 million active users per day. Of course, these two titans aren’t the only social media options out there – millions of people also use Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat and the like, while newcomers like Ello, Pheed and Shots are rapidly picking up steam. (Ello is an ad-free social platform similar to Twitter, Pheed is a multimedia-sharing tool and Shots is an app dedicated to sharing “selfie” photos.)

“The majority of enterprise social networks aren’t regularly used by employees.”

Given people’s seemingly voracious appetite for social media, it stands to reason that corporate social networks would be similarly popular – but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, an Altimeter Group survey found that the majority of enterprise social networks (Jive, Chatter, Yammer and SocialChorus among them) aren’t regularly used by employees. Why? In many cases, members of the workforce don’t see their superiors using the platforms, so leaders’ efforts to get them to be more active become a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Leadership participation is crucial
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, underscored the importance of leadership participation when it comes to successfully integrating corporate social networking into an organization. Additionally, she put forward a theory about why so many executives shy away from interacting with other members of their companies via the medium.

“Leaders know they should engage with employees, especially via digital and social channels,” she wrote. “But they don’t, and they offer a string of common excuses such as ‘I don’t have enough time’ or ‘Nobody cares what I had for lunch.’ More than anything else, they fear that engaging will close the power distance between them and their employees, thereby lessening their ability to command and control.”

So, how can executives get more involved – and in turn, spur workers to do the same? Li offered the following tips.

1. Listen
This action may sound simple, but it can make a world of difference. After all, why would employees take the time to post on corporate social networks if leaders aren’t paying attention to what they’re saying? Li offered the example of Red Robin, which was able to revamp a lackluster menu item after executives encouraged employees to brainstorm improvements via enterprise social network Yammer – and actually listened to the workers’ ideas and critiques.

“The simple act of listening – and letting colleagues know that they are being heard – is the first crucial step to meaningful collaboration,” Li asserted. “The collaboration tool could be any sort of feedback mechanism – a bulletin board or even an email inbox is better than no feedback loop. The key is that you, as a leader, need to be on the other end, eager and open to learn and listen.”

“Closed-door leadership may once have been de rigueur, but no more.”

2. Share information
Closed-door leadership may once have been de rigueur, but it’s safe to say it’s been out of style for quite a while now – although you wouldn’t know it from the way some leaders approach running their companies. The compactness of mediums like Twitter makes social networking sites the perfect way to send bite-size updates to personnel, keeping them in the loop without wasting their time. Social media also lends itself well to employee recognition – tweet-style shout-outs take very little time to compose but are highly visible.

“While it’s true that no one really cares what you had for lunch, they are keenly interested in what you discussed over lunch,” Li observed. “Rather than expecting employees to guess what’s important to you, now you can tell them, easily, with stories and pictures on the digital channels they already use.”

3. Make it hard to disengage
Regardless of the industry in which a company operates, the size of the enterprise, the number of employees and other differentiating factors, there’s one question that will inspire a high level of engagement among the workforce: “What are we doing wrong?”

Li pointed to David Thodey, retiring CEO of the largest telecom company in Australia, who used the organization’s enterprise social network to ask employees what processes and technologies should be eliminated. Workers jumped at the chance to contribute their two cents, and Thodey’s post racked up more than 700 responses within 60 minutes. To show he and his colleagues in the C-suite were listening, Thodey also used the platform to conduct a follow-up conversation.

Realizing enterprise social network success
The numbers clearly show that people love social media, so there’s no reason why enterprise social networks should fail, provided leaders take the necessary steps to engage employees. Executives who show the workforce they’re listening, take the time to send out relevant information and encourage staff members to weigh in on hot-button issues will be surprised how quickly employees stop ignoring the channel and begin actively participating in discussions.

About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.